A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Does a Christian Wife Have Fewer Rights than a Slave Wife in Moses’ Day?

And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money. (Ex 21:7-11 NKJ)

If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.  (Ex. 21:26-27 NKJ)

There are those who think that the law given to Moses was the perfect rule given to all men for all time.  When it comes to the moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, this was certainly the case.  But with regard to the case laws and the civil laws, the cultural situation in which they were promulgated — which included the practice of slavery, concubinage, bride price, female prisoners of war being made into wives for their captors — these things were never intended to be the perfect norm for God’s people for all time.

The Bible teaches that since the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, the world has been under a curse.  Men and women, and especially the relationship between the two, were cursed of God (Gen. 3:16).  The Mosaic Law did not take away the curse, for the curse could only be taken away by the sacrifice and death of the Son of God, who obeyed the Law perfectly and suffered its ultimate penalty on our behalf.

It might be said that the Mosaic Law had three main aspects:

  1. It gave the Ten Commandments, the moral law for all time as mentioned above. Realization of their failure to obey these commandments would drive people to recognize their need for the Savior-Redeemer — the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
  2. It instituted sacrifices, ceremonies and priesthood, which all pointed to the time when God would provide the Redeemer. It was thus faith-building and reassuring for those having faith in the promised Messiah.
  3. And because sinful humans would not follow the Ten Commandments, it set out civil and case laws to regulate and restrain the most abusive out-workings of the curse.

The Exodus passages quoted above are examples of restraining laws that aimed to limit the most heinous types of sin which fallen humanity would get up to. Another way of putting this is that the laws we see in Exodus 21 and many other case laws in the Mosaic Code were aimed at protecting the most vulnerable: refugees and the homeless (the sojourner), slave wives, orphans, victims of crime, etcetera.

To all those who believe that there is never any ground for divorce; or who say begrudgingly that adultery alone might be considered adequate grounds – I ask you this: Do you really believe that a wife who has been freed by Christ, who is a co-heir of eternal life, who is dearly loved and delivered by God – do you really believe that she has less rights than a slave under the Mosaic administration?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” (Mat 23:23 NKJ)

A slave under Moses was set free if the master violently abused her.  A purchased slave wife was set free if the husband diminished her food, clothing or marriage rights. Do you really believe that a woman who is beaten, abused, neglected and hated must remain in bondage to the seed of the devil, when she would have been freed under the Mosaic Law? God forbid!


This post been developed and adapted by Barbara Roberts from an article written by Rev Sam Powell. Many thanks to him for for allowing me to modify and adapt his wording, and for providing the springboard and the closing paragraphs.

Readers will remember Sam Powell from Jeff Crippen’s recent post Abusers as Children of the Devil which featured Rev Powell’s sermon Dealing With Abusive Men and also (in the comments thread) recommended his companion sermon Living With Deceitful Men.

34 Comments

  1. joepote01

    “A purchased slave wife was set free if the husband diminished her food, clothing or marriage rights. Do you really believe that a woman who is beaten, abused, neglected and hated must remain in bondage to the seed of the devil, when she would have been freed under the Mosaic Law? God forbid!”

    Amen!

    Well stated!

    • Ellie

      ummhmm

  2. Amy

    Wow, just wow! This is so good!

    I wish I’d had this post to send to all the ‘pharisees’ in my life 5 years ago when my abusive ex walked out These church members wanted to lay all the blame on me and all the responsibility of saving a marriage which my abusive ex had long before destroyed. These men basically said to me that God only cared about my marriage being saved.
    Obviously, they had never read I Cor 7:15 — “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so…God has called us to live in peace.”

  3. granonine

    Yesterday I had a client who stayed with an abusive man for 28 years. He never actually struck her. He abused her emotionally, verbally, mentally. She was not allowed to have any say over her paycheck. He took it, and gave a pittance for spending money. She was not allowed to purchase shoes, underwear, or anything “frivolous” by his definition. She finally left him, after years of being screamed at and treated worse than a slave. Guess who reprimanded her? You got it. Her pastor and elder board. Go figure.

    • Ellie

      Granonine, that’s not ok. Thank you for helping the oppressed.

    • Ed

      Granonine, that certainly can be a horrible ordeal. I had a wife who as abusive, mentally cruel and manipulative. Such as withholding sex (after indicating we would if I…whatever was on her list), pretending to support what I was doing while undermining it behind my back. When it finally came to a showdown (I eventually caught on), I was suicidal and about to have a nervous breakdown, she resorted to threating to commit suicide if I didn’t conform to…this or that. There was a backstory that makes it all understandable, but she needed help and eventually got it. However, I finally decided God would not rather have me commit suicide than get divorced. The church then became the loneliest place for me in the world. Everyone (individuals) wanted me to justify to them why I was leaving her getting divorced. (I actually didn’t leave, she left and wouldn’t come back except under her terms. I paid for her treatment for 5 years. I went before my Church’s discipline board, they heard my story and wondered how I endured for so long. The kicker was, they said I wasn’t free to remarry until she died…okay so I should burn in my lust instead.

      Mine case was investigated by very diligent interview [church] people who had the confidential scoop (our therapists, etc…).

      We certainly have a fine line between grace and permissiveness, but bottom line churches need to be diligent in helping and people need to mind their own business. OBTW I was in the ministry at the time, but most churches will not honor the findings of my church’s board, it’s just too much trouble to do.

      • Brenda R

        Ed, It doesn’t sound like your church was very helpful. Your wife abandoned you even while you were together. I don’t see how that disqualifies you from remarriage or the ministry.

      • granonine

        What a sad story. I’m so sorry you had to endure all that, and then the condemnation of people who should have encouraged you. Thanks for sharing your story.

      • Thomas

        Thanks for your comment Ed. I am glad it was posted because there is women who are just as abusive or worse then men. As for as your church insisting that you endure the paid of your lust, I say this world we live is hard and evil enough and then endure more pain due to another person/wife’s sick issues?

      • Thomas, as one of the Eds on this blog I have decided to published your comment. In our definition of abuse in the sidebar you will see that we state that some men are victims of domestic abuse. We believe that abuse is ground for divorce and that it is not biblical to prohibit remarriage to the victim of abuse. That is what my book explains in full scriptural detail.
        At the same time, we know that many men claim to be victims when in fact they are perpetrators. How do we know this? From personal experience, and from the statements of professionals who are experts in working with domestic abuse.

  4. Brenda R

    In many ways we’re right where we were in the beginning or worse. There are laws giving us rights, but churches, family, friends and courts keep us captive. Jesus took the yoke away, others put it back on with heavier weights. Freedom was available for mistreated women in Moses day. Freedom has been taken away. We need to take it back.

    • Freedom was available for mistreated women in Moses day. Freedom has been taken away. We need to take it back.

      AMEN!

  5. Jeff Crippen

    Of course the answer to the question posed by the title of this post is: “YES!” when answered by so many pastors and Christians today. I suspect, however, that if you directly asked them they would take the same route that Jim Ellif and company do (author of the book The Permanence View) and simply say, “That passage in Exodus addresses slaves. It has no application at all to marriages today.” Hey Jim, the invite is still open to you to come to this blog and present and debate your teachings with us.

    • “That passage in Exodus addresses slaves. It has no application at all to marriages today.”

      That seems to completely miss the point somehow. It sounds like an excuse. Or maybe a myopic view of the issue because it kind of bifurcates and isolates marriage from issues of justice, which is the real point.

      • Brenda R

        BIT, Exactly!! The answer is usually, “Oh you’re married, then you have to take whatever you get. You have no way out. Anyone else can have justice.”

    • Brenda R

      I would say to The Permanance View writer (and John Piper’s, This Momentary Marriage): That Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it entirely and there is no difference between the slave wives in Moses day than the men who hide who they really are until after the dotted line is signed on the piece of paper making the relationship “permanent”. I would love for these men to come here and debate their views. They won’t because they are too hard hearted to really see the people that they are condemning to bondage.

  6. Healinginprocess

    “That passage in Exodus addresses slaves. It has no application at all to marriages today.”
    Jeff, that is exactly what I was told by one of the elders at my past church. I was so frustrated and upset. I was hoping they would realize that if a slave who was taken as a wife had rights that a wife (who was not a slave) would have at least the same rights as the slave. No! we are expected to stay with the abuser…our suffering for Christ…which raises a whole other debate….

    • Jeff Crippen

      Healinginprocess – that was spiritual malpractice on their part. Instone-Brewer makes it very clear that 1 Cor 7 has Exodus 21 as its background. Barbara deals with 1 Cor 7 also in her book. Victims have more common sense that so many of these “spiritual” giants in our churches.

      • Healinginprocess

        Ohhh I should have clarified. Being told Exodus 21:7-11 speaks about slaves not marriage was after I had given him Instone-Brewer’s book Divorce and Remarriage in the Church to read. I have to agree with BIT’s comment: “This is definitely a case of seeing what they want to see in the text. And it reveals their hearts. These men really need to go and learn what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” means.”

      • Giving men like that books to read. . . it’s heartbreaking how few of them read the books.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Here we are, right from the mouth of Elliff and company. Page 143-144 of his book Divorce and Remarriage, A Permanence View:

      “Exodus 21:7-11. In this passage, instructions are given for a man who sells his daughter as a slave, and for the man who buys her. We did not consider this passage relevant to our discussion for three reasons:

      First, the instructions were given to regulate the practice of owning and marrying slave-wives and the practice of polygamy, not marriage as it was originally designed by God. Verses 10-11, where the primary instructions are given, only apply if a second slave-wife is taken, but have no relevance where polygamy is not an accepted practice.

      Second, the law spoken of in this passage was designed to protect the woman’s rights, not to grant the right of divorce to her owner/husband. The command to let a slave “wife” go out for nothing, without payment of money” (v. 11) was for the woman’s benefit. It prohibited the owner/husband from retaining possession of her, or profiting financially by selling her, if he was unwilling to continue providing her with food, clothing, and conjugal rights after taking a second slave-wife. It was not intended to give him permission to divorce her.

      Third, there is no mention of a divorce certificate in this text, as there is in Deteronomy 24:1. This implies that the termination of this union was not considered the same as the termination of an ordinary marriage.”

      Do you see how these guys handle Scripture? They don’t look for the spirit of the law. I wonder what they would do with “Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk”? Yes, the law was given to protect the woman’s rights. The slave woman’s rights. If hubby was abusing her (not providing for her as he vowed to) she could go free. And this is our point in this post. If a SLAVE can go free for abuse, then surely a full-fledged wife can!

      Sorry, but I have to say that these guys sound like a bunch of slick lawyers arguing technicalities so that the victim is oppressed and the guilty perpetrator skates.

      • Brenda R

        Not Relevant???? So they are saying that they really don’t care what the Bible says. They will pick and choose what they wish to use. “Slick lawyers”. You’ve got that right Ps Jeff. Abused slaves get a “get out of jail free” card, but wives in this day get the invisible prison. What hypocrates and Pharisees they all are.

      • At the risk of being inflammatory, do these guys have any idea how to do theology?

        Sorry, but I have to say that these guys sound like a bunch of slick lawyers arguing technicalities so that the victim is oppressed and the guilty perpetrator skates.

        That is exactly what it sounds like. They are really reaching here.

        That second point they are making. I’m sorry but I’m just going to have to use the word idiotic for that. And I dare say the idiocy is deliberate. They completely and apparently intentionally turn the entire point around to try to negate it. It isn’t about granting the husband the right to divorce the wife but granting the wife the right to be divorced from the husband! The husband is commanded to fulfill his vow or let her go! And yes, for her protection! So what we end up with is God caring about the protection of women (yes) from men who will not properly care for them (yes) — unless it means someone is granted the right to divorce because God cares more about marriage being protected from divorce than He does about people being protected from other people who use the marriage covenant as their medium through which to work their evil designs.

        This is definitely a case of seeing what they want to see in the text. And it reveals their hearts. These men really need to go and learn what “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” means.

      • Here is my rebuttal to Jim Eliff’s first point, which was

        the instructions were given to regulate the practice of owning and marrying slave-wives and the practice of polygamy, not marriage as it was originally designed by God. Verses 10-11, where the primary instructions are given, only apply if a second slave-wife is taken, but have no relevance where polygamy is not an accepted practice.

        I agree that with Eliff that the instructions in Ex.21 were given to regulate a marital practice that only started after the Fall, and that marriage as designed by God in Eden did not require such regulation. The need for regulation only came after the Fall. After man sinned. Duh!

        But Eliff seems to fail to understand (more likely is willfully blind) to the principle agreed upon by many Reformers, namely the principle of general equity. Here is the Westminster Confession Chapter 19, paragraph 4:

        To them also [the Nation of Israel], as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require

        And here is the London (Baptist) Confession of 1689, chapter 19 paragraph 4.

        [The original link to the London (Baptist) Confession of 1689 was corrected to reflect a change in URLs. Editors.]

        To the people of Israel He also gave sundry judicial laws which expired when they ceased to be a nation. These are not binding on anyone now by virtue of their being part of the laws of that nation, but their general equity continue to be applicable in modern times.

        Paragraph 6 of chapter 19 in the London Confession has a warning to people like Jim Eliff:

        Although true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works, to be justified or condemned by it, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, because as a rule of life it informs them of the will of God and their duty and directs and binds them to walk accordingly. It also reveals and exposes the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts and lives, and using it for self-examination they may come to greater conviction of sin, greater humility and greater hatred of their sin. They will also gain a clearer sight of their need of Christ and the perfection of His own obedience. It is of further use to regenerate people to restrain their corruptions, because of the way in which it forbids sin. . . .

        I bet Mr Eliff would object if someone moved the fence on his property in order to take part of his land by stealth! But hang on Mr Eliff, using your logic, you would have no grounds for your objection:

        You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess. (Deuteronomy 19:14)

        By Eliff’s logic, Adam’s dominion over the land in Eden did not require any boundary stones; and that business of landmarks only applied to the land God had given to Israel, it does not apply to Mr Eliff’s land in America. I hope Mr Eliff has a big farm or a block of land in an expensive suburb, so I can come over and move the fence!

      • Brenda R

        Barb, That is sound rebuttal. I wonder is that makes him squirm just a little to think about his landmarks?

  7. Dear Barbara, thank you for taking my rough draft and perfecting it. It is very well done. When I first jotted these things down, a friend posted the note on a weird theonomy website. What they pretended as zeal for the law was the most horrendous thing I have read. Truly vile.

    I have to say that we have a lot of work to do in the church, and I am very thankful for this site, and for the hard, painful, troublesome and glorious work that Jeff and others are doing in waking up the church to the evils that lurk – formerly in the corners, but now it seems it is coming more and more to light. It used to be that abuse was never spoken of, just dismissed as a “family thing”. How shameful, and what a black-mark on the name “Christian”!

    It appears as if the church might be waking up a little, but this also means that wickedness will put up a fight. I’m ready. Bring it on. In our weakness, God is strong. In our tribulation, God is merciful. In our persecution, God is our fortress and our deliverer.

    Remember how often God allowed the faithful in Israel to get to the point where they had no earthly hope – just so God could destroy all of their enemies at once? God sent Pharaoh’s armies after Israel so that they could be drowned in the Red Sea. God gathered all of the Canaanite nations together so that Joshua didn’t have to go all over to destroy them – God brought them to him!
    “Be strong, and very courageous!” God told Joshua.
    Moses said, “Stand back, and see the salvation of the Lord!”
    One day, the most beautiful, righteous, pure and loving man who ever walked the earth was abandoned by all and left to the mercy of the devil. At least that is what the devil thought and that’s what it looked like to the world.
    But in this darkest day when it appeared as if the salvation of the world was finally gone forever, Jesus defeated death and hell forever, and gave the devil the death blow.

    I am constantly asked what the church’s responsibility is towards abusers and those who defend them.
    The answer isn’t mine. It is from God himself:

    Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

    Please remember – We aren’t called to figure out how to win. God has that covered and Jesus himself will come again with great power and a multitude of angels. Our job is only to be faithful.
    Be faithful if you have little. Be faithful if you have much. Do not fear their faces or tremble at their threats. Simply be faithful. Protect the fatherless and the widow, gather the outcasts, the lame, the halt, the blind. Cry for justice for the oppressed. Shine the light into the rocks and caves where abusive and oppressive men gather under the rocks, and expose them.
    They’ll holler; they’ll yell; they’ll lash out; they’ll seek to destroy you even –
    But which one of God’s people were NOT afflicted in the world. And who won?
    Who will win?
    Our God is far greater and far stronger – does he not have ears and eyes? Does he not see the bruises and hear the cries? Does he not continue to call us to take up our crosses and follow our saviour?
    The gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful, but deadly. The more faithful we are, the more we are under attack. But don’t be discouraged. Victory is ours.

    (Sorry, Jeff, for hijacking. I didn’t mean to go on this long)

    • Pastor Sam, thank you So Much! your comment is wonderful, and please don’t apologize for any of it! 🙂

    • Brenda R

      Pastor Sam, It is always good to hear from you. God is truly speaking through you and for His glory. There need to be more out there preaching God’s truth among us and not covering up the sin that is among us.

    • thepersistentwidow

      Pastor Sam, I am thanking God for you! Looking at the corruption in the church is discouraging, but you are right, God is asking us to be faithful with whatever we can do.
      Praying that the Lord will empower more like you, Pastor Crippen, and other godly men who care about the weak and the oppressed. What an encouragement you are!

    • Hi Pastor Sam.

      You sound like Jesus. 🙂

  8. Anonymous

    Great post – the comments are super, too:-) SUCH WISDOM! Thank you Lord!

  9. Don Johnson

    I agree with the basic argument of the original post, but I do have some concerns with some things written other than that. If you wish to discuss, just post this and reply you wish to discuss.

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