Can anyone explain why a man is allowed to sell his own daughter as a slave/servant? Is he selling her as a wife? Also does verse 7 mean she can never be set free or does it mean she can’t work like the male servants/slaves do?
Hello, Luna! This is a great question. I knew that the translation of the Hebrew might be an issue with the verses you brought up, so I did a little digging. First, the reason I knew there might be a translation issue is because in verses 8-11, the situation is about a woman betrothed to a master of the house or to one of his sons, which does not at all refer to a “female slave” as I am reading in my New King James version. So the “sale” in verse 7 is more probably referring to a bride-price or dowry paid. Since I do not know Hebrew, I had to speak to my husband who has studied some. The same word that is used for actual slavery, which is the word used in instances such as the Israelites’ enslavement to the Egyptians, is not the same word used in verse 7 to refer to the woman. In fact, the word would be better put as “handmaiden.” So, the handmaidens are not to go out as the male servants do. In the following verses, God says what He means by that by making it clear that the master of the house is treat his betrothed (or his son’s betrothed) with dignity and respect, and God has outlined certain relational rights she is privy to. If these are not provided, then she is free to go out back to her family, and the master of the house (the head male) loses any right to redeem any part of the dowry he paid for her due to his ill treatment of her. Does this help clear things up?
@Luna I think we have to understand that these laws were for a specific place and time. In this case, it is one Israelite man paying an amount that included the bride price (as @psalm151ls pointed out) for another Israelite man’s daughter. Given how difficult life could be in the ancient world, such an agreement may represent great benefit to the daughter. The law here makes it clear that the man who took the daughter into his house must not treat her unfairly or sell her to a foreign nation. In fact, if he is displeased with her she can be redeemed or redeem herself and go free. And if he mistreats her by denying food, clothing or marital rights (kids) she can leave without paying a dime.
God was not saying that this culture was ideal, but rather He was working within the existing culture to move it in a redemptive direction and protect the rights of the woman. We see this also in the New Testament with slavery. While it was not God’s ideal, God commanded masters to treat their slaves well as Christ also was their master and slaves to honor their masters. God was not condoning slavery, but rather moving it in a redemptive direction that, if followed, would inevitably lead to it no longer existing.
Here are some notes from the NET Bible on this passage:
This paragraph is troubling to modern readers, but given the way that marriages were contracted and the way people lived in the ancient world, it was a good provision for people who might want to find a better life for their daughter. On the subject in general for this chapter, see W. M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women , 31-64.
The word אָמָה (ʾamah) refers to a female servant who would eventually become a concubine or wife; the sale price included the amount for the service as well as the bride price (see B. Jacob, Exodus , 621). The arrangement recognized her honor as an Israelite woman, one who could be a wife, even though she entered the household in service. The marriage was not automatic, as the conditions show, but her treatment was safeguarded come what may. The law was a way, then, for a poor man to provide a better life for a daughter.
The verb is a Hiphil perfect with vav (ו) consecutive from פָּדָה (padah, “to redeem”). Here in the apodosis the form is equivalent to an imperfect: “let someone redeem her” – perhaps her father if he can, or another. U. Cassuto says it can also mean she can redeem herself and dissolve the relationship ( Exodus , 268).
Yes that clears it up. Thank you! I’ll probably put what you said in my notes lol