Exod 21 notes


וְכִי־יִמְכֹּר אִישׁ אֶת־בִּתֹּו לְאָמָה לֹא תֵצֵא כְּצֵאת הָעֲבָדִים   21:7

Exod. 21:7  “And when a man will sell his daughter for a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants.”

Well, here we have another apparent instance of female prejudice.  Why should a woman who was bought not go free after serving six years like the man?  And if the commentators are right about the man in question here (v. 21:2), that he is a convicted thief, why is he to be treated more humanely than an innocent woman?  It makes no sense from any angle.  A man who would sell his daughter as a slave forever would have to be pretty desperate and destitute, and he might also not have been able to marry her off and had to rid himself of her hungry mouth.  But would she not be able to work for him and thus earn her keep?  Suppose he was too poor and had to sell her for the money.  Why would he not also have sold himself, even his family?  After all, then they all would have been free after six years and they could start over.  So why does the Lord demand this ordinance of us at all?  What possible reason might there be for keeping the woman a slave?  To protect her?  But if so, she loses that protection in v. 21:11.

One fairly common answer to this last question, which is usually heard from the apologists, is that we are offended by this ordinance because our modern values and mores are different from those in biblical times.  In those days, the ordinance made sense.  Well, I can appreciate that point of view, but I have to question it for the following reason:  Are we dealing here with mores and customs, or is it the eternal word of God?  Are we to think that God deliberately catered to the mores and customs of the people and times of the bible, or is this ordinance a perpetual one, suitable as well for our customs and moral values as for those of that earlier time?  Does not God foresee our evolving moral values and the resulting distaste and distrust inspired by such an ordinance in future generations? 

Another answer to this perplexing question, that of the commentators, is that the woman is a pre-puberty girl destined to eventually become the buyer’s wife or that of his son.  And if she was not taken by either of them, she would indeed go free in the jubilee year.  The problem I have with this answer is based on the phrase “she shall not go out as the menservants.”  If the menservants mentioned here are those personified in v. 21:2, they are required to be let free after six years.  If they are menservants in a more general sense, then they must be released in the jubilee year, as we will learn later.  In either case, they are all released to freedom.  But no such provision is made for the woman in this verse or any other verse.

Now, from a totally different perspective, is it possible that this ordinance and others like it are tests for us?  Is this ordinance a lesson to stretch our faith and the faith of all generations?  Is its intention to humble us?  I wish I knew the answer.  But my logical instinct (is there such a thing?) moves me to discount this statute, suspecting that it was added or distorted by an overzealous scribe, whether Moses or another to whom Moses dictated this.

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