Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Slavery

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Exodus 21:1-11, ESV)

Slavery has always been a harsh reality in our fallen world. Though Yahweh does not abolish slavery in this social context He does regulate it for Hebrews in a way totally contrary to the norms of their culture. Recognizing that some would get into debt they could not pay and resort to selling themselves to another to cover their debt, Yahweh regulates how this is to work among Israelites.

An Israelite can only be held as a slave for six years unless he makes a voluntary choice after that time to be a slave forever. If he doesn’t, he is to be released with no more debt to his owner, he and his family. However, if his master provided him a wife during his slavery from among other slaves he owned, the man cannot take his wife with him out of slavery.

If a man cannot pay a bride price for his daughter but a man wants her as his slave so he can marry her as a secondary tier wife (concubine), the woman is protected. If the owner divorces her he cannot sell her to a foreigner but she must come under the law of manumission after six years as before stated. He is breaking faith with her (failing to keep his covenant vows of marriage) and cannot mistreat her. If someone buys a woman as a wife for his son, she must be treated as a daughter. And if she is one among other wives he must nevertheless continue to provide for her in every way or else she is free to leave with no debt.

Though we might say these laws perpetuate slavery, the real implication here is that Yahweh will determine how we conduct our lives and His concern of love for those who fall into this dilemma bodes the prospect that slavery may one day be abolished. It has been abolished in nations whose populace is majority Christian (though not without a great degree of conflict), but still remains an issue in too many countries. In our own country the laws contained here in the Law of Moses should have taught us how to treat slaves and did eventually lead us away from slavery out of love for fellow humans.  It is to our shame that some among us argued for the maintenance of slavery and the regarding of those enslaved as sub-human.  The slavery we practiced in no way reflected the law of Moses.  There was no provision for release from slavery after 6 years though, in fact, many slaves became followers of Jesus and thus brothers and sisters.

John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published posthumously in 1774, sufficiently describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his extreme humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers.

My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of his judgments, and herein my soul is covered with awe.  Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High! Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that He cannot be partial in our favor.  In infinite love and goodness He has opened our understandings from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay.  Should we now be sensible of what He requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, it may be that by terrible things in righteousness God may answer us in this matter.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Stealing

“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

“When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

“If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

“If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

“If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

“If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.” (Exodus 21:33-22:15, ESV)

These cases refer in general to the application of the law against stealing. Some “stealing” is unintentional (neglect for someone’s property) and other stealing is deliberate.

  1. A situation you cause that leads to the death of another’s animal (destruction of his property) means you pay the price of the property and you get to keep the property (the animal, etc.)
  2. If your animal kills another animal you sell your animal and share the income with the owner of the dead animal. If you were negligent, knowing your animal’s propensity to be violent, you pay the owner of the dead animal for his animal and you keep the dead animal.
  3. If you steal something you must make restitution for it in accord with its value (4 or 5 times what it is worth).
  4. A thief struck and killed while breaking in during the night is not considered murder (you couldn’t determine his intent and it may have been murderous). But if you kill him during daylight you are guilty of bloodshed (presumably, you know his intent is theft not violent harm and theft is not punishable by death).
  5. Taking someone’s property by allowing an animal to graze it or starting a fire requires restitution.
  6. Giving your property to someone for safekeeping or borrowing property that then gets stolen or damaged requires restitution, but if theft was really the cause the thief must make restitution.

Ownership of property and loving your neighbor by not envying it or stealing it, or if taken, making restitution for it, is God’s requirement of His people. We must value our neighbors and what they own and be sensitive to their loss of what they own.  Are you driving safely through your neighborhood?  Are you taking care for those who come on your property?  If you wrong your neighbor’s property are you more than making up for its loss?  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: True Worship

And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’ (Exodus 20:22-26, ESV)

Moses has just given the ten commands from God, the bare bones requirements, if you will, to remain in covenant with Yahweh.  But immediately questions are going to come up. How much work is too much work on the Sabbath?  What if I kill someone accidentally, is that still murder?  And other questions are going to concern the way the community is to respond when someone breaks one of the commands.  Should the person be killed, fined, required to make sacrifice, shunned, etc.?  So what follows are examples of how these commands are to be implemented.

An application of the 1st and 2nd commandments is made here in this passage. Yahweh is to be worshiped without images and He is the only one to be worshiped, and so the altar is to be made of earth or stone and the stone must not be carved. Pagan altars were often carved stone and on the stone were images of their gods. Israel is to be different from pagan nations insomuch as she knows the true God. She must not profane the worship of God and the use of carved stones like the other nations use is deemed a step toward false worship.

An additional application is that the altar must not be one which is so tall that steps are required to reach its top and do sacrifice. It is hard to understand how the long robes that might be worn would allow for one’s nakedness to be exposed while ascending the steps but it too may be a pagan practice Yahweh is forbidding that involved some form of nakedness. Sexual activity was often a part of pagan worship. The sensual can often replace the worshipful as we seek feel-good experiences rather than God Himself.  We might need to ask ourselves during worship whether we are most excited for God or for the form of the worship we are engaged in or how others are seeing us as we worship.

Our worship must be about honoring God in the way He describes rather than our own concoctions of worship.  It is the temptation of all humans to decide for ourselves how to worship God, that is, what we think makes sense.  But God wants us to see that our rebellious hearts are very prone to distorting true worship.  In Jesus’ words, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”

While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, “Ham, henek met.” Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”  I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael’s way of honoring me. He really didn’t want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.  “What brings you here, my child?” the Lord asks.  “Ham, henek met.”  Doesn’t that reveal the heart of true worship?  (Stuart Sacks, Villanova, Pennsylvania)

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Our Opinion vs. God’s Opinion

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21, ESV)

God has used a powerful display before the people as He hands the 10 commandments to them, a supernatural display that can leave no one mistaking that God in His holiness and power is present. The last time they saw such a display of lightning and thunder it was accompanied with hail as Yahweh visited Egypt with a plague. But the people draw a wrong conclusion from this display. God is not here to kill them. Yes, perhaps they do need a mediator in Moses but Moses makes it clear that God is testing them. He is seeking to birth in them a holy fear, not a cringing one, a deep sense of His holiness and the seriousness of their relationship. The goal is that they will not sin.

God’s heart for us is that we will not sin. The apostle John reminds his readers of this in 1 John 2:1,2. He says:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (ESV)

To sin is to damage ourselves. God’s laws are not arbitrary. They are a protection for us. We have been made in His image and when we act in unrighteousness we act contrary to what is best for us personally and for others. God loves us and longs for us to walk in holiness and be whole and healthy spiritually. There is discipline that comes from Him for sin, a discipline that is added to the already destructive consequences of our unhealthy choices. Hence the fearsome display on Mt. Sinai. But even that discipline is an act of His love.

Harry Randall Truman (October 30, 1896 – May 18, 1980) was a resident of the U.S. state of Washington who lived on Mount St. Helens. He came to brief fame in the months preceding the volcano’s 1980 eruption after he stubbornly refused to leave his home despite evacuation orders, and he is presumed to have been killed in the eruption….Truman had already emerged as a “folk hero” for his resistance to the evacuation efforts prior to his death.  After his death, his friends and family, including his sister, Geraldine (Geri), reflected on his death. Geri commented, “He was a very opinionated person.” [From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Randall_Truman> ]

We are very opinionated people, all of us, and often believe we know better than God what we should or shouldn’t do.  It costs us our lives.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Ninth Command

Actually, the stated setting of the ninth commandment is the legal trial. It says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Some applications of this law are found in Exodus 23:1,7 where warning is given against agreeing with the wicked to give false testimony in a case, or being partial to the poor in their disputes, all for the purpose of unlawful gain (stealing, bribery). In Deuteronomy 19:16-21 the principle is laid down that a false witness will receive the penalty the innocent party would have received if pronounced guilty because of the liar’s false testimony.  True testimony is essential to justice in any community.

But the application of this law goes beyond the courtroom. The need for honesty in all our dealings is a natural implication of the ninth commandment. It is the basis for the Old Testament laws regarding oaths and vows (Numbers 30, for example). Vows are made to one another, but they are made to the Lord, also, and must not be broken.

For relationships in the Body of Christ, honesty is essential.  “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25, ESV)

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10, ESV)

There do seem to be situations in which people are not obligated to tell the truth. When Rahab protected Israelite spies by lying about their having left her place, it was deemed a commendable thing (Joshua 2). When David pretended to be insane to escape the threat of a foreign enemy a psalm was written about it (1 Samuel 21:10-15; Psalm 34). When God tells Samuel to anoint David king and he objects that Saul will kill him, God tells him to say he is going down to Bethlehem to offer sacrifice (1 Samuel 16).  If someone broke into your house and asked you where your children were, would you be obligated to tell him the truth?  Lying to protect your life or the lives of others, except when you are asked to deny Christ, seems to be condoned.

Lying is as old as the devil. He lied to our parents and Jesus calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is a tool to manipulate our or another’s situation. It is a denial of truth’s ability to make its way in life. But truth is God’s tool for successful and happy living. Failure to tell the truth destroys trust, a key ingredient for any relationship. Telling the truth to another demonstrates respect. Even withholding truth from another suggests that that person cannot be trusted with it. Such disrespect and deceit is not consistent with the fact that we have laid aside the old self, nor is it worthy of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Tenth Command

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV)

There is something distinctively different about the tenth commandment which sets it apart from all the rest. And this distinction gives a key to the interpretation of all the rest. Whereas the other commands focus on visible behavior (do not steal, murder, work on the Sabbath, etc.) this one focuses on the invisible behavior of the heart.

Coveting (craving something that belongs to another) is not something you can see until it erupts into visible sin like stealing or adultery. By dealing with an attitude in this commandment, God is indicating that attitude is an important factor in every one of the commandments. That’s why, for example, Jesus interprets the commandments in his sermon on the mount from their attitudinal perspectives (Matthew 5). There is murderous anger and adultery of the heart.

Though someone might claim to have kept all the other commandments (someone, that is, who hasn’t spent any time thinking about the commands or his own life), no one can claim he has not violated number ten. In fact, when Paul describes his attempt to live under the Law of Moses, he specifically points out the command not to covet as his undoing (Romans 7:7,8). This is the undoing for every “Pharisee” because it sets a standard that no one can keep perfectly and it reveals the utter depravity of the human heart.

Coveting is the wrongful desire to have something which does not belong to you. It is the expression of a basic dissatisfaction in life with what God has given you. Coveting tends toward obsession. What we crave becomes so much a part of our thoughts that we can think of nothing else but ways to bring our lusts to fruition. Coveting brings home the sobering reality that we cannot change ourselves. We are slaves to our desires unless God comes in and does surgery on our hearts.

Once God’s life has been implanted in our lives we can begin the process of subjecting our cravings to His authority. Instrumental in this process is the renewing of our minds by the Word of God. You do not stop thinking about something by concentrating on overcoming it. You must concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable (Philippians 4:8). God has given us words for meditation that counteract every one of our improper desires. As we study God’s Word, relying on Him in prayer for empowerment, we find new self-control in the thought realm. Many times confessing our thoughts to a trusted brother or sister in Christ steals its power. We learn to stop the trails our minds want to wander down, and put ourselves on healthier paths that God has laid out for us.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”   “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” — C. S. Lewis

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Eighth Command

God does not endorse the abolition of private property or ownership. If there were no private ownership, there could be no stealing, but “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15, ESV) stands as an endorsement of private ownership. God speaks of things belonging to Him. All that we have is, in one sense, on loan from Him for He owns it all. But by extension, it becomes “ours” and we are responsible for caring for it.

There are many ways to steal. Laban “stole” Jacob’s wages by not “paying” him what he said he would (Genesis 29:15-20). Jacob had already stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27:1-46). Potiphar’s wife “stole” Joseph’s reputation by lying about his actions (Genesis 39:7-20). Saul stole Samuel’s priestly prerogative by offering a sacrifice in Samuel’s absence (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by arranging his death and then seizing his property (1 Kings 21). The Pharisees robbed their parents by declaring their possessions “Corban” (devoted to God) so they would not have to provide support for their parents (Mark 7:11-13).

We rob and steal in many of these same ways. We don’t declare taxable income on our tax forms, use company items for personal purposes, copy copyrighted material, spend money for personal pleasures when we owe creditors. 1 Corinthians 6:10 declares that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The thief has denied God’s way of acquiring necessities – honest work. Either he will not trust God to provide his needs or he is selfishly lazy and finds it easier to take what others have worked for. Such a person does not know the love, grace and ownership of God.

What is the positive aspect to this negative command, “You shall not steal”? Ephesians 4:28 gives it to us and gives us what our motive should be as we seek to counteract the temptations to theft:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (ESV)

Generosity made possible by honest labor is the motive opposite to stealing. The thief does not stop being a thief when he stops stealing. He stops being a thief when he starts giving to others from the fruit of his honest work. As we find ourselves tempted to take what belongs to another we should seek to respond in just the opposite way. We should become overly scrupulous about what is not our own, seeking to avoid all appearance of evil. If we have stolen we must make restitution and become generous givers instead of takers.