[Exodus 21] Are We Exempt from Old Testament Law? In this chapter we see Moses instructing the elders by the word of the Lord how to apply the Ten Commandments to every day situations. Unfortunately there is very little evidence that these instructions were carried out other than in harshness for reasons of avarice and greed. What about the day we live in? To what degree is the Law incumbent upon the New Testament believer? What commands are we exempt from and who decides?/
[Exo 21:1-36 KJV] 1 Now these [are] the judgments which thou shalt set before them. 2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. 3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. 7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. 8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. 9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 10 If he take him another [wife]; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. 11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money. 12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. 13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver [him] into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. 14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. 15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. 16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. 17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. 18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with [his] fist, and he die not, but keepeth [his] bed: 19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote [him] be quit: only he shall pay [for] the loss of his time, and shall cause [him] to be thoroughly healed. 20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. 21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he [is] his money. 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart [from her], and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges [determine]. 23 And if [any] mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. 26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. 27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake. 28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox [shall be] quit. 29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. 30 If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him. 31 Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him. 32 If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. 33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; 34 The owner of the pit shall make [it] good, [and] give money unto the owner of them; and the dead [beast] shall be his. 35 And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead [ox] also they shall divide. 36 Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.
In verse 1, God hands down judgments for Moses to deliver to the people. In the previous chapter, there were given commandments. In this chapter, we have the judgments. Thus we see the distinctions of the requirement that God puts on his people. There are laws (decalogue, the Ten Commandments). Then we have statutes and judgments. The judgments are verdicts like mandatory minimums based on how to apply the commandments so that things were not left up to individual interpretation. Moses handed down the commandments which he delivered to the elders he appointed at the suggestion of his father-in-law Jethro. The elders then interpreted those commandments and instructed the Israelites on how to apply these commands in their every day lives. These interpretations or applications were the statutes and judgments. In Jesus’ day, the elders still fulfilled this role but had become corrupted; therefore, Jesus denounced them:
[Luk 11:46 KJV] 46 And he said, Woe unto you also, [ye] lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
It has been said that we place rules around God’s rules, so we don’t break God’s rules. This is the heart and soul of what it means to be a Pharisee.
In v. 2-3, we have instructions concerning indentured servitude. An Israelite could sell himself into slavery only for seven years, and then his master was required to let him go free. Was this ever observed? We have examples of Hebrew slaves serving Hebrew masters, but we have little or no cases of slaves being released after seven years. In fact, there is little record that these statutes were observed in Hebrew culture:
[2Ch 34:21 … for great [is] the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do after all that is written in this book.
In v. 6-7, we see the law concerning masters and slaves. Thus it is obvious that indentured servitude and slavery were common among the Hebrews and in ancient culture. Throughout the New Testament as well, the word bondservant, slave, or servant is applied metaphorically to someone absolutely devoted to Jesus. Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude all describe themselves as “bondservants of Christ” (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1, NKJV).
Today, believers should still consider themselves bondservants or slaves of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22; Ephesians 6:6; 2 Timothy 2:24). He is our Lord, and our allegiance is due to Him alone. As bondservants, we renounce other masters (Matthew 6:24) and give ourselves totally to Him (Matthew 16:24).
Being a bondservant of Christ is not drudgery. His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). We have this promise: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6:18).
In v. 7, we glimpse God’s heart towards gender equality, even under the Old Covenant. The suggestion of equitable treatment of women in ancient times was an utterly radical suggestion and for them social engineering beyond anything they ever knew. Every tradition they were familiar with treated women little better than personal property or livestock. God’s laws intervene on behalf of women, requiring that they be regarded with respect, justice, and deference.
What about interpreting social justice initiatives today regarding gender or race? As advanced as we think we are today, things have little changed. Even among so-called progressives while they pay lip service to equality and respect, the fashions of the day, dress, modes of conduct, and decorum are rife with the objectification of women. A man can neglect his appearance, be overweight, unshaven, etc., and we say he is rustic or earthy – a woman can do the same thing and be condemned and scorned because she doesn’t look like a runway model. The church is not immune. We have heard of women being rejected from pulpit ministry and platform presence being told they were “too overweight” to be on stage… this is DESPICABLE!
Unfortunately, our society teaches girls and women rather than brook this tendency to use it as leverage or power of manipulation to attain in life. The pressure on women in our society is intense. You don’t see the habit of cutting, or anorexia, bulimia, etc., very little among boys, but it is common among women. Growing up in an environment where women are the object of lurid attention because of their looks or appearance drives children, including boys, to gravitate toward these values and, in reality, gives rise to homosexual tendencies in young boys. A boy, particularly preadolescent boys, have a need to for the attention and affection of their fathers. If they are neglected and see their father’s attention toward women, that boy subconsciously gravitates toward a feminine persona.
Verse 24 sums up the scope of justice under the law. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the demand placed upon the Old Covenant believer. What about the day we live in? Jesus addressed this in His teaching:
Matthew 5:38-39 AMP
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.  But I say to you, Do not resist the evil man who injures you; but if anyone strikes you on the right jaw or cheek, turn to him the other one too.
Is Jesus changing or rejecting the law? No, He is taking us beyond the law. If we are required to have a law in order to show justice or do right, then we are already offenders. Only lawbreakers need the law. In Christ, the law was given not to keep good order but to bring us to Christ according to Paul:
[[Gal 3:24]] KJV Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
We look into the law and take our measure and realize we need a savior. Coming to Christ does not negate the law but imparts to us the nature of God through the indwelling of Christ, whereby in every instance we not only seek to do right but go far beyond and fulfill the Royal law of doing unto others as we would have others to do unto us.
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