The Weekly Perspective

by Burke Shade, Associate Pastor

In Pastor Joe’s sermon last Sunday, he dealt with Exodus 21:20-21, which is a tightly written passage without a lot of explanation that we moderns would like. Verse 20 seems forthright and Pastor Joe summarized it concisely: the principle is “no excessive brutality” by masters over slaves. Slaves are also made in the image of God, and the master is not allowed to damage that image improperly.

But verse 22 seems odd, in that the “image of God” appears not to be protected, because if the slave survives the beating a day or two, and then dies, then his life is not avenged and the master has to deal “only” with his economic loss. It’s no “life for life,” because the slave hung on for a day or two. But he dies; what about him being the image of God? It appears the slave’s life is not as valuable as an image of God, but only considered as an economic loss.

This doesn’t set well with our modern ears. How could the Lord construe it this way? A slave is just “money,” an “economic loss?” As Pastor Joe said, we are far removed from the practice of these situations. So what do we do?

We meditate! We read the passage over and over, take into its context in the ten words, look for other passages on slave-master relations, think about slavery as a practice in the bible, and what it teaches about ourselves and our responsibilities. As Ecclesiastes says, life is “vaporous” and we may never come up with a great answer. But as God required the Jews to meditate on his word, and to do so for centuries, and come up with wise understandings, so we must do the same, as the “kings” we are. We must “chew” on these passages, realizing that God in his infinite wisdom is holy and just and compassionate. He is Good: we start there.

So put on the thinking hat and chew!