Commentary

THE LAW The people came out of Egypt as a nation with no experience. That is why God committed Himself to fulfill all their needs, not only those concerning setting them free of servitude but also taking care of their daily bread, shading them by day and giving them light by night. He also took care of providing them with statutes to organize their worship, their civil life, and even their medical, architectural and agricultural needs. As a primitive congregation, God became for them, the Father, Judge, Physician, Civil Engineer and the Agricultural Engineer. That is what we clarified in the booklet we published with interpretation of the Book of Leviticus, which I hope to refer to with some detail. 1. The three chapters (Exod. 21-23) are like a practical application of the Ten Commandments to suit the circumstances in which the Jews lived at that time. They present us with living faith, understanding about our relationship with God and with our fellow men, and even with the beasts and the earth. That is why we do not study these chapters in detail, as laws and statutes, but we want to recognize the divine view as to human life. As an example, we find some regulations to organize the mutual relationships between slaves and their masters. Now, as there is no more slavery, we do not ignore these regulations because they bear the spirit of mutual relationships among human beings. 2. In these statutes, justice was clearly demonstrated. There was no privilege to the rich or the noble, despite the circumstances under which man lived at that time when some have gone so low to lie with a beast (Exod. 22.19), or to sacrifice to an idol (Exod. 22.20). 3. God has not only cared for the relationship of man with his fellow men, particularly with the slave, the orphan, the widow, or the poor, but cared even for the beasts of the field, commanding man to give them rest one day per week (Exod. 23.12), for his neighbor’s donkey lying under its burden (Exod. 23.5) and even for the land letting it rest for one year every seven years, “that the poor of your people and the beasts of the field may eat (Exod. 23.11). If God so cares for the slave, the orphan, the widow and even for the beasts and the land, how much would His care be for His children? St. Paul believes that these statutes bore hidden meanings that concern the people of God as well as our inner life, as he says, “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox, while it treads out the grain’ (Deut. 25.4). Is it oxen that God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9.9-10). That is why the scholar Origen and other allegoric fathers were interested in seeking the hidden meanings beyond these statutes, of which I shall present here some examples. 4. The Ten Commandments began by the commandments pertaining to the relationship of man with God, followed by those pertaining to his relationship with his fellow men. Then the Lord Christ came to summarize all those commandments in one phrase, “You shall love God and your neighbor”. However, here, they start by the commandments or statutes concerning the neighbor, like those concerning the slave, the murdered, the afflicted, those in debt, the strangers, the widows and the orphans, etc, followed by commandments that concern the feasts, and then those pertaining to our relationship with God. Thus, if these statutes are interpretations of the Ten Commandments, it is as though God intends not to separate commandments 158 concerning our relationship with God from those pertaining to our relationship with our fellow humans. They are all forming one unit or one life. We should never assume that we could please God by worshipping and giving, on the expense of our relationship with others. We should not, as well, assume that our good relationship with our fellow men atones for our negligence in our relationship with God. Contents of the divine statutes These chapters spoke of the following: 1- The Hebrew slave 21:1 - 11 2- Violence 12 - 36 3- Stealing 22:1 - 15 4- Adultery 16 - 20 5- Oppression 21 - 27 6- Reviling and cursing 28 7- Robbing the right of God 29 - 31 8- Hypocrisy and partiality 23:1 - 3 9- Helping others 4 - 6 10- Justice and taking no bribe 7 - 9 11- The Sabbath and the rights of others 10 - 13 12- Feasts 14 - 19 13- The divine presence 20 - 21 14- No dealing or mixing with the nations 24 – 33 159 CHAPTER 21 THE LAW (Continued) 1- The Hebrew slave 1 - 11 2- Violence 12 - 36 1- The Hebrew slave This chapter talks about the rights of the Hebrew slave, as the Law distinguishes between the Hebrew slave and the foreign slave (the Gentile). In order to understand what came in the Law, we have to be aware of the paganism’s view of the system of slavery, the situation of the Jewish Law, and the role of Christianity in this concern. Paganism and the system of slavery The pagan nations knew the system of slavery, both the underdeveloped and the developed nations - like the Greeks and the Romans. Some philosophers of the pagan world supported that system, as natural and at the same time necessary. Aristotle proclaimed that all Barbarians (the uncivilized) are slaves by nature and are not fit for any other way of life. The Roman law did not give the slaves any right, neither civil nor human. A master is not to be prosecuted if he tortured, killed a slave, committed adultery with him or took by force his wife to become his mistress or even to make of her a prostitute! 1 The Judaism and the slavery system It was not possible for the Jewish Law to ban the system of slavery by one stroke. That is why it began by setting ordinances and systems that provide the slave with his human right and relieving him, to a great extent, of humiliation, to let him live as a human being and a brother under his severe conditions. The Jews experienced two kinds of slavery: of the Hebrews and of the Gentiles. [1] Slavery of a Hebrew: It used to occur under the following circumstances: A. Out of poverty, one may sell himself (Lev. 25.39), or his children (2 Kings 4.1). B. Because of stealing; if he has nothing, he should be sold for his theft (Exod. 22.3). C. Someone may sell his son or daughter as a slave (Exod. 21.7, 17; Neh. 15.5). D. Man can be a slave by birth, if his father is a slave. The rights given by the Jewish Law to the Hebrew man- or maiden slave are: A. The Hebrew slave is to be treated as a brother, not with humiliation: “You shall not compel him to serve as a slave. But as a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you...for they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God” (Lev. 25.39-43). Thus, the Law presented a new view of the slave, that he is a brother, a fellow in the slavery to the One God. B. The slave will get his freedom on the seventh year of his servitude (after six years): in the Sabbath year or the year of rest. This is a reference to the freedom that became for all of us through the coming of the Lord in the Sabbath year in the 1 Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Vol. 1 Pg. 445-6. Fr. Shenouda El-Soriani, HG Bishop Yuanis. The Christian Church During the Age of the Apostles. 1971. 160 fulfillment of time, as He presented Himself (as the secret of the true rest), putting an end to the servitude to sin. In this concern, He says, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8.36). The slave would then have the right to choose between leaving his master’s house or staying with him all his life. If the slave loves his master, his mistress and their children, he would have to enslave himself to his master by his own choice till the end of his life; “then his master shall bring him to the door … and shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever” (Exod. 21.6), as a sign of complete obedience, according to the words of David the Psalmist: “My ears You have opened (pierced)” (Ps. 40.6). That is what the Lord Christ did, who, though a Son, became a slave for our sake, loving His Father, His bride and His children (Eph. 5.25-27). He carried in His body the wounds of the cross for our salvation. He became a slave to free us from servitude in order for us to become the sons of God. C. In the year of the Jubilee (Lev. 25.39-40), all the slaves would be freed, even those who did Not complete the six years of service to their masters. The Jubilee occurs in the fiftieth year, as a symbol of the work of the Holy Spirit, who grants the Church the consummation of freedom in the merit of the blood of Christ. By the Holy Spirit, we gain the forgiveness of our sins, and enjoy the fellowship with God in His Son and carry the Spirit of adoption, through which we are to address God as our Father. D. The liberated slave will not go empty handed but will take with him of the crops, the flocks, the threshing ground and the winepress. Likewise, the Lord Christ did not only set us free but He granted us the riches of His Holy Spirit, to set forth bearing His righteousness and holiness in us. E. A slave may marry his master’s daughter (1 Chron. 2.35); and the master may marry his maiden slave or give her in marriage to his son but he has no right to sell his Hebrew man slave nor his maiden slave to a foreign master (Exod. 21.7-11). Thus, a Hebrew maiden slave was considered a member of the household, with all rights, like any other of its members. This is a concrete symbol of God’s work with us having presented us -His slaves- as a bride to His Son by which we got the fellowship in His heavenly glories. F. In case the master or his son did not give the maiden slave -to whom either of them got married- her due care, as to food, clothing or her marital rights, she should be freed. Eventually, that custom of taking Hebrew slaves was abolished and banned after the return from captivity. [2] Slavery of a Gentile: These were almost always captives of war (Num. 31.9; 2 Kings 5.2) or purchased (Gen. 17.27, 37.28, 36; Exod. 27.13); or by birth (Gen. 17.12). Nevertheless, we do not find, in the Holy Book or in history, any indication that the Jews had slavery markets1. Before the Mosaic Law, Abraham, the father of faith, presented us with a living portrait of dealing with slaves having put in his heart to leave his inheritance to one of his slaves - Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15.2), who was the steward on all his wealth. Moreover, in Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca, (Gen. 24), Abraham’s trust in his slave was obvious, and the behavior of the latter proved him worthy of that trust. 1 The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. 889. 161 The Mosaic Law came to give the slaves certain rights that guaranteed their position as human beings. For example: A. “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death” (Exod. 22.16). B. Killing a slave equals killing a free man (Lev. 24.17). C. “If a man destroys the eye of his slave, he shall let him go free” (Exod. 21.26). D. The law gave the slaves the right to worship their own gods thus acknowledging the freedom of religion, even if they were wrong; but it gave the Hebrew master the right to circumcise his slaves. E. The law gave the slaves the right to partake in the Hebrew feasts (Exod. 20.10, 23.12). Christianity and the slavery system: Christianity dealt with the slavery system in an objective way to avoid agitating the slaves against their masters. Slaves in the Roman Empire constituted half its population; Bellini wrote that a Roman esquire, by the name Claudius Osidorus, in the days of Augustus, left among his possessions to 4116 slaves after his death1. Christianity requested from slaves obedience to their masters (Eph. 6.5-8; Col. 3.22- 25; 1 Tim. 6.1-2; 1 Pet. 2.18-21). It also believed in the possibility that a slave may influence his master through his holy life in the Lord. Thus, it is not astonishing to find St. John Chrysostom asking each member of his congregation to tell everyone outside the church that he was with the Seraphim. The father then teaches his son, as does the mother with her daughter and the slave with his master. The Church worked hard to bring back the slave who escaped to his master Philemon in order for the latter to liberate him according his own will and forgive him without being obliged. The slavery system started to collapse and that was one of the main causes of the animosity of the Roman Empire toward the Christian Church2. The secret of its collapse was based on the following: A. The Church committed its children to treat slaves as their own brothers (1 Cor. 7.21-22; Gal. 3.28; Col. 3.11). We should not forget that the Lord Christ was delivered to His enemies for thirty pieces of silver, like a slave. He thus included Himself among the slaves, so sanctifying the believers among them. B. When the apostle Paul returned the slave Onesimus, who escaped from Philemon his master, he sent with him an awesome message, calling the slave “…my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains...you therefore, receive him, that is, my own heart...for perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me…” (Philem. 10-16). C. Having lived with the Spirit of the Bible, some masters set their slaves free through an inner motive, without any clear commandment to do so. D. Several of those who have been slaves, have earned exalted dignity in the Church, either through martyrdom, like Blandina, Bablis and Felictas, whom the Church considers as heroes of faith3, or occupied high places in the clergy, like 1 J. Hastings. Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. 1954. Vol. 2 509. 2 Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty. The Coptic Church of Alexandria. Melbourne, 1975. 77. 3 Frend. Martyrdom And Persecution in the Early Church. 1965. 297. 162 Onesimus, the disciple of St. Paul, who became a Bishop on ‘Borea’ in Macedonia,1 and Calistus, Bishop of Rome in the third century. E. The early Church writings have enticed the collapse of that system. For example, what was written in the ‘Didache’: Do not bitterly rebuke your man- or maiden slave who worship the Lord your God, lest they lose the fear of God, who is above all, and do not look at the faces2. St. Clement of Alexandria says that the slaves are human beings just like us3. And Father Lactantius says that the slaves are not enslaved to us. They are our brothers in the Spirit, fellow slaves in religion4. St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God.” 5 St. Augustine believed that the appearance of slavery was the fruit of sin, as the divine ordinances would never allow someone to enslave his fellow man and to have authority over him6. St. John Chrysostom adopts the same idea7 saying that slavery appeared only when Canaan fell under the curse (Gen. 9.25). 2- Violence The commandment that proclaimed that God hates killing is stated clearly in the Bible, “You shall not kill”, while the statutes of the Law came to reveal more details for that commandment, and tied between killing and striking leading to permanent marks on the body. It is summarized as follows: One. Killing with premeditation: The killer should die; nothing could protect him, even if he takes refuge in the Lord’s altar (Exod. 21.14). Killing a free man or a slave are equally punished (Exod. 21.16). The Law considered striking or cursing a father or mother a kind of killing that should also be punished by death (Exod. 21.15, 17). The Law commanded that no ransom shall be taken for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, “for blood defiles the land” (Num. 35.31-33). Thus, it treated the rich like the poor and the one with authority like the one without. It does not put the murderer to death on the testimony of one witness, “Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Num. 35.30). Two. Killing through responsibility: If somebody knew that his ox tended to thrust in time past and has not kept it confined, and the ox killed a man, the ox with his owner would be put to death. However, if the ox killed another animal, its owner should pay ox for ox (Exod. 21.36). Yet, if it was proved that the owner of the ox was not negligent, the ox would be killed and its owner would not be considered guilty. If it killed another man’s ox the living ox would be sold and its price would be divided among the two owners (Exod. 21.35). Man would submit to the same responsibility if he digs a pit and does not cover it, and someone falls in it (Exod. 21.33); or if he does not build a parapet around the roof of his house, and someone falls from it, he would be considered in either case as a killer (Deut. 22.8). Thus, the Lord counted negligence a sin to be punished. 1 Apostolic Teachings And Constitutions. 7:4:46. 2 Chap. 4. Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty. The Apostolic Statement of Faith and the Didache. 3 Paed. 3:12. 4 Lactantius. INStit. 5:16. 5 The Epistle to Polycarp. 4. 6 Deciv. Dei. 19:15. 7 In 1 Cor. Hom. 40. 163 Three. Killing without premeditation (Exod. 21.13): The killer in this case has the right to flee to a city of refuge from the avenger of blood and he shall dwell in that city until the death of the high priest in those days. Then, the slayer may return and safely come to his own city from which he fled (Num. 35.11; Deut. 19.3; Josh. 2.3). The cities were symbols of the Lord Christ, to whom the repentant soul would find refuge from the sentence of death. Nevertheless, if it forsakes faith, it would perish by its transgression. God designated these cities of refuge and commanded putting marks that help the refugees find these cities. I hope to expose these issues in my study of the Book of Numbers. Here, the sanctification of the value of human life in the law is apparent. The Law commanded the killing of the killer with premeditation, with the intention of checking future crimes. On the other hand, it protected the one who killed without premeditation, presuming that what happened is accidental, but “God delivered him into his hands” (Exod. 21.13). Four. Striking: God’s holy view of human life is not only demonstrated in refraining from killing, but also in his intolerance to any harm done to man, whoever he is. Thus, if a man strikes and permanently damages an eye or a tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall have to let him go free for the sake of his eye or tooth (Exod. 21.26). If a permanent damage occurs to a free man, then it will be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exod. 21.23-25), in order to punish the striker, and to check the tendency to violence. Yet, the Law forbade the one who was stricken to avenge himself with a more severe strike, as the normal tendency of man would be, because the one who has stricken had started the fight. Therefore, the Law wanted to put a limit of vengeance until the time comes when man would mature spiritually and know how to pay good for evil. St. Augustine spoke of five degrees of love and anger1: 1. The tendency of man to attack his fellow man with no reason, as it happens among primitive tribes. 2. Man does not initiate attack, but would pay back with double force if attacked. 3. If attacked, man pays back with no more than an equal force; namely eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc. The Mosaic Law managed to lift man up to this stage, a great achievement at that time, but it did not commit man to pay back an eye for an eye, but forbade him of paying back two eyes for a single one. 4. Paying back the harm with one of less intensity, for the sake of mere chastisement. 5. Paying back the harm with love, the evil with good, and treating the one who started it as a sick man. The Lord Christ elevated us to act in this manner, in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.43-48). Let us then follow the example of our heavenly Father, whose sun shines on the wicked and the righteous and rains on the just and the oppressors. The Mosaic Law gives the one stricken the right to get a compensation for the loss of his time, and to be provided for, until thoroughly healed. A miscarriage of a woman because of men fighting: “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no lasting harm follows, he shall surely be punished 1 St. Augustine. Sermon on the Mount. 164 accordingly, as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any lasting harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth...” (Exod. 21.22-25). The scholar Origen comments on this statute saying that the men who fight are those obsessed with disputes over certain points in the Law, using what the apostle described as “arguments over words” (1 Tim. 6.4). We know how this often occurs among the brothers. That is why the apostle advises saying, “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord, not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers” (2 Tim. 2.14), and to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all” (2 Tim. 2.23). Those disputing over such things are destroying hearers: hurting the pregnant woman and causing her miscarriage. That pregnant woman is the soul that conceives with the word of God, as pregnancy is talked about in the Book of Isaiah (26.18). Those who get pregnant and deliver are not likened to women, but to perfect men. Listen to the prophet saying, “Who has heard such a thing? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once” (Isa. 66.8). That is the generation of the perfect, who are delivered on the same day they are conceived. We should not count this as a strange matter, that men deliver; we should understand these words avoiding carnal interpretation and seeking that of the inner man. Listen to what the apostle also says, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4.19). Therefore, those who deliver directly after conception are strong and perfect men, those who give fruits by work through the word of faith that they have received. On the contrary, the soul that conceives, then keeps the fruits inside her without delivering, would be called a woman, according to the words of the prophet: “The children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth” (isa. 37.3). That soul is called a woman because of her weakness, suffering and stumbling, as men fight and dispute. That is the sure result of dispute: rejecting the word of faith conceived, and ending up in the destruction of the hearers. If the soul that stumbled rejected the word before having the chance to respond to it, he who caused it to stumble will have to be punished. Do you wish to know whether certain souls had the word formed in them or not? The apostle Paul instructs us to see “if Christ is formed in them” (Gal. 4.19). The Lord Christ is the Word of God; the apostle Paul said that the Word of God had not been formed in them, at the time he wrote his epistle. Thus, rejecting the Word, before being consummated inside, would be worthy of judgment. The apostle also tells us about judgment of the teachers saying, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3.15). The Lord Himself says in the Bible, “For is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul” (Matt. 16.26)? 1 The scholar Origen comments on the phrase, “as the woman’s husband imposes on him” (Exod. 21.22), saying that the husband of the soul that learns is her master … Christ, the head of the Church2. This Master will cut the stumbling teachers off the Church’s body. What does he mean by saying that he hurts her eye, her teeth, her hand, her foot, or he gave her a burn? The scholar Origen believes that for those with little souls, the eye hurt is their apprehension of God and their inner insight. As for the 1 In Exode. Hom. 10:3. 2 Ibid. 10:4. 165 teeth, they refer to the ability of the soul to digest the word of God, to comprehend its secrets and to get satisfied with it. The hand refers to the capability of the soul of holding fast the spirituals; while the foot refers to its ability to walk toward God. Concerning the burning, this refers to the suffering of the soul that burns because of its deprivation of God. These are how the spiritually little stumble because of foolish disputes.

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