The ten commandments, a guideline for society, life and order for Israel and a basic outline to all mankind of decency, worship and respect for God and for all people. An Army chaplain helped me to see a benefit for Israel of their time in the wilderness. During this period, God took steps to shape the multitudes into a nation. Yesterday’s reading saw the beginnings of leadership and order through the elders, judges to help Moses keep peace. The ten commandments take another step in establishing laws for the nation. And from these continue further detail for establishing law and order, which is based in the respect for human life.
But what of this talk of slaves? Does this mean God approves of, even makes a system of slavery? We must be careful when we read the Bible not to read it strictly through a 21st century lens. We have a tendency to perceive slavery through the narrow understanding of our society’s shameful experience. And even worse, many Christians, preachers and teachers appealed to Scripture, like Exodus 21, to defend the horrible practice. The slavery referred to in Exodus was not like what Israel experienced in Egypt; and, it definitely resembled nothing like the evil perpetrated in America. Certainly such barbaric practices have persisted throughout the history of mankind. But that is exactly where we begin to see the difference described here. This is more akin to indentured servitude, a bondservant,and was mostly a financial arrangement to repay. We see something similar to Exodus in the Code of Hammurabi, often considered the earliest written civil law and praised for itsfairness and justice in the Ancient Near East. That code also addressed this similar servanthood. When we compare Exodus to Hammurabi’s law, we see specific guidelines which place an even higher value on the life of the servant and provide for more fair treatment.