In Exodus so far, we’ve seen Israel in bondage under Egypt. We’ve seen Moses raised up by the Lord to be His mediator between Himself and the people. The Lord rescued Israel from their bondage and brought them to Mt. Sinai, where He spoke with them audibly and gave His Law to the nation as a whole in preparation for moving into the promised land. In our text this Sunday the Lord expands His Law to their everyday lives. In this section, and on to Exodus 23:33, the Lord explains how the Ten Commandments are to be applied in a case-by-case manner. Some refer to this section as “case laws.” In the first, the Lord addresses how Israelites are to treat their slaves or servants.
Today when we hear the word slave we immediately think of the early days of the USA. Slavery was wicked and cruel in our history as a nation. But that’s not how the word is used in our text. Israel has just come out of bondage, being slaves in the cruelest sense, but this is not what the Lord is speaking of here at all. During this time in Israel’s history and as they enter the land, some Israelites didn’t have enough to survive on their own. Others may have been in debt and in need of money to pay the debt off. And so, Israelites under monetary burdens like these would sell their services to another. They would live with the one who helped them and serve him until their service was paid off. In our text, the Lord sets standards on how to treat those that sell their services to another.
Today this may be equivalent to a live-in servant who serves for room and board plus a small payment. Or it may possibly be similar to one who joins the military for a four-year enlistment. The Army agrees to house, train, and care for you with pay. For all intents and purposes, for those years you belong to the Army until your contract is finished!
The Lord tells Israel they are to treat their fellow Israelites with kindness. Also, they are to be set free after six years of service.
The Lord has treated Israel well and they are to treat their neighbors well, as we’ll see in our text. Jesus summed up the commandments in Mark 12:30-31: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.