Workplace Safety I

In the days of the Industrial Revolution, the workplace became a deadly place. Even wounds could become deadly, and wounding wasn’t uncommon. The combination of ridiculously long hours, dangerous equipment, and little or no training made the mills and manufacturing plants dangerous indeed. Times have changed. Now it’s typically more dangerous to own a factory or business than work in one. Our society has progressed! On the other hand, have we progressed to the point of the sons of Israel?

“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Exodus 21:26,27 NASB

The treatment of slave owners of slaves is addressed here, and the loss of a body part, tooth to eye, resulted in their freedom. The rule clearly holds slave-owners responsible for how they treat those in that condition in their household. Back in verses 20 and 21, we saw that striking a slave, but not killing them didn’t result in the death of the slave owner. Yet, now we learn that striking them, and damaging their eyes or teeth results in their freedom, the loss of any service the master would have gained from them.

This law, again, protects those who are unable to protect themselves. And limits the penalty of those who might be helpful to the poor with their wealth. It keeps people in this society functioning. The point is to live in the land honoring God, but God allows that the stuff of life gets in the way. The details of living, bad choices, and bad circumstances distract from honoring Him. So, these rules are designed to reset the balance. A safe workplace is part of that balance.

“If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.

Exodus 21:28 NASB

This verse is clearly about the safety of working on a farm. The owner of the farm, animals and land, is held accountable for the safety of those he employs, and slaves. An ox is a crucial component to farming in that day. They were like modern tractors in that they were used for all sorts of things, not just plowing. The strength of the ox is what enabled a farm to function, whether olives, grapes, or grains were grown. But that necessary implement of farming had to be kept in check.

If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Exodus 21:29-32 NASB

Knowing of the problem with an ox and not taking proper precautions results in death, of the ox, but also of the owner. He can be redeemed, but he doesn’t set the redemption amount. This is an issue God takes very seriously. Owners/Employers have a grave responsibility before God to care for their employees.

Holding those who have the means to employ others accountable brings balance to the economy. When the wealthy have no accountability, they will naturally oppress those with less power. Expecting them to moderate themselves is foolish. On the other hand, to excessively favor the employee disrupts the balance of an economy. To make it inordinately expensive to go into business increases risk, and lowers the return. That’s inhibits business. Business owners need to be held accountable, not punished for being in business.

So, if you own a business, how are you honoring God with how you treat your employees? If you are an employee, how are you honoring God through your work? Those are the two questions we can take away from this passage. Simple? Until we enter the doors of our employment or business. Then it suddenly gets complicated.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation



  1. I saw this from a different view. Early America, and other countries, validated slavery based on the Bible, yet they ignored the rules of slavery that are in the same Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt Brumage says:

      Boy is that ever true. There was a frightening propensity of Americans to dehumanize other cultures and people groups. I’m not so sure we’ve grown out of it, or perhaps we’ve swung the pendulum to a crazy degree in our day. We’re still not sane about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s how we legalized abortion, it’s not a human being it’s fetal tissue. People, not just Americans, are good at dehumanizing other people to obtain end goals.

        Liked by 1 person

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