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