by Jake MageeExodus 21:7-11
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."This passage is believed to provide for us “neglect” as a legitimate cause for divorce. I would like to look some of the strengths and weakness of this position and offer some reasons for my tentative agreement of this position. In offering a tentative agreement, this isn’t necessarily an affirmation that neglect is a legitimate cause for divorce. We have yet to weigh the words of Jesus on his handling of Mosaic regulations on marriage.
In verse 7, we have the conditions of a father selling his daughter into slavery. Moses says that she is not to go free after the allotted time as the male slaves to. Why the permanency of the slavery? The answer seems connected with what position she’s appointed to: “If he designates her for himself (vs.8),” or “if he designates* her for his son” (vs.9). The appointment seems to have been for engagement or marriage, not to ordinary servitude.
It’s vital to know the precise nature of this “designation,” for in verses 10 & 11, the “designation” may be legally dissolved in the case of neglect. If the appointment is to engagement, then this verse would be irrelevant to the topic of divorce. All Moses would be saying is, “If a woman is engaged and her fiancée betroths someone else, she is free to exit her term of servitude.” If it refers to marriage, than we must address other issues related the particular relevancy of this passage for new covenant living.
So, does this designation refer to marriage or betrothal? The answer could be determined by what is meant by “conjugal rights.” The NIV, RSV, NKJV translates it “marital rights” or “marriage rights”. The KJV has “the duty of marriage”. The NAU has “conjugal rights.” The Hebrew word under girding these translations can mean “cohabitation.” The Septuagint has apostereo which Paul renders sexual intercourse in 1 Corinthians 7:5.**
“Stop depriving (apostero) one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”Cultural conditions would be consistent with taking this as being sexual in nature.
“Many times female slaves were concubines or secondary wives ( cf. Gen. 16:3 ; 22:24 ; 30:3 , 9 ; 36:12 ; Jud. 8:31 ; 9:18 ). Some Hebrew fathers thought it more advantageous for their daughters to become concubines of well-to-do neighbors than to become the wives of men in their own social class (Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures . Victor Books: Wheaton, IL ).However, this is not without problems. If marriage is in view, then Moses seems to allow for polygamous marriages. To paraphrase, “if a man who is married to a former slave decides to marry another women, and if that man neglects the former wife for the latter, than she has the permission to leave the husband.” There’s no censure of the man marrying another women. And the former wife is bound in that relationship so long as the husband provides for her. Someone might argue that since Moses certainly would have addressed this perversion of the family unit, then it is best to interpret this passage as referring to engagement so as to avoid Moses’ tacit support of polygamy. Put differently, you can only have divorce in this passage if you embrace polygamy. Since no one wants to embrace polygamy, let’s interpret this passage as referring to engagement.
This objection is unconvincing when we look related passages like Deuteronomy 22:10-16. First, the passage refers to a clear case of divorce that neatly parallels Exodus 21. Secondly, this passage addresses polygamous relationships without explicit censure of such a relationship. Both of these factors diffuse the above argumentation that Moses couldn’t have meant espousal due to the resultant polygamy. Let’s look at the passage.
10 "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 "She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 "It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her. 15 "If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. 17 "But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.”This passage makes explicit what I said was implicit in Exodus 21:7-11. Here we have a woman of captivity taken into slavery and married by her captor. Due to the marriage bond and the subsequent divorce, she may chose not remain as a slave. She is a freed woman. Sounds a lot like Exodus 21.
Note the commonalities: (1) Both speak of women slaves: one sold in to slavery by a father, the other a slave in virtue of conquest. (2) If Exodus 21 is referring to taking the slave as a wife, then they both would refer to espousal, not engagement. (3) Both would refer to the condition of her freedom as the termination of marriage.
Exodus 21:11 11 "If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”
Deuteronomy 21:14 14 "It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.In Deuteronomy, it’s the husband that is displeased. In Exodus 21, it is the putative wife that is displeased. Taking these two passages together, it is likely that Exodus 21 refers to espousal, and not engagement.
Surprisingly enough, the espousal view of Exodus. 21 is supported by the discussion of polygamy in Duet. 21. The passage transitions to a case in which a man has two wives (vss.15-17). How did he get the second wife? It’s reasonable to think that he obtained the second wife from the conquest of Canaan that is referred to in vss. 10-14. With the new espousal, the first wife becomes unloved, as well as her son. Moses provides parameters to protect the status of the first born.
Notice how the two parallel nicely.
Exodus 21:10 - 11
10 "If he takes to himself another woman (as a wife), he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights (reduce his love for her). 11 "If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.Deuteronomy 21:15-17
15 "If a man has two wives (a new one taken from the captivity), the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons, if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then it shall be in the day he wills what he has to his sons, he cannot make the son of the loved the firstborn before the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. 17 "But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstbornExodus 21:11 leaves it to the women as whether she stay or go should she be neglected. In the case in Duet 21, it appears that the wife chooses to stay. Moses establishes some parameters to protect her child should this woman choose to stay.
This interpretation raises many questions. For example, “why are Scriptural writers silent on the issue of polygamy?” “Is this silence a tacit support for such a lifestyle?” For that matter, “why is slavery condoned?” “Why is chauvinism so pronounced?” “How come Moses doesn’t resist slavery, polygamy, and chauvinism?” In reality, these are topics outside the scope of my immediate topic of interest, and each person who has a stake the discussion on divorce are left to explain these same areas regardless of which side of the debate they fall.
My conclusion is that Exodus 21:10-11 did allow for divorce in the case of neglect.
*d[y verb qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular , suffix 3rd person feminine singular B4034 d[;y" vb. appoint -- Qal appoint, a time; place; a rod; assign or designate as concubine. Niph. 1. reflexive, meet at an appointed place, with l., of Yahweh meeting Moses at the Tent of `Meeting'; at the throne of the Kapporeth. 2. meet by appointment; with B. of place; la, of place. 3. gather, assemble by appointment, kings for a campaign (abs.); with la,, unto Moses; to the door of the tent of meeting; with l[;, unto Solomon; against Yahweh. Po`el sq. pers. + la, of place. Hiph. make meet, i.e. summon or arraign. Hoph. be set, placed before. (pg 416)
**The root meaning is defrauding or depriving someone from something. The context determines what is being deprived: house, justice, sex, etc…