Workplace Safety II

Have you ever let someone, a friend maybe, borrow something of yours, only to have them break it? I hate that. At least I hate it when they had me back the broken thing I lent them. Sucks to be me, I guess. That’s not exactly God’s perspective. For God, it seems that, “you break it, you bought it” rings more true.

“If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:33,34 NASB

Keeping a workplace safe isn’t just about the employees, it’s also about the things used in the course of the work. If a business owner borrows material needed to conduct business, then he has a responsibility to keep the material safe and in good working order. That means that, if the workplace is destructive to whatever is borrowed to conduct business, steps should be taken to protect the material.

I have a side job working for a coffee bar. In this job, the owner relies on material supplied by a vendor to provide coffee. It’s a great vendor. They provide training, but also coffee machines. They do this to promote small coffee shop business, and in turn grow their own business. But what happens when one of the young barista’s breaks one of their machines? The vendor has a choice, but so does the business owner. According to this passage, the business owner is liable, or at least should try to be.

But this particular law would probably apply better to “facilities”, where holes to do more plumbing were to be done, or run various types of cables underground. What about utility companies running their utilities underground along a roadway? There are lots of reasons businesses dig in the ground these days. This rule basically says, cover the pit, or pay for damages. Our society agrees, even 4,000 years later. Go figure.

“If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox. Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:35,36 NASB

Don’t you hate it when oxen fight? The point here isn’t the oxen, but the responsibility of the business owner. If the ox hadn’t done this before, then they split the benefit and cost. Rather than try to figure out which ox is to blame, or started the fight, just divide the ox, both live and dead (someone’s grilling tonight!). This prevents the sort of useless fighting that divides and unbalances a community.

On the other hand, if a business owner knows about the condition of the ox (for instance, he bought an ox that killed another), and doesn’t restrain it. That’s the point here. The business owner needs to keep his workplace safe. In the coffee shop illustration, the machines need to be safe to work with. In the coffee shop, that means they have to have the right sort of electrical setup, 240-volt outlets and the right amperage. If they don’t, they’re not safe, and neither are those who work with them.

Sure, keeping a workplace safe is expensive, but it’s important. If those who have the means to be an employer don’t keep the employees safe, they fail, and are subject to punishment. If they try, but “stuff happens”, that’s not on them. In our society though, we want to punish everyone involved to ridiculous levels. These workplace safety laws hold business owners accountable, but also strive for balance. Ironically, the political mantra of the early 21st century, “It’s the economy, stupid” also applies here. But for greed, few get it, whether business owners or those hurt at work.

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


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

Limiting Vengeance

My family, on my dad’s side hales from West Virginia, the land of a famous feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. It became legendary, and legend suggests it started over a pig, or something equally ridiculous. I now live in a place that had another such feud between families around the turn of the 20th-century. Two settler families hurt and killed one another over river ferry rights. It went on for over 20 years, and now neither family lives in the area.

Vengeance resonates with us, and the role of a “family avenger” goes back thousands of years, well past any sense of “honor”, back to family duty. But, it was supposed to be about justice, not angry vengeance. It was about balance, not just angry aggression. That’s difficult to do when we are wronged, when someone we love is taken from us by another. In our grief we are angry, at the loss, at the pain caused by another, and the fear it could happen again. And in response to these emotions, we want to make sure it never happens to us again.

That is not the way of our Creator. His way is significantly different, and a lot more sensible.

“If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed, if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.

Exodus 21:18,19 NASB

I love that phrase, “…he who struck him shall go unpunished”. Think about that. No vengeance for wounding someone. No city of refuge. The only requirement is to pay for his lost wages, and care for him until he recovers. That makes sense. In our day, we have insurance for such things, and don’t even think about it. We go to court to sue, seeking damages, and penalties, but here, we see God’s perspective is to restore balance. In our courts, vengeance seems to reign. But that isn’t the perspective of a disciple of Jesus.

“If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.

Exodus 21:20,21 NASB

This one is more difficult. Here, the status of a slave, something God protected in the first law we looked at, appears relegated to “property”, yet only if injured. If the “owner” kills the slave, the law of the family avenger (blood redeemer) comes into play, along with the city of refuge, and so on. Owning a slave doesn’t entitle the owner to the life, only to the work the slave performs, and if the slave dies due to treatment, the owner is either treated as a murder, or at the minimum, is out all he paid for the person’s work.

It still seems harsh to our 21st-Century sensibilities that if the slave dies after a few days (the damage isn’t that bad), there is no punishment. Now I’m not loving that phrase as much. I don’t like thinking that this debt-slavery issue relegates this fellow Hebrew to property. Clearly, the protection and status of such slavery is limited, even by our Creator. The practice of indenturing isn’t a great institution after all. Our Creator and Savior limits the bad effects, but it’s still bad. On the other hand, wait for tomorrow.

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,

Exodus 21:22,23 NASB

Does anyone else wonder how often this happened? Is it really enough that it winds up in the legal code? But think through the concepts at work. The life of the infant is what is at issue. If the infant dies, then the incident is handled as a killing. If it is injury, then the family and judges decide the penalty, but with limits. This next statement, in my opinion, is the point of the capital punishment and limiting laws.

But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Exodus 21:23-25 NASB

The point is that the penalty does not exceed the crime. The feuding between families happens when the penalty exceeds the crime, or there is no penalty for a crime. When balance becomes crucial, “Capulet-and-Montague” problems can be avoided. And, unfortunately, this is a problem for churches as well. It’s a sad irony, but those confessing Jesus as Lord still succumb to this problem. It happens because of unforgiveness, bitterness, and a failure to live out the lordship of Jesus.

Where have you, perhaps, held resentment, and wanted revenge rather than justice? Where might you need to forgive? Or, where have you failed to punish equitably? Do you need to address a sin which you have let pass? When we, as a community of disciples of Jesus, are commanded to love each other, hold each other accountable, and correct our fellow disciples. In doing so, we help each other on the path of discipleship, leaning on each other as we strive for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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

Capital Crimes

The death penalty is one of those hot-topics that can start a life-long argument, separate friends, define enemies, and incite a riot. Since another of those topics is religion, it seemed like a great idea to combine both. After covering slavery, including daughter enslavement, how could it get any worse?

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.  If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.

Exodus 21:12-14 NASB

The main law regards one man striking another, resulting in death. But, like the laws regarding slavery, there are corollaries. Notice that, if the hand of God is detected in the death, “…but God let him fall into his hand…”, then a place of refuge is provided to escape the “blood redeemer”. This one suggests the carrying out of the penalty is not performed by an “executioner”, but a “blood redeemer”. This is another family role, like “kinsman redeemer”, only this one redeems the blood of the murdered.

Notice also that one acting craftily against his neighbor, like premeditated murder, then there is no refuge for him, even the sanctuary of worship is no refuge. (You can find the practice of this specifically in 1 Kings 2:28-34. Joab tried it, and it didn’t work for him.) Here, the killer acted against the “hand of God”, in a sense grasping the life from the hand of God. Even so, there is no sheriff, there is no police, judge, jury, bailiff, or executioner. There is the blood redeemer. It’s a different, much simpler community. So, judging it using standards of our 21st-Century society isn’t possible.

“He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 21:15-17 NASB

One of the biggest criticisms of capital punishment is that innocent people can be executed. Most often, you don’t hear a criticism that the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime”, since in our society it always follows homicide. But what if someone were executed for striking their parent? How about “cursing” their parent, would that warrant death? What sort of society punishes such things with death, and who is it a punishment of, the child, or the parent? What would parenting look like in our society if the parents knew that their child could be killed for cursing them? It’s almost impossible to imagine from our perspective, it makes so little sense. And yet, to our Savior, Jesus, it makes sense.

This sort of penalty makes little sense in our society, we would think it excessive, even insane. And, in our society, with the sorts of laws and institutions we have, it would be insane. Yet, these laws indicate something profound. If we, immersed in our society miss the message, then a message of our Savior is lost. Parenting, and the treatment of parents by their children is dear to our Savior. Why? Why is cursing a parent punishable by death? Could it be that our Savior wants us to teach our children that they have a Father in heaven unimaginably greater than ourselves?

Being easy with how our children treat us, accepting mistreatment and disrespect, these things impede our Savior’s reach into their lives. We focus on how harshness and loveless parenting divides children from their Savior, and it does. Our Father in Heaven is neither of those things. But the answer is not to go in the other direction and pander to them.

Remember that our Creator and Redeemer loves us passionately. And yet we suffer. He permits difficulty. He even causes difficulty for us. He disciplines us because He loves us. And yet He never permits us to be destroyed, to fall with no recovery, and to be taken from Him by anyone. It’s not one or the other, it’s both and. We are to parent as we are parented by our Father in heaven.

So, let them live, but let’s not make it easy for our children to disrespect us. They may not be executed by human institutions or laws for their disrespect, but our Father in heaven may take them from us. He will certainly hold them accountable. If you want to protect them, discipline them. It’s important to our Savior.

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

Unimaginable Character

How often have you run across passages or stories in Scripture that horrify you? How many times have you discovered a passage that you struggle believing is in character of our Savior? If you have found very few, perhaps you can try to imagine Jesus discussing this one:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Exodus 21:7 NASB

This is one of those passages that are difficult to reconcile with the character we ascribe to Jesus. How could Jesus condone slavery, let alone a father selling his daughter into such an institution? Yet, that same Jesus, ministering to a Samaritan woman one moment, and a woman caught in adultery the next, lived a thousand years after the culture of this law. Think about that, Jesus a thousand years after Moses. So, to judge this law against the culture of first-century Judaism, and especially 21st-century America, looses all sense of perspective. Still, it’s in there, it’s inspired, and Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than abolish the law. That’s a tacit approval of this law.

The circumstances that would drive a father to the necessity of enslaving his daughter would have to be severe, regardless of culture. If the normal rules of debt-slavery were followed (i.e. those for male slaves), then this father would be left with an unmarryable daughter after six years. That becomes clearer as the rest of the corollaries are examined:

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Exodus 21:8-11 NASB

What is not necessarily obvious here is that God has combined two sets of cultural traditions/laws in order to convert a debt-slavery transaction into a marriage contract. There is no option to sell the woman into typical “slavery”, she remains protected as a fellow Hebrew. In fact, notice that the woman is considered family: She’s either 1) a wife (designated for himself), daughter-in-law (designated for his son), or relative (let her be redeemed – technical term for “kinsman redeemer”). So there are some very serious protections included in these corollaries. If the buyer will not adhere to any of these three, then she goes free and the owner forfeits his payment (i.e. the father keeps the money/loan and gets his daughter back).

Also notice the status of this sort of “wife”. If another wife is acquired in a “normal” fashion, then the “purchased wife” has the same rights, guaranteed. She’s not less of a spouse because of how she entered the household. This protects the rights of the poor, protecting them from exploitation by the wealthy, in fact, such a woman is raised to the status of the wealthy (the “husband” cannot reduce her food or clothing).

Judged from the perspective of Bronze Age Cultures, what our Redeemer has done here is elevate the status of women, protect families, and protect women and the poor from exploitation. So, if you do encounter a 21st-century critic of this law, feel free to ask them why they would be against such things.

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

Social Legality

It seems that “legalism” among disciples of Jesus has created a situation where a major portion of inspired Scripture has been jettisoned: the Torah. It’s as if the law is irrelevant to modern disciples. What is ironic about this is how difficult it has become to now practically apply the Scripture that is still acceptable. There is an alternative.

What if disciples of Jesus considered the Torah of God was actually helpful, still inspired, and still relevant to a life as a disciple of Jesus? What would that look like? How could someone “saved by grace through faith” find laws helpful? Well, let’s look at some. Here’s one we deal with every day, slavery…

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.

Exodus 21:2 NASB

And this is where the typical believer points out that this has no relevance to their lives, and that they even find it embarrassing that God would have a law encouraging slavery. It’s time to be atypical. Read that through. “If you buy a Hebrew slave…” Why would that even happen? It happened when a Hebrew became impoverished and needed money to keep the family farm afloat. This is an indentured servant, not a captive of war or arbitrary enslavement of a race of people. It served that culture as a way to make money without putting up the farm as security. Instead it was the physical labor of a person.

But keep reading, “he shall serve for six years…” there is a legal limit to how much work or how long this person works. It’s not a life sentence, it’s not a curse or a sign they’ve lost everything. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a six-year agreement. Most loans are for longer than that, even for cars. This law refuses to demean a Hebrew who is suffering some sort of financial setback or loss. It protects him from being abused by those with more money.

But there are other problems that could stem from this cultural practice.

If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.

Exodus 21:3-4 NASB

The first part protects both the person who “buys” the Hebrew’s work for six years and the Hebrew bought. If he comes in unmarried, he’s not allowed to take another slave with him (no running off with another slave who’s time isn’t up yet). That part makes sense. If he’s married when he becomes a slave (the “master” got a “two-fer”), he leaves with the wife. There’s no breaking up a family unit which was intact to begin with.

But this sets up the next statement which is hard, and protects the slave-owner. If the slave-owner joins one of his female slaves to the Hebrew slave, she stays after the six years. And this is the rule, even if there are children. To understand this better, it may be helpful to read ahead to the law about female “slaves” (maidservants), but that isn’t the only instance. It could be a foreign female slave in view here. Either way, ownership which was there before the union remains after the freeing of the male slave. It’s a problem, a serious one, and God is interested keeping families together, and has a solution.

But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.

Exodus 21:5-6 NASB

This is a very cultural law, but it solves the problem of broken families. The other option is for the slave to go out alone, and earn enough to redeem his family. That could be a problem if poverty caused his situation in the first place. The reality is that it would better to remain a slave if he truly wanted to keep his family together. And, judged from this culture in this time, it’s a horrible situation. And it wasn’t great in their day either. But keep in mind that Paul makes rules about household slaves and their owners in Ephesians 6.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

Ephesians 6:5-9 NASB

Keep in mind this is a very different sort of slavery than what was practiced in Europe and the United States during the 18th and 19th Centuries. This was voluntary and clearly temporary. It was a “contract” between two people. What the law was designed to do was protect the poor, limit the power of the rich, but also protect “property rights”. While we may judge this culture of the 13th Century BC harshly by our 21st Century AD mores and culture, the truth is that our Creator is clearly interested in how the rich treat those less fortunate, and how the poor are not to be allowed to disrupt the economy (read it again).

When we judge this rule by the standards of our culture then we miss the message of our Savior. He is interested in how we treat those less fortunate, and those more fortunate. We assume the former, and forget the latter. Both have responsibilities. Both are answerable to the same Creator.

As Paul points out, “…both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” We forget that. But our Savior does not. We can learn from these forgotten and disregarded, ignored legal texts. And this is just the first lesson. More to come.

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