Grasping God’s Purpose: “Responsible by Design” (Part Two) – Exodus 21, Pt. 2

America loves the MUSH GOD.

Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote about him: “The Mush God has been known to appear to millionaires on golf courses. He appears to politicians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and to clergymen speaking the invocation on national TV at either Democratic or Republican conventions. The Mush God has no theology to speak of, being a Cream of Wheat divinity. The Mush God has no particular credo, no tenets of faith, nothing that would make it difficult for believer and nonbeliever alike to lower one’s head when the temporary chairman tells us that Reverend, Rabbi, Father, or Mufti, or So-and-So will lead us in an innocuous, harmless prayer, for this god of public occasions is not a jealous god. You can even invoke him to start a hooker’s convention and he/she or it won’t be offended. God of the Rotary, God of the Optimists, Protector of the Buddy System, The Mush God is Lord of the secular ritual, of the necessary but hypocritical forms and formalities that hush the divisive and derisive. The Mush God is a serviceable god whose laws are chiseled not on tablets but written on sand, open to amendment, qualification and erasure. This is a god that will compromise with you, make allowances and declare all wars holy, all peaces hallowed. SOURCE: Nicholas Van Hoffman as quoted by Adrian Rogers in Ten Secrets for a Successful Family, pp. 29-30.

It may seem harsh to open with the idea that this MUSH GOD Divinity is what our country truly believes – but it is a long standing truth of the ancient world that most major cultures developed their own gods, and we are no different. Be he Molech, Baal, Anat, Yarikh – or she Ashtarote, Hathor or Diana… each culture shaped a god or goddess that made them comfortable… and modern Americans have clearly done the same. Sadly, when we call upon this “god” of our own making, many less discerning people – even some believers in Jesus – think we are addressing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible.

The importance of really living the Christian life is illustrated in the life of the famous author Mark Twain. Church leaders were largely to blame for his becoming hostile to the Bible and the Christian faith. As he grew up, he knew elders and deacons who owned slaves and abused them. He heard men using foul language and saw them practice dishonesty during the week after speaking piously in church on Sunday. He listened to ministers use the Bible to justify slavery. Although he saw genuine love for the Lord Jesus in some people, including his mother and his wife, he was so disturbed by the bad teaching and poor example of church leaders, that he became bitter toward the things of God. (sermon central illustrations).

How do you know we are NOT living for the “mush god”? We know by the standard of truth and the standard of ethical behavior. If one is addressing the God of the Bible, they will address Him in a way consistent with what His Word teaches. If one is truly Christian – they will live by those standards. The Bible is neither silent on the character of God, nor His unchanging standard of truth and right. We can know God according to the Bible, and that would delight Him for us to know, love, obey and follow Him.

Key Principle: God gave the Law in part to help us identify real values that emanate from Him! The Law reflects His character and His cares – what He thinks is important (which is what defines what truly IS important!)

Where is God found, according to the Bible? His “fingerprints” are found in nature, but He is seen clearest in His Word. That is why we are passionate about studying the Bible. When we were studying last time in Exodus 21, we found some truths about what the God of Abraham cares about, and what standard He uses for “what is right.”  Last time we picked out of this text four specifics that God demonstrated were essential in living properly in civil society:

  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect His image stamp and breath in man, and therefore He wants men to understand the “sanctity of life”. He made a rule that civil government had the right to terminate the life of one who took another’s life – both as a deterrent to a would be murderer, and as a statement of His Divine LOVE OF LIFE.
  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect the positions of authority like that of parents, because He placed us in the family we came into. It was His choice and not ours. To reject a respect for their position was to reject HIS POSITION of authority. God made an onerous penalty to protect parents from both physical and verbal attack by children. God held the family unit as absolutely essential to the success of civil society. He allowed civil government to execute someone for their overt disrespect and rebellion against their parents. Though that law is not in operation in our society, there is no question that God wanted us to know HE DESIRES RESPECTFUL PEOPLE.
  • We saw that God expects civil society to respect the freedom of other men and women – and even allowed civil government to terminate one who kidnapped or held captive one against their will. God made a statement against any who would not allow BASIC FREEDOM.
  • Finally, we saw that God expected His people to respect CONTRACTS and be people of their word – especially when it came to their financial or economic life. They were forbidden to OVERBORROW by law, and were always allowed to sell their personal services to one another in exchange for contractual remuneration – but it was never SLAVERY in the way we used the term in the antebellum south of the United States – that was NEVER upheld in the Bible. The term slave meant indentured servant, and was an employment strategy of the ancient economy.

Today, I want to keep looking at the CIVIL CODE of Law and investigate another kid of contract called the BRIDE PRICE contract. When you read the word CONCUBINE, your mind is rightly reminded that you are reading about a different time and place than where you live in the modern period. God didn’t call modern people to lock into this form of reproduction  – but He did regulate carefully an ongoing practice that was active among the ancients… and in that He related timeless truths about what He cared about. Read a few verses that we skipped in the last study from Exodus 21…

21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. 8 “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. 9 “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. 10 “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 “If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

On the first reading of this text, it sounds like you call up “Dial a girl” and order from a catalogue a wife. In our oversexed modern world, it does not quickly occur to us that the entire system was not based on the lust of men, but on the very opposite impulse – the value and protection of a woman.

William Luck: Modern people, when reading “bride price” passages in the Law, often jump to the conclusion that to pay for the bride amounts to her having been sold, and that this reduces her to the level of a slave….( It is really better to translate the word “bride price” rather than “dowry,” as a dowry was given by the father of the bride to the bride as a present when she left the nuclear family, whereas a bride price was paid by the groom to the father of the bride. …some fathers, like Laban, mismanaged the bride price (Gen. 31:15).

Let me explain the passage this way, verse by verse. Before I do, let me set the scene back into THEIR WORLD and THEIR TIME:

Imagine a tribe long ago that was brutally overthrown by a ruler they had come to trust. Imagine that ruler placing them in bondage and taking from them the opportunity to follow the teachings of their fathers – as they became the forced labor pool of a dictator. Fast forward ten generations, when no one recalls freedoms of their ancestors long before. Imagine that God called a man and his family to revive His witness and turn God’s people out of the land of the dictator. All of them had been slaves – so the only economic reality they knew was indentured service. They didn’t use money, they used barter, and the services of their hands and feet became a trade commodity like paper money or credit cards. They were raised with few luxuries, but came into great wealth just before they broke ranks with their captors. They had jewelry, fine cloth, gold and silver – but no place to spend it and no real idea how to value it. They were used to attaining what they needed by offering services of their hands and feet, for specific periods of time to barter for their needs.

They were from large tribes of a single family, but the numbers had now grown outward to the point that little blood was common to them – they were very distant cousins. In order to meet the demands of a very high infant mortality rate, as well as a life expectancy that was averaged a bit over half of our average length – the family and marriage customs had developed in a way that is not only foreign to us – but entirely unnecessary to us. As a result, they had multiple wives – since they needed five children to raise enough crops in the field to feed six. There was no way out of poverty that did not include bearing many children – most of whom would not live. They had differing contractual relationships designed to have children. They weren’t living in a world where they were choosing a “date” based on beauty, but mating based on probability that mother and child will survive the process of child bearing.

In short, they were not in our sex crazed, convenience oriented, sanitary, long life-spanned world. They lived in a harsh and brutal landscape on a forty year journey, followed by an embattled desperate people who were trying to assert strength among a foreign population in their old homeland.

Applying these kinds of texts takes WORK – but it is well worth the effort –FOR IT SHOWS US HOW OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN THINKS. If we don’t work for it, all we will do is lose ourselves in the curiosity of the differences.

As many of you know I lead travel programs in different countries each year. When I first started taking young people, I asked them: “What have you noticed that is so different about this place?” Invariably they would tell me about toilets. In Turkey, the hole in the floor was usually much more than most young ladies could figure out without explanation. In Israel, the two handled flush – a small flush for liquids and a large flush for solids – was a novelty. In the end, I tried to get them to understand how these simple differences revealed a difference in values. Americans valued sanitary conditions that meant flushing away refuse with as little odor as possible. Turks in villages never used water for something so superfluous (in their view). Haul a bucket to get the water, and your use of it will change over time! Israelis secure water and don’t waste it – because it means life to them. By looking at the different ways a bathroom was made, we could see VALUE STATEMENTS by the people.

With that in mind, let’s dissect the verses and place them in context – on our way to finally applying them to our VALUE SYSTEM.

21:7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

“Tom needed a new plow to break the ground for the crops of next season. His was simply broken and beyond repair. Tom approached Ed, the local blacksmith and plow maker in the tent down the way. He knew that Ed had three girls from his wife, but she seemed unable to give him sons – and he needed sons to grow his business into a place where both he and his wife would be secure in their old age. Tom pulled Ed aside and offered to present his young daughter Suzie as a second wife, to bear children with Ed. In this way, Ed would supply the plow, and Tom would supply his daughter as payment so that Tom would have crops next season, and Ed could grow his ability to have a secure business when he was too old to care for his family. Suzie was considered a BRIDE OF PRICE or “concubine” – not the same as Ed’s first wife that was chosen by his parents for him.

The law in 21:7 was intended to apply protection for Suzie. This BRIDE OF PRICE contract was made to be a permanent arrangement – unlike the six year temporary climate of the male indentured worker in the verses of Exodus 21 just preceding these. It was still contractual between two families, but this contract did not have the same kind of severance required in the earlier passage.  That way, Suzie’s way was secure in the future as well. Ed had to work many hours to get Suzie, and his desire for her was probably based far more on his need for sons than his desire for a new partner with which to procreate. That may sound strange – but we are probably projecting many ideas into the relationship of men and women that were not a part of the lifestyles of ancient Israelites. It is for this reason – living on the edge of starvation with little security aside from these practices, that the arrangement was normal and un-offensive to both Suzie and Ann – the other wife of Ed. Ann needed to know who would care for her after her girls and Ed were gone – it was a real consideration.

21:8 “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 Ed finished the work on the plow and took Suzie home to the tent where Ed and Ann lived with the three girls – Suzie entered the tent to bear children with as his second wife. This was all lawful and completely moral in this time. To shade it as less than moral is wrong – God hadn’t told them NOT to at this point. Now Ed and Suzie try to have a child together, attempting multiple times. Meanwhile, Suzie is young, contentious, stubborn and makes Ed’s household life terrible. Ann cannot take it. Ann’s girls are being infected with her stubborn willfulness. Ed decided that Suzie was not a suitable woman to raise his son – if they ever had one – and he and Ann want out of the agreement. The law provided that he could not simply FIRE HER and  “cut her loose” to send her home. He couldn’t get the plow back, because the deal was legally consummated on both sides. Ed was entitled to get something back for all his labor used to secure Suzie, but there were rules. First, he was to present her to be bought back by Tom – her original nuclear family. Under no circumstances could Ed make any deal to exchange goods or services for her to any other group of people – Ed was to protect Suzie for Tom’s family – it was part of the original agreement. If Ed wasn’t discerning enough to choose the right woman, he was bound to take a substantial loss because of his poor ability to choose – and the shame brought to Suzie was stated as Ed’s unfairness to her – his fault was choosing poorly. Tom was not shamed for Suzie’s character – for Tom had little interaction with his daughter on a daily basis as she grew up.

21:9 “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.

If Ed made the plow to get a wife for Joe, his son – Ed had no right to treat her as property, but is to treat her as a daughter – in spite of the fact that he may have worked long and hard to secure her for Joe. She was to be Joe’s wife, and her body was to be respected as such. Ed made the payment as a dad, and he was to act as a father to Suzie at all times.

21:10 “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.

If Ed and Ann have decided not to keep Suzie in the home, Ed may send a message to Tom to offer her back to him for a part of the BRIDE PRICE. In the meantime, the clock is still ticking for Ed and Ann to get a son. If Ed is able to make another plow for Jose in exchange for his daughter to be a BRIDE OF PRICE wife, he must care for Tom’s daughter Suzie while Tom prepares to take her home. Since Suzie has already been in a home and rejected – her best option now is to go back to her father’s house with children that will increase her dad’s net worth and work force. As a result, the law provided that Ed could not deny her food, clothing and even sex – that she may bring home a child to her father Tom’s house – that will increase his family’s asset value. Ed must care for her until Tom redeems her without exception or excuse.

Ed’s decision have more than one wife was allowed under the Law, but would be incredibly expensive to do. As a result, he may be tempted to tighten up rations and restrict the family budget to take on another second wife, but he was not allowed to do so.

21: 11 “If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

If Ed refused to care completely for Suzie during the time her family was attempting to redeem her,  Suzie would have the right, under the law, to leave Ed and return to Tom at his family home with no need to pay anything back to Ed on the plow.

Our culture has but one system for attaining a wife – and it is primarily based on the relationship between the MAN AND THE WOMAN that choose to be married. The ancients, and many other cultures today are based primarily between the MAN’S PARENTS AND THE WOMAN’S PARENTS – arranged marriages. There is often an economic relationship in these cultures between marriage and status or finance. Ironically, the concubine wife or BRIDE OF PRICE was the wife chosen in ancient society MOST LIKE our way of choosing – the man chose for himself. The NORM of marriage was a young woman chosen by PARENTS of the groom.

Our values and ways of doing things are relatively recent. For instance, a man that didn’t take his new wife on a honeymoon today would be considered incredibly CHEAP, denying her a basic GIVEN in our society. Yet, this practice is largely POST VICTORIAN.

Does Exodus 21 INFORM THE VALUES OF modern families? The answer is a resounding YES!

First, God was keenly interested in development of wholesome families. He was aware of the needs of the people to procreate, but He set strict boundaries around COMMITTING ADULTERY. Fidelity matters to God – fidelity of heart, fidelity of hands and feet, fidelity of eyes…That means, sexual purity was always a part of God’s thinking – even in the polygamist system. Those who were married were specified and contractual – it was not a “one night stand” license.

Second, Women were to be protected by civil society because God said so! God was not willing to leave it up to human ingenuity to devise a rights system – but made the offspring of every type of wife full sons and daughters, and the protection of every woman’s needs a priority. The charge that the Bible values were to subjugate women as slaves is not valid, and does not reflect God’s heart at all. God made women. God loves women. God made laws to protect women – that needs to be clear.

Third, Before a man could “have” a woman as his wife, he had to show he was willing to earn the right to be a husband. What a concept! She was not to allow him the entitlement of her procreation unless and until he took all the steps to earn her covenant relationship. Like Jacob worked for Rachel for seven years, he was not simply “buying” a wife as much as he was compensating Laban for his loss when she would leave Laban’s home – underscoring her value to the home.. At the same time, Laban had ample opportunity to see to it that Jacob was truly responsible and hard working before entrusting his daughter to Jacob. In that story, Laban cheated Jacob and substituted Leah – causing Jacob to work another raft of years for Rachel. When the second wife was added to the family, Jacob still had full responsibility to care for Leah, if he wanted to please God. The Law was not yet given – but the Law revealed God’s value system – men should not be able to take from women without the protections of a family and having to work for the right.

Fourth, God placed protective boundaries around women before men in power in their society. He said neither a daughter nor a daughter in law were allowed to be treated as a wife. This law made sexual contact illegal and emotional contact within specific boundaries. Women workers in the home were to be treated like a daughter (Exod. 21:9). Deuteronomy later (21:15) limited disinheritance of an unloved woman. They could not be attacked by the man through disinheriting her children, etc.

Fifth, God was deeply concerned with the reputation of a wife, and told men they should have that value as well. In later codes of law, Numbers 5 and Deuteronomy 23 relate great fines against a man who tarnished his wife’s reputation. A smear against her reputation brought a one hundred month fine and the prohibition of divorce in the future. The divorce option of the Bible had little to do with the casual way we handle such things in our society.

In Numbers 5, there was a law for how a man could bring his wife before God if he thought she was unfaithful in relation to the marriage bed. I only want to mention one aspect of this complicated passage to help illustrate God’s concern with her reputation. He could accuse, but the law said: “if she is guilty…the man shall be free from guilt.” The guilt referred to was simple – if he was wrong he tarnished her reputation – and God was concerned that men protect the reputation of their wives.

Sixth, women had unmitigated rights under the law – apart from any “good old boy” network.  Exodus 21 revealed four in 21:10,26-27. These included three things “he may not reduce”  – food, clothing and sex. These also implied a fourth RIGHT- his presence. He could not offer these three in an absentee position. Much later, in 1 Corinthians 7:3, Paul admonished husbands to show their wives “due benevolence,” which, in the context, certainly means to “grant sexual intercourse.” Other protections afforded her included the freedom she had to LEAVE if he harmed her physically in a way that was demonstrable: “And if a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant 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. She was not obligated to be beaten out of some unusual twisting of the Bible that a man could beat her to the floor. She was protected by God – that was always His way.

Let’s make it abundantly clear to every believer today:

  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of sexual purity. If you want to sleep around, don’t call yourself a Christian – you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of female protections. If you want a license to slap her around – don’t call yourself a Christian – you are Mushian– for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of choosing a man well, ladies. If you feel so poor about your own self image that you only believe you can “keep him” by giving him what is not his to have – don’t call yourself a Christian– you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.
  • Our God is not the Mush God on the issue of abusing power over people who you should be protecting in your home. If you want to play with people’s bodies because you have the power to keep their mouth shut – don’t call yourself a Christian – you are a Mushian – for you serve a made up Mush god.

Christians need to wake up to the reality of the way they treat people. We need this MUCH MORE than some new class on evangelism or some new night to go on door to door visitation. Our testimony is in DEEDS that match CLEAR WORDS:

Pastor Steven Chapman wrote: I heard recently of a business owner who, as a seeker, had employed scores of Christians in his company. He watched them like a hawk. “You know, I was naturally drawn to God by observing Christian workers who were conscientious and kind and thorough and aggressive on the job,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what really impressed me. One day a guy who I knew to be a fresh convert asked if he could see me after work. I agreed to meet with him, but later in the day I started to worry that this young religious zealot might be coming to try to convert me, too.” “I was surprised when he came in my office with his head hanging low and said to me, ’Sir, I’ll only take a few minutes, but I’m here to ask your forgiveness. Over the years I’ve worked for you I’ve done what a lot of other employees do, like borrowing a few company products here and there. And I’ve taken some extra supplies; I’ve abused telephone privileges; and I’ve cheated the time clock now and then. “’But I became a Christian a few months ago and it’s real – not the smoke and mirror stuff. In gratitude for what Christ has done for me and in obedience to Him, I want to make amends to you and the company for the wrongs I’ve done. So could we figure out a way to do that? If you have to fire me for what I’ve done, I’ll understand. I deserve it. Or, if you want to dock my pay, dock it whatever figure you think is appropriate. If you want to give me some extra work to do on my own time, that would be okay, too, I just want to make things right with God and between us.’” Well they worked things out. And the business owner said that this conversation made a deeper spiritual impact on him than anything else ever had. It was the single most impressive demonstration of true Christianity he had ever witnessed. What was it that made this new believer so contagious? Was it a clever new gospel presentation? Was it a well-rehearsed testimony? Obviously not. It was merely a genuine and humble admission of wrongdoing along with a willingness to make it right. It was consistent Christianity.

God gave the Law in part to help us identify real values that emanate from Him! The Bible isn’t outdated and irrelevant, because sin is nothing new. It isn’t so hard to understand, but it is impossible to follow if we don’t truly have a relationship with Him!