21 Smiting a Servant

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And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.–Exodus xxi. 20, 21.

THE passage we have just read struck the Bishop of Natal unfavorably in these two aspects–first of all, that God should have appeared to sanction slavery, for the servant that is spoken of here and elsewhere in this chapter you will perceive is essentially a slave–one bought for money, and who might be sold for money; and in the second place, that when under certain circumstances the smiting of the servant should be attended with death, there should yet be no punishment, because it is said the slave was his money. These things seemed to the Bishop to present such a defective state of moral right, such an offence against the Divine Law, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, that he concluded it could not be from God, and the unhappy result seems to have been that all regard for the Word of God, as a Divine Revelation, was broken down in the mind of this distinguished Prelate.

But let us endeavor to supply what the Bishop was lacking, only in common with a vast number of others. The true view of the Word of God had never been had by him. And when his imperfect view, the notion that so large a number still entertain, because they have never deeply pondered the matter–the notion which teaches that the Word of God is simply to be regarded as a literary Work, like any other book–came to be rigidly tested, it broke down. When the mind that holds such a view dares to investigate, and to think, and to be determined not to be bound by any prejudice or prepossession, the time will surely come when that mans faith will break down as certainly as did Bishop Colensos.

And the reason is, that such a person has got a wrong conception of the Word altogether. He views it as he would view the book of any human author. Such a view is totally contrary to the very character of a divine book.

For a divine book must be like every other divine work–spiritual in its nature. God is a spirit, and whatsoever he does is spiritual. It must be like every other divine work, more beautiful, more dignified, more thoroughly full of heavenly wisdom, the more deeply you examine it. Mans works are distinguished from Gods work by this–that mans works are most comely on the outside. He labors to make them beautiful and perfect to the eye of the outside observer. Gods works are most perfect and beautiful inside, because they proceed from the perfection of God within, and, therefore, must necessarily be most perfect as they are nearest to Him. Just take as an exemplification of this truth, the statue of the sculptor, and Gods real man. If you regard the work of the artist, however beautiful it may be, however perfectly chiseled and formed may be the features; and the limbs, however expressive of majesty, delicacy and grandeur; however much it may seem almost as if the mouth were about to speak, yet go beneath the outside and you will find nothing but roughness and death. Take, however, the human being, he is covered by a beautiful skin it is true, a wondrous tissue, at once a protection, a beauty, and a mirror on which are portrayed the thousand hues of mind; but if you wish to find the greater perfection of the body you must go beneath the skin, and see the delicate texture of the brain, interwoven with its involutions and convolutions. Trace the blood vessels–the veins and the arteries, and all the organs of nourishment, growth and secretion. These form a collection of prodigies of wisdom, and beauty, and use. The body is of God, the statue is of man.

Again, take a piece of human needlework, and however daintily it may be done, and however fine it may look, if you put it under the microscope you will see that the fine threads are rough and ragged, and far from being so beautiful as they seemed to the naked eye. But take the wing of a butterfly and subject that to the same inspection. The more closely you look the more beautiful it is; the more brilliant are the colors; the more delicate the feather-like projections; and that which seemed to be comparatively coarse to the naked eye, when subjected to this minute inspection, becomes the most delicate and lovely that can be conceived. Here is Gods work–there is mans work.

Now, so must it be if the Book of God is the work of God. Precisely the same law will hold good. The surface must be the least valuable; underneath must be deeper wisdom. And this is just what the Lord himself says, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways sly ways, saith the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.–Isaiah lv. 8, 9. This, then, is the law we ought ever to have in view when going to the Word of God. The letter of the Word generally will be found to be orderly, historical, divinely true and beautiful as a basis for the spirit of the Word, yet the spirit of the Word is a still diviner glory, and if it should appear that here and there you find the letter is not such as can be regarded as perfect in itself, then view it in relation to its soul. The seeming imperfections are chinks, as it were, through which divine glory appears. They are adaptations fraught with spiritual beauty, and inviting us to look inward. If the surface seem rough, dig below, and you will discover the inner meaning,–the divine signification,–the wisdom from God Himself. Never doubt for a moment, The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.

On a former occasion, when considering the character of Israelitish slavery (page 161), we pointed out the essential difference between modern slavery, and slavery as tolerated in the Jewish dispensation. Slavery among the Israelites was remedial, protective and temporary. It was in all cases calculated to improve and to elevate. But we venture to call your attention to the special enactment of our text, which, when considered by itself, seems harsh and cruel, yet when viewed in relation to the entire system of Jewish law loses much of its painful character.

We must not forget that there was the same law for Israelite and non-Israelite in social and general matters, all over the land. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God.–Lev. xxiv. 22.

Now, the law in relation to beating was as follows, And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to he beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.–Deut. xxv. 2, 3.

When, therefore, a person was considered deserving of being beaten he was not to be punished by any body, nor by any kind of weapon; but he was to be brought to the judge, and by him to be adjudged to a punishment not exceeding forty stripes, and by the judicial rod (called shebet in the original).

Let us bear these circumstances in mind, and it will be seen that the law which forms our text is a still further restriction of punishment. If a man in the infliction of the punishment sanctioned by the judge, and with the legal rod, caused immediate death, it would be taken as cruelty, and he would be punished. But if death did not ensue until a day or two had passed by, the punisher would be accounted blameless. Viewed thus in harmony with the whole constitution of Jewish law, the enactment which seems harsh at first sight may be regarded as a regulation of mercy. No promiscuous violence was allowed. The transgressor must be brought to the judge, no outrageous punishment was permitted, forty stripes must not be exceeded; and these must not be inflicted with malicious heaviness, for if the person punished died under the infliction the chastiser must himself be chastised. When we thus read the law, If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished, we may regard it as altogether good and wise, an adaptation to a disorderly state of mankind it is true, but such an adaptation as would protect the weak for the time being, and prepare them ultimately for a, more perfect state.

But let us now endeavor to see what is the spiritual sense of this same divine revelation. And never forget, that, whatever may be the appearance of the letter–whether it be allegory, as belongs to the early part of the Word; whether it be literal history, as belongs to that pare of the Word relating to the Jews from the time of Abraham; whether it be narrative or parable, as in the gospels; or vision, as in the prophets and in the Revelation of St John,–all these outward varieties cover one glorious series of spiritual lessons contained underneath. The inner wisdom is like a vein of silver everywhere running right through the strata of that glorious country. Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.

In this respect, then, let us regard the Divine Word before us. We are told that, If a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a led, and he die under his hand, he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day of two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money (his silver).

The terms servant and maid, in the spiritual sense of these expressions, conduct us to the heavenly fact, that every man who is trying to live for heaven has services performed to him by a great variety of things.

He receives service especially from the divine truths of the Word, which help him from time to time on his spiritual journey,–one serves him in one way, another serves him in another, and a third serves him in a still higher way.

You will remember the account of the Queen of Sheba, coming to see Solomon’s house and household. It is said, that when she beheld the meat of his table, the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and the ascent by which the king went up to the house of the Lord, her heart sank within her. The human heart as it is advancing in the regenerate life is precisely like this beautiful palace of King Solomon. There are some principles which minister to purity of heart—beautiful principles clothed in heavenly robes; and there are others again which come as cupbearers to us. When we are a little weary and want encouragement, each comes with a cup of heavenly wine and gives us to drink, and cheers us on our course, and strengthens us to go onwards in our regeneration. There are others, however, that are like slaves. These are mistaken views, mistaken systems, mistaken habits. They can sometimes help us on, but for a time only. They are not freemen, servants of our Heavenly Father who come down from Him as the truths are that tend to make us free; but they are bondmen taken from other nations.

When man was supposed to be all body, or nearly so, then the doctrine of the resurrection of the body from the system of Zoroaster did good service, it sustained the conviction of the immortality of man.

The doctrine of hell being a place of material fire, is a bondman, who with coarse rude souls, no doubt, does good service, until they are quickened in their spiritual perceptions to see and feel the horror of the more terrible fires of inward lust and passion.

The superstitions of various countries are bondmen, which often render good service in maintaining order until higher and nobler principles come in. The mistaken views of many portions of the letter of the Word are of great service in child-like states of ignorance.

Astronomy has corrected the idea that the world is fixed and flat, and that the rest of the glorious universe moves round it. Geology has done the same thing in relation to the creation of the world in a week, and the age of mankind being only six thousand years; yet these views had sustained the piety of millions of mankind, and will do so still in the early child-like states of all in their days of ignorance.

How much all men owe to the support they receive from views and customs which largely compose the atmosphere in which they live, but which are not the pure outgrowth of heavenly truth with them, it is difficult to say, but certainly, all may say with the Apostle, When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.–1 Cor. xiii. 11.

It has helped many a man in the early part of his regenerate life to be told, and to be led into the thought, that God has an especial number of the elect, favorites of His, that He will take care of, and bear, whether they will or not, through all their difficulties, so that they will come infallibly into heaven. When a man is in a very low and imperfect state, and does not perceive that there is something essentially unjust in this, and contrary to real wisdom and real life, he is helped for a time. He begins to be religious, he sees in some parts of the Bible appearances that seem to him to confirm this state of things. This moderated selfishness may be just a bridge between his low state of heart and a purer condition. In due time he is prepared for better things.

It assists many a man to be told that God is a terrible Being, and that He will chastise him most awfully if he continues to live the life that he does; that He will punish him for ever and ever by extraordinary pains and penalties; that He will burn and torture him for everlasting ages. His fears are acted on in this way, and he is brought into states of obedience and subdued by what he conceives to be the terrors of the Almighty.

The Word in its letter shines with varied light. It is like Josephs coat of many colors. It is adapted to every kind of man, in order, as it were, that every kind of man may be brought into connection with the Lord until He can make him a wiser and a better man,–an angel.

Those things which are only imperfect views of truth, are like slaves which do low yet important services for us. The times come, however, in which we detect faults in these bondmen. When we have advanced beyond the condition in which they would serve us at all, and have got a true view of interior divine lessons, then we must bring them to the judge, or pure Divine Truth. We must have the rod of God in our hands–THE ROD–not any rod, but the rod of the judge and of the king, because the rod spiritually means the power of truth properly understood. Such a rod is described when David says in the 23rd Psalm, Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The same sort of rod which is represented in the Rook of Revelation, when it is said that the man child–which the glorious woman, the Church, brings forth–shall rule all nations with a rod of iron. This rod rules all passions and principles of mind with divine truth fully understood. Now it is this rod which must correct our bondmen. When we perceive some of these to be contrary to divine truth, then they may be smitten with the rod. But it must not be hastily done. We must not get into the way of thinking, Oh! well, if there is a spiritual sense in everything in the Bible, then the literal sense is nothing at all, and reject it altogether. Do not smite the man-servant or maid-servant harshly so as to produce death at once; but take care that everything in this respect is done thoughtfully and carefully. Let there be a full reflection on the subject.

Think gently, that you may perceive quietly what is the truth. Let there be no harsh throwing away of old views. Take care of your old house though it may be narrow, until you perceive there is another and grander house which the Lord has prepared for you. If the time has come for the bond slave to die, let it be after a day or two. Take time to think; and mind that it is done in the daylight. In such case you will do no harm. These old slaves have done their work. They are of no further use.

Although the slaves die away, their place will be supplied by other and better servants, and more loving companions,–by glorious truths from the Lord. There will be an increasing number of angelic helps and blessed comforts. You will pass on in good time to higher and nobler states until you enter heaven. Such, then, is the spiritual lesson which is given in this divine law.

Let me ask, finally, if there be anything that is unworthy of God in this regulation either in its letter or in its spirit? Is it not worthy of the Divine Being, who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, to have tempered in days of old the ferocity and torturings which men were guilty of, by giving laws which they would adopt, and which were far better than those which they had before? And when we see that these laws in their spirit teach us lessons of wisdom for all time, and help us to rise from the shadows of the letter into the light of the spirit of divine beauty, may we not then well say this Word is worthy of God. Thy Word, O Lord, is glorious on earth, and is for ever settled in heaven. Help me to use it until I get there, and when in my everlasting home I shall rejoice in its divine beauty, while eternal ages roll on.

Let us be ever patient and considerate, not hasty and rash. In the days of our darkness and our weakness our Heavenly Father mercifully permitted us to be aided by views and ideas, not the best in themselves, but the best for us. Some of these are very old habits and customs derived from Pagan times. Some are superstitions, having no real essence of truth in them. We have derived them from the nations round about. We see now they are slaves, not the Lords free-men. And both they and the affections belonging to them, the men-servants and maid-servants, are now injurious to us, yet we must not hastily reject them or deprive them of life. We must take them to the judge. The Lord Himself will be our judge. Let us condemn what truth condemns fully, but no more: forty stripes. Let this be done carefully, considerately, let the dying slave live a day or two; and as the appearance dies away, spiritual wisdom enters in and will be yours in its stead. He will be your silver.

Author: Jonathan Bayley — From Egypt to Canaan (1869)