- Exploring Difficult Commands -
A Letter to Dr. Laura
by Brad ScottI learned a few provocative things this past week concerning our Dear Dr Laura letter. It seems that the author of this letter is still anonymous. That is, he or she has not actually confessed to being the source of this letter. I also learned that the letter is some ten years old now and was actually quoted to some extent in a television series called The West Wing. I understand that it is indeed a letter written to Dr. Laura as a result of her comments on homosexuality to which she subsequently apologized. Since Jim seems to be a ficticious character I have now chosen to refer to the author affectionately as "Mr. Wizard". In this response I wish to address his comments concerning slavery followed by the actual passage to which he is referring.
"I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?"
We will also address Mr. Wizard's other comments concerning what he thinks of slavery later, but I want to get the two quotes up front.
Shemot (Exodus) 21:7And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
"Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?"
Vayiqera (Leviticus) 25:44Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.
The passage in Shemot 21 verse seven follows the passage in verse one and two which subsequently followed chapter 20 and the Ten Words or Commandments. Chaper 21 verse one begins with shoftiym or judgments. There is a reason why the Hebrew uses particular words. Judgments are decisions that are to be based upon the commandments. It is the reason why we refer to the Supreme Court as judges. They are to make decisions based upon the Constitution (commandments). This is also the reason why theologians translate the word kiy as if or when. For example, in verse fourteen of this same chapter we are told that if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor to slay him with guile then ... God is not commanding that a man slay his neighbor! When this or that arises, here is how you are to judge this case. So, the fact that these are shofiym is critical to the context.
There are actually two questions asked that deal with the same subject of slavery (see above quotes). I will attempt to deal with both questions in this response. I am sure that many of you have already discerned what Mr. Wizard was thinking when he asked this question, although this is not a question but merely a very short lecture in the form of a question. When our wizard friend reads passages like this in the Scriptures he immediately downloads images of Kunte Kinte dancing in his head. His anger rages as he invisions chained human flesh on auction blocks and rotund sweaty white men smoking cigars and ogling the female merchandise. The bottom line is that Mr. Wizard carries the movie version with him. The Scriptures never sanction such an abominable picture as what is usually thought of when reading or hearing the word slave or slavery. How we define words is how we develop our cultural philosophies which eventually determines our behavior.
Let's begin by defining the words. There are only a small handful of translations that use the word slave. The first passage that Mr. Wizard is referring to does not mention servant or slave, but that is the image he is trying to portray to those who have little understanding of the language in which the Scriptures were written. It is easy for him to insert the word slavery, hoping no one will notice, much less actually go and read the passage. Most translations use the word servant. Although this is a much closer word in English, it still solicits rows of Black Afro-Americans bending over in cotton fields. The Hebrew word behind slave or servant is 'eved. Its pictographic meaning is someone standing at the door (dalet (ד)) watching ('ayin (ע)) over the house (bet (ב)). A more useful understanding to us is "to serve or minister". This is why the same word is used for the priests serving in the Temple. It is also the same word used in Mattityahu (Matthew) 20:28 when Yeshua‘ states that He did not come to be served, but rather to serve. As it is with most Hebrew words, the word slave has several applications depending on the context, but we did need to at least begin by refocusing the meaning away from just Hebrews making bricks for the Pharaoh.
The word used in Shemot 21:7 is 'amah (אמה) translated as maidservant, female slave or simply servant in most translations. This word comes from a familiar root in Hebrew from which we get the English mom or ma. The word is 'em translated as mother or motherly. The word for maidservant in Greek is oiketin (οικετιν) or one who takes care of a home. This is an image many of us are familiar with, like Julie Andrews, in The Sound of Music. Do you think Maria was there against her will? (Remember Hazel?) Mr. Wizard wants us to envision a drunken, destitute father hawking his daughter in the streets for a bottle of rum. Our "angry at God" friend is like most godless paleontologists: they always find what they are looking for. He wants, oh dare I say, he needs to be convinced that God is bad, very bad, so he can use that as evidence that there is no God. The reality is that most people who deny the existence of the Creator of the universe, deep down inside, just hate God. They do not want to be plagued by His adversion to their lifestyles. So if they can make HIM to be the bad guy, then it is easier to live with themselves.
Let's define at least two more words, buying and selling. The word for buy is qanah (קנה). This happens to be the root of Cain's name, as well. This is a very fundamental Hebrew word that describes getting or acquiring something. The idea of money or payment involves the context and should not be assumed. The judgment involves someone acquiring someone to serve him. It is from watching too many movies that one would assume an auction with human flesh going to the highest bidder. Later, we will combine what the Scriptures say along with a little history of the culture, which is not much different today, we just use different words. The other word is selling or makar (מכר). The meaning behind this word is to relinquish or deliver in exchange for something. When someone purchases merchandise with money, that is makar. But that is only one use of the word, and should not be assumed. This word makar is also the root for bartering. Both uses of this word were applied during the time of the exodus. Many people, however, traded or bartered back and forth. When I used to sell oilfield services my employer paid me a salary in exchange for my services to their company.
Now the major difference between the image that Mr. Wizard is selling and our Father's judgment is the difference between man's carnal nature and the humane kindness of our Creator. These atheistic geniuses assume that the maidservant in this passage is there against her will. Most of the occurrences of servants or maidservants in scripture involve either the working off of the payment of debt and destitution or the result of captives in a war. Believe it or not, thirty five hundred years ago, families stayed together. Sons and daughters worked with the family plowing the fields and bringing in the harvests. When the family fell into debt the sons and daughters would pool together to work off the debt and save the farm, the land, the house and the family. In the passage being referred to an acquired Hebrew servant must not serve longer that six years. How was the servant acquired? We are not told, but the cultural history tells us more than likely to work off a debt rather than tossing the man in prison or dropping him off in the middle of the desert. When a man creates a debt he cannot pay, what is the point of throwing him into debtors prison? At the end of six years he is to go out free of the debt and the obligation. Later on we are told that if the man loves his master, he may stay with him forever. Today sons and daughters move hundreds of miles away from their parents and when they lose their job and fall into debt, the parents send them a check or they tough it out in the streets looking for soup kitchens and warm air vents. I must add that our Father knows man's depraved nature and actually addresses the image that our clueless wizard evolutionist is trying to portray.
Devariym (Deuteronomy) 24:7If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.
If we had been living according to the words of someone who is smarter than we are, then how many slaves do you think would have been brought in ships from Africa if the penalty for the sweaty white and black slave owners when they arrived was death! But pinheads just want to whine, write books and pen sarcastic letters about it. As Barney Fife might say, "... our Father wants to nip it, nip it in the bud", but the snot-nosed kids just want to smoke pot and wax poetic to justify the need for more government grants. They intrinsically recognize, just like the so-called environmental movement, that if the problem ever gets better they are out of a job, eventually being forced to sell themselves as menservants or maidservants. Although Mr. Wizard only brought up a misquote from Shemot 21:7, we all know what he is addressing. But, once again, he assumes the Roots version. The context of the judgements concerning those who are servants is Israel conquering the land and how the people are to be treated. There are judgements from God as to the humane treatment of servants because of debt and destitution or servants captured as a result of war or conflict. As I stated in the last response, we are currently in exile, scattered among the nations and called ambassadors. When American troops withdraw from countries we have been at war with, many people from those countries soon come to America to have a better life, and became servants to small and large corporations. In the days of Moses there were no small or large corporations, just individual people that owned lands to farm.
When servants are acquired then you are to treat them as if they were your own. This is revealed in the English word possession. The word possession in these passages is 'achaz (אחז). This word's first appearance gives us a better understanding of the text of Vayikra 25:44 as well as our Shemot or Exodus passages.
Bere’shiyt (Genesis) 17:8And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
The word 'achaz is tied to taking hold of something that was acquired. When the children of Israel possess the land, they were to make it their own and take care of it. When servants are acquired by whatever means, they are to be taken care of like they were their own. Has Mr. Wizard ever seen the condition of land in Israel taken over by Palestinians? Has Mr. Wizard ever seen the conditions of much of Mexico? Does he ever wonder why millions of Mexicans risk their lives and families to come to America to live a life as servants to those mean, nasty American businesses? Can he imagine how one of these illegal immigrants would feel if their master told them that they can serve them for six years and after the six years they can go free or they can work for them forever and even their next generations? Can he imagine that perhaps in this state of our economy many homeborn may jump at the same opportunity? The reason our godless friend cannot own Mexicans or Canadians is because he does not own Canada or Mexico.
Mr. Wizard needs to read more Bible and watch less movies. Mr. Wizard is partially blind, has approached an elephant, grabbed a hold of its trunk and is warning us of a snake.
Shalom Alecheim! ◊