christine's bible study

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isa 40:8

deuteronomy 23:15-16, escaped slaves

Read Deuteronomy 23:15-16 at Bible Gateway.

Previously: deuteronomy 23:15-24:7, do not steal

(Please review the teaching tools of scripture, especially the Hebrew paragraph divisions and chiastic structures. The paragraphs marked by an “s” at their close are weak paragraphs, which indicate a change of facet but not a change of theme or topic. The paragraphs marked by a “p” at their close are strong paragraphs, which indicate the completion of a theme or topic. The paragraph divisions reveal the chiastic structures: narratives which zero in on the main point of the narrative at its center, like a bull’s eye at the center of a target. The main point is revealed, because the narrative elements before the main point (or central axis) are repeated after the central axis, in reverse order, while the central axis itself is not repeated.)

Deu 23:15-16 is the first section explaining Do not steal, the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment is explained in Deu 23:15-24:7, and this is my summary of it. There is one Hebrew paragraph division in this section:

Deu 23:15-16 {s} Escaped slaves

“You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him.” Deu 23:15-16

Just as the first paragraph of the explanation of Do not commit murder defined for us what murder is not (manslaughter is not murder), this paragraph likewise is explaining for us what theft is not. If a slave escapes his master, he is not to be returned, because persons are not property. One human being cannot be owned by another, in the sense that land is owned, or livestock is owned, or wages are owned. Therefore if a slave is not returned, no theft against his master has occurred.

God is often vilified for having commands such as this one concerning slaves in Torah. The fact is, slavery was a way of life in those days. Slavery is still being practiced today in many areas of the world, without impunity. But there is nowhere in Torah a command to acquire slaves, and as this passage illustrates, He is teaching us His ways: that persons are intrinsically free by reason of their creation in the image of God, and they are not to be considered property.

Furthermore, the Hebrew parallelism of this passage reveals something else:

Deu 23:15, You shall not return an escaped slave to his master;

Deu 23:16a, He may dwell with you in your midst in the place which he chooses;
Deu 23:16b, He may dwell with you where it seems best to him;

Deu 23:16c, You shall not oppress him.

The escaped slave is to choose for himself where he will dwell. By this, God is teaching us that persons have the right of self- determination by reason of their creation in the image of God. The other nugget of truth that we learn, is that people seek escape when they are being oppressed. If you would not lose someone, then don’t oppress them!

Continued: deuteronomy 23:17-23, thefts against YHVH


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