Shemot/Exodus 21:20 And if a man strikes his slave or his slave-girl with the rod and he dies ...
This text introduces an exception to the commandment in Shemot 21:12 that "he who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death". The Hebrew word can mean servant or slave, but the next verse makes it clear that this text uses it as 'slave' for it comments that the slave is "his property".Rashi uses the same evidence to deduce further that it must be referring to a Caananite slave, for a Hebrew slave is not 'property' or a possession, as he only has a limited time of service. The Ramban notes that it is the custom of a ruler or master to keep in his hand a rod of correction (Proverbs 22:15) but that G-d warns rulers, using the King of Babylon as an example, not to strike without restraint or without ceasing (Isaiah 14:6).
This treatment of slaves seems rather foreign to Rav Sha'ul who, in the same breath as urging submission and love between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22, 25), and instructing children to obey their parents while simultaneously telling fathers not to provoke their children but to bring them up in the L-rd (6:1), goes on to address the relationship between masters and slaves. Having previously told the Galatians that "there is neither ... slave nor free man ... for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua" (Galatians 3:28, NASB) - that like Jews and Gentiles, men and women, both slaves and their masters have equal status as believers before G-d in the Messiah - Rav Sha'ul provides instructions for slaves and masters: "Slaves be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh ... with good will render service, as to the L-rd and not to men ... and masters, do the same things to them ... knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him" (Ephesians 6:5-9, NASB).
The Greek word for slave, , most frequently translated 'slave', is also the word used to refer to Yeshua Himself in the piece of early Church liturgy encapsulated by Rav Sha'ul's letter to the Philippians: "Messiah Yeshua ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men ... He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8, NASB). Our Master Himself modelled the behaviour of the perfect slave by His ultimate obedience to Father G-d in submitting to bearing the punishment for our sin on the tree.
Even though we have been redeemed - that is, paid for as bought - G-d does not treat us as harshly as slaves. Yeshua said, "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave doesn't know what his master is about; but I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15, CJB). How much do these words apply to us - "Whatever work you do, put yourself into it, as those who are serving not merely other people but the L-rd" (Col 3:23, CJB).
Further Study: Luke 17:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10
Application: In the work place, in particular, our witness and obedience is challenged, both by those around us and the enemy. What is the standard of our service - do we match up to the model set us by Yeshua Himself?
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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