Exodus, Chapter 21

Saturday, June 27


Exodus, Chapter 21


God has delivered the Hebrews from slavery. They are free. Not free to do what they want, but free to do what is right. God has shown them what is good for them in the Ten Commandments. But how are those “ten words” lived out in day to day living? How are they applied in questionable situations? Chapter 21 begins a section of ordinances or case law that deal with the “usual way” of handling issues and disputes that arise between members of the community. A community cannot survive without a structure that prohibits cycles of revenge, abuse, or violence.  The Hebrews had been chattel-slaves in Egypt. The owners could do anything to their chattel. But the Hebrews would only have debt-slavery (becoming a slave to pay off a debt). The slave would go free when the debt was paid. If the master abused the slave, the slave would be set free. “Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (v. 24) sounds vengeful and legalistic to us, but it was to stop the revenge from cycling into a continuing escalation of violence. For 12th Century BC, these rules build structure that preserves the sanctity of life.


In the Sermon on the Mount though Jesus takes it a step further, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer” (Matthew 5:38-42). In the community built on love instead of trying to limit the revenge, Jesus calls us to find a creative way of dealing with violence instead of retaliation. “Turning the other cheek” is a creative way of startling the other in order to find reconciliation. We need structure in our community, but structure based on the rule of love.


Gracious loving heavenly Father, you know all that is good for us. Open our eyes to see the path of your rule of love. Show us how to stand up against evil and injustice in a creative way that is not retaliation but reconciliation. Through the self-giving of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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