If, however, he does not provide her these three things, she is free to go without monetary payment.
= - Slavery not usually Considered a desirable condition. the Israelites as a people were Just casting the slough of it, and God helps them in their social ordinances by emphasising the value of freedom. None the less, even here, a higher State than I. THE PREFERENCE. Naturally, to a slave freedom is an object. Slavery was a misfortune or a punishment resulting from debt or misconduct (cf. Leviticus 25:39; Exodus 22:3). Thus viewed God only permitted it to continue at most for six years. Every Hebrew had been redeemed by him; and therefore permanent slavery to man would have been an infringement of his rights of ownership. Temporary serfdom under the conditions which he imposed secured his rights and the privileges of those whom he had redeemed [cf. the right of a tenant to sublet a house by arrangement with the actual owner]. The relation between a serf and his employer was thus carefully defined and limited; in so far as they were linked together by a purely external bond, that bond ceased to exist at the close of six years' servitude. During six years, however, a firmer bond might have been formed and strengthened. Possession of the slave''s body does not carry with it the possession of his affections; they cannot be bought and sold, but they may be won. If the owner during six years could find bands to bind the heart (Hosea 11:4); in such case, the serf desiring it, a permanent relation might be established. It is not the abnegation of freedom, it is the exercise of freedom to choose for oneself; if a man was so bound to his employer that he preferred continuing in his service, God was willing to endorse such a preference with his consent. Nowadays, the relation of servant and employer is still more temporary than of old. At the same time, now as ever, love can prevail to win the affections and so weave by means of them a permanent and enduring bond. Love transmutes the conditions of servitude. It changes them into something which is preferable to freedom. The cords of a man bind more firmly than any other cords; but they do not confine or fetter.
II. THE SIGN OF THE PREFERENCE. The servant who wished to remain a servant was to be brought before the judges (Elohim), the representatives of God. As God''s ministers they were empowered to permit the satisfaction of his desire. The ear pierced against the door post was the outward sign of this sacrament of servitude. Henceforth the man by his own desire was permanently united to the family of his employer. The pierced ear testified to the pierced heart. The sign of slavery was the badge of love.
III. SERVANTS OF GOD. The relation of the slave to his employer is analogous to the relation between the natural man and God. All men are his servants - debtors who cannot pay their debts. The relation however may be of a temporary character; God seeks to make it permanent by winning our hearts and our affections. Work for him in this world we must, willingly or unwillingly. He would have us willing servants; compulsory service has no moral value. "The ears opened" (Psalm 40:6), in token of the heart won, are of more value than sacrifice and offering. Are we such willing servants? (Isaiah 1:5). He is willing to "open our ears," to take us as his own for ever, but we must also ourselves be willing: - "He hath opened mine ears and I was not rebellious." Slavery is a state of imperfection; but so also is the miscalled liberty of independence; the only perfect state for man is that "service which is perfect freedom." - G.
These are the Judgments.
These judgments stood related to the second table of the Law, just as the regulations concerning the worship of the altar stood related to the first. It is to be remembered also that these "judgments," and those of the same kind which afterward were added as occasion arose, are to be distinguished from the moral law, not only as applying to the state rather than the individual, but also as local and temporary in their nature, representing not what was ideally best, but only what was then practically possible in the direction of that which was best. Some very superficial people criticise them as if they were intended for the nineteenth century! The Decalogue was, and is, intrinsically perfect; the "judgments" were adapted to the circumstances and wants of Israel at the time. And it would be a good thing if reformers of modern times would always remember the same wise and necessary distinctions, between that which is ideally perfect and that which alone may be practically possible. Still further it is to be remembered, that these judgments were suitable to "the Theocracy" of Israel; and hence those are entirely wrong who attempt to use them as precedents for general legislation in the limited monarchies and republican governments, and otherwise entirely altered circumstances, of modern times. Yet if we could only compare these "judgments" with the laws and customs of the nations around, we should see by force of contrast how exceedingly pure, wise, just, and humane they are; and especially where private relations are dealt with, we have touches which would not shame the New Testament itself, however much they may in another sense shame us, as for instance Exodus 23:4, 5
. The third division of the book of the covenant has to do with matters which relate neither to worship exclusively, nor to civil relations exclusively, but to both. These are the Sabbath year, the Sabbath day, and the yearly festivals (Exodus 23:10-19
). As for the Sabbath year and the festivals, they will come up again in the fuller details given from the tabernacle and recorded in Leviticus. And as for the Sabbath day, we may simply remark the significance of its presence here in the book of the covenant, as well as in the Decalogue, indicating that while in its principle it belongs to universal and unchangeable law, in its letter it formed part of that national covenant which was merged in the new and better covenant of the later age.
There is a very common reflection upon the Hebrew lawgiver, which, though it does not call in question any particular law, is yet designed to vitiate and weaken the impression of the whole — that he was a stern and relentless ruler, who may indeed have understood the principles of justice, but whose justice was seldom tempered with mercy. This impression is derived partly at least from the summary way in which in several instances he dealt with rebellion. To this kind of argument there is one brief and sufficient answer: All bodies of men are acknowledged to have the right to resort to severe penalties when encompassed by extraordinary dangers. The children of Israel were in a position of great peril, and their safety depended on the wisdom and firmness of one man. Never had a ruler a more difficult task. Moses did not legislate for the ideal republic of Plato, a community of perfect beings, but for a people born in slavery, from which they had but just broken away, and that were in danger of becoming ungovernable. Here were two millions and a half who had not even a settled place of abode, mustered in one vast camp, through which rebellion might spread in a day. Moses had to govern them by his single will .... To preserve order, and to guard against hostile attacks, all the men capable of bearing arms were organized as a military body .... He suppressed rebellion as Cromwell would have suppressed it: he not only put it down, but stamped it out; and such prompt severity was the truest humanity. But it is not acts of military discipline that provoke the criticism of modern humanitarians, so much as those religious laws which prescribed the God whom the Hebrews should worship, and punished idolatry and blasphemy as the greatest of crimes. This, it is said, transcends the proper sphere of human law; it exalts ceremonies into duties, and denounces as crimes acts which have no moral wrong. Was not, then, the Hebrew law wanting in the first principle of justice — freedom to all religions? Now it is quite absurd to suppose the Hebrews had conscientious scruples against this worship, or seriously doubted whether Jehovah or Baal were the true God. They had been rescued from slavery by a direct interposition of the Almighty, they had been led by an Almighty Deliverer; and it was His voice which they heard from the cliffs of Sinai. But it was not merely because their religion was true
, and the only
true worship, that they were required to accept it; but because also of the peculiar relation which its Divine Author had assumed towards the Hebrew state as its founder and protector. They had no king but God; He was the only Lord. As such, no act of disobedience or disrespect to His authority could be light or small. Further: the unity of God was a centre of unity for the nation. The state was one because their God was one. The worship of Jehovah alone distinguished the Hebrews from all other people, and preserved their separate nationality. Admit other religions, and the bond which held together the twelve tribes was dissolved. How long could that union have lasted if the prophets of Baal had had the freedom of the camp and been permitted to go from tribe to tribe and from tent to tent, preaching the doctrine of human sacrifices? Hence Moses did not suffer them for an hour. False prophets were to be stoned to death .... Such was the Hebrew commonwealth, a state founded in religion. Was it therefore founded in fanaticism and folly, or in profound wisdom and far-seeing sagacity? "Religion, true or false," says Coleridge, "is, and ever has been, the centre of gravity in a realm, to which all other things must and will accommodate themselves." Would it not be well if some of our modern pretenders to statesmanship did not so completely ignore its existence and its power? The religion which Moses gave to the Hebrews was not one merely of abstract ideas; it was incarnated in an outward and visible worship by which it addressed the senses. Even in the desert the tabernacle and the altar were set up, and the daily sacrifice was offered; the smoke and the incense below ascending towards the pillar of cloud above, and the fire on the altar answering to the pillar of fire in the midnight sky. This daily and nightly worship made religion a real because a visible thing; it appealed to the senses and touched the imagination of the people, and held their spirits in awe. The feeling that God dwelt in the midst of them inspired them with courage for great efforts and great sacrifices.
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