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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Exodus 21:7-11

Harmony Of The Law Volume 3 by Jean Calvin

Exodus 21:7-11

7. And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do.

7. Quum vendiderit quispiam filiam suam in ancillam, non egredietur quemadmodum egredi solent servi.

8. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

8. Si displicuerit hero suo, nec sibi desponderit eam, redimendam curabit: populo alieno non habebit potestatem vendendi eam, quum spreverit eam.

9. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

9. Quod si filio suo desponderit eam, secundum morem filiarum faciet ei.

10. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

10. Si aliam acceperit sibi, alimentum illius, operimentum illius, et constitutionem illius non diminuet.

11. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

11. Quod si tria haec non fecerit illi, egredietur gratis absque argento.

From this passage, as well as other similar ones, it plainly appears how many vices were of necessity tolerated in this people. It was altogether an act of barbarism that fathers should sell their children for the relief of their poverty, still it could not be corrected as might have been hoped. Again, the sanctity of the marriage-vow should have been greater than that it should be allowable for a master to repudiate his bond-maid, after he had betrothed her to himself as his wife; or, when he had betrothed her to his son, to make void that covenant, which is inviolable: for that principle ought ever to hold good -- |Those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.| (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.) Yet liberty was accorded to the ancient people in all these particulars; only provision is here made that the poor girls should not suffer infamy and injury from their repudiation. But, although God is gracious in remitting the punishment, still He shows that chastity is pleasing to Him, as far as the people's hardness of heart permitted. First of all, He does not allow a master to seduce his purchased maid-servant, but if he wishes to enjoy her embraces, a marriage must take place; for although He does not set this out in express terms, still we may infer from what He condemns, that the contrary is what He approves. From whence, too, their notion is refuted who suppose that fornication was lawful under the Law. But the words must be more closely examined on account of their ambiguity. First, the sex is treated with consideration, that the condition of a female may be somewhat more favorable than that of a male; since, otherwise, their weakness would render young women subject to injury and shame. An explanation then follows, respecting which, however, interpreters differ; for some read the particle l', lo, which is properly negative, for lv, lo; and hence arise two opposite meanings -- If he hath, or hath not, betrothed her to himself. If it be preferred to take it affirmatively, the meaning of the precept will be: If a master shall repudiate his bond-maid, whom he has loved and destined to be his wife, he must give her her liberty; for although literally it is, |he shall cause her to be redeemed,| yet; the context shows that the obligation of setting her free is laid upon him; nor is this contradicted by the fact that he is only deprived of the power of selling her to a strange people; since I do not understand this as applying to foreigners only, but to others of his own nation, since sometimes those of another tribe or family are called strangers. For, even though there were no marriage-compact, it was not otherwise lawful to sell slaves of the holy and elect people to foreigners. Besides, amongst the Israelites, slavery was only temporary. But, to pass by everything else, let it suffice to observe the absurdity that a master should hold his wife as a slave to be sold at pleasure, if their opinion is received who suppose that the words refer to repudiation after betrothal. I myself rather approve of the other opinion, that, although the master shall not have aspired to matrimony with her, if her appearance displeases him so that he would be unwilling to have her as his wife, at least he must provide for her redemption; because her chastity would be in jeopardy if she remained with him unmarried; unless perhaps Moses may signify that, after she had been seduced, her master did not honor her with marriage. But the other view which I have just expressed is more simple; and a caution is given lest masters should seduce their maid-servants at their pleasure. Thus the word despise does not refer to repudiation, but is opposed to beauty, or conjugal love.

The next case is, that if he should betroth her to his son, (he must give her a dowry, ) in which, also, her modesty and honor is consulted, lest she should be oppressed by the right of ownership, and become a harlot. In the third place, it is provided that, if she should be repudiated, her condition should not be disadvantageous. If, therefore, he would make her his daughter-in-law, and betroth her to his son, he is commanded to deal liberally with her; for |after the manner of daughters| is equivalent to giving her a dowry, or, at any rate, to treating her as if she were free. Finally, he adds that, if he should choose another wife for his son, he should not reject the former one, nor defraud her of her food and raiment, or of some third thing, concerning which translators are not well agreed. Some render it time, but I do not see what is the meaning of diminishing her time; others, duty of marriage, but this is too free a translation; others, more correctly, affliction, since the girl would be humiliated by her repudiation; still, to diminish affliction, is too harsh an expression for to compensate an injury. Let my readers, then, consider whether the word, nth, gnonathah, is not used for compact or agreement; for thus the context will run very well: If his son have married another wife, that the girl who has suffered ignominious rejection should obtain her rights as to food, and raiment, and her appointed dowry; otherwise, God commands that she should be set free gratuitously, in order that her liberty may compensate for the wrong she has received.

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