"It Really Could Be Worse"

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Exodus 20 and the guiding principles that God gave His people through Moses are straightforward. We can understand the logic behind the commandments. It’s what comes after Exodus 20 that can turn into a snake pit for many of us.  The Ten Commandments were only the beginning of the instructions that God gave Moses. We prefer to stop at the end of Exodus 20 because, in our modern Bibles Exodus 21 is separate from Exodus 20 which, somehow, seems to give us permission to ignore what follows. But in the days when the Scriptures were written there were no chapters, verses, or punctuation.

Don’t take the comments that follow as “gospel” because I don’t know for sure whether my theory has any basis in fact. But based on what I know about the nature of God — as little as that may be — here’s what I think.

Exodus 21 begins with, “These are the laws you are to set before them.”

Then follows something that disturbs a lot of people, including me, because the next section describes the rules applying to slavery and the treatment of women—most of which offends us.

As I read this passage this morning, I tried to wrap my head around these issues. The Bible never condemns slavery though it addresses the fair treatment of slaves. The Bible never addresses the rights of women though it elevates the status of women from that which was practiced in Biblical times among the majority of nations. I asked myself why. Does God’s silence on the subject of slavery and the rights of women indicate that He approves of slavery and the subjugation of women?

I don’t think so.

If we look back at Exodus 20:5 we find that terrible statement: “...I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” I did a little research last night because the question that came to mind was whether this statement was specific to the second commandment about not making or worshiping idols, since it follows on the heels of that commandment. I found a couple of similar statements that referred to other instructions so concluded that no, this visiting of punishment through the generations was a general statement that applied to all breaking of God's commands.

Then I thought back to the fall, and the curse, described for us in Genesis 3. The thought came to me that slavery and that subjugation of women are both consequences of that first sin—part of the punishment that has been passed down through the generations. God would not “fix” or condemn what was part of that punishment even though He takes no pleasure in the punishment. But He did make rules so that the consequences of sin would not be overwhelming.

We see this in how God handled the issue of Cain in Genesis 4. Cain killed his brother, Abel. There were consequences for Cain because of that sin—consequences that seemed to overwhelm Cain, something we see in his conversation with God in Genesis 4:13, 14. But God limited the extent of those consequences even though He did not relieve Cain of them. Those limitations are recorded in Genesis 4:15.

In the commands that God gives Moses in Exodus 21 and following, He is laying down the limitations to the consequences of sin. Someday God will remove both the sin and its consequences—a process already begun at the cross. Someday there will be no abuse, either of employees (some consider these to be modern day “slaves”) or women.

Perhaps my “theory” only makes me feel better about something I can’t explain otherwise. But what I do know is this: God is just and holy. Equality is modeled in the Trinity even though each person of that Trinity has a different role to play. Someday the example God gave us in His own nature will no longer simply be something to work toward, but will become a reality. In the meanwhile, we deal with the consequences of sin and we thank God that He has put limits around those consequences and continues to show His grace and mercy to His wayward creation.


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