Chapter 13 (The Hired Servant and the Disabled) pages 222-235
North deals with Lev 19:13-14 here, a short passage that deals with two very different statutes but which are connected through the ‘weak’ members of society. Both the hired servant and the blind and lame fall into the category of being less well-off and at a disadvantage within Israelite society - therefore God legislates on their behalf to give them some protection.
North’s note, then, that the passage displays (page 223)
‘God’s desire to protect the weakest members of society’
is correct. However, North goes on in the introduction to ask the question (page 222-3)
‘If we are to defend the deaf and the blind because they cannot defend themselves, isn’t this a violation of the fundamental judicial principle of Leviticus 19:15, namely, that God does not respect persons?’
and gives the reply
‘...this case law affirms that the deaf and the blind are entitled to the same protection from cursing and tripping that anyone is. But because they cannot bring a lawsuit on their own behalf, a righteous person must do it for them’
As to North’s first sentence, nowhere else in the Law do we find the Israelites being told that they’re forbidden generally to curse a fellow Israelite. We do find regulations concerning cursing a leader of the people (Ex 22:28) and concerning anyone who was to curse their father or mother (Lev 20:9) – there’s even one case where a man was heard to curse the name of God while he was quarrelling with a fellow Israelite (Lev 24:10-23 esp v.15), but nowhere do we find a statute forbidding the ‘common curse’.
Neither do we find any parallel Mosaic legislation concerning tripping people up or, as the RSV phrases it, putting a ‘stumbling block’ in front of someone. If these two rules were specific applications of general laws, then it seems surprising that they’re not recorded for us as being obligatory upon all Israel.
The real reason for their inclusion, though, is not to afford the blind and deaf equal status within the Law but to give them special protection (contrary to North’s statement) because they’re a vulnerable section of society that may be attacked because of a physical disability that they can do nothing about.
The case is similar with the preceding verse which mentions hired servants – it’s because the hired servant is in a vulnerable section of society that the Law gives them protection and provision to make sure that, in their weakness, they’re not exploited.
North’s second sentence that a righteous person must bring a lawsuit on behalf of the blind or the lame is going too far with the Scripture. It’s not saying that the righteous person must bring legal action to uphold the Law’s enforcement but it’s a commandment to make sure that such an exploitation of the weak in Israelite society doesn’t take place.
It’s quite accurate to say that the blind and deaf would not be able to testify against the person who’d caused offence - but the Israelite is being told here to ‘pick on someone their own size’ - that is, not to hinder a person who could not see the hindrance and react effectively. This is also the underlying principle of the legislation concerning the hired servant.
An extension of these two laws into all of Israelite society would be to assert that no person was to curse a fellow Israelite when they were not in earshot and able to respond appropriately to the words spoken (paralleling the ‘deaf’ legislation) and that no person was to set ensnarements out of sight of a person to destroy either that person or his livelihood (paralleling the ‘blind’ legislation).
In summary, no secretive or silent negative action is to be employed by anyone against anyone else - this law is seen to be a fulfilment of the command to ‘love thy neighbour’ (Lev 19:18).
North divides the rest of the chapter up into his teaching, first, on the hired servant and then, second, on the blind and the lame.
He takes the first clause of v.13
‘You shall not oppress your neighbour or rob him’
as applying to the hired servant of the second clause.
He writes (page 223) about
‘...the witholding of a worker’s wages overnight. This act is specified as fraud, and it is also specified as robbery’
At first glance, this doesn’t appear to be an accurate application but Deut 24:14-15 begins by stating
‘You shall not oppress a hired servant...’
before going on to expand upon the legislation contained at this point in Leviticus chapter 19. Therefore the relevance of the statement is proven. However, if we read on in the Deuteronomy passage we immediately see the reason for the legislation. It continues (my italics) concerning the
‘...poor and needy, whether he is one of your brethren or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns; you shall give him his hire on the day he earns it, before the sun goes down (for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it); lest he cry against you to YHWH, and it be sin in you’
God is here laying down legislation for the poor and needy within the society in order that they may receive the money that’s due to them at the time they need it and not at some time afterward.
When North equates the hired servant with a ‘worker’ he’s immediately jumped one step too far in his application of the Scripture. Throughout this section, North will be at pains to emphasise that all employers should pay their employees in present day society on a daily basis - but this isn’t the implication of the Scripture used.
It says only that the hired servant must be paid on the day that his wages are due – it’s laid down as being a binding obligation upon the employer because - and solely because - ‘he is poor’ and needs the money owed to him to eat (and feed his family should he have one). The Scripture is being pressed to make an all-inclusive statement concerning all types of employment that exist within present day society.
It would be quite true to say that, should an employee be in a financial position where they are in need of a daily receipt of wages ‘as they’re earnt’ then the employer - for righteousness’ sake - should make this facility a possibility to all his employees, but to impose this payment system upon all forms of payment through employment is going too far.
North speaks negatively of the present day employer living off the credit of the employee perhaps for an entire month before the accrued wage is paid (page 227). But the Levitical Scripture (in his view of the verse) supposes that some sort of credit is being applied in the situation as the employee may only receive his wages after the work day has drawn to a close.
However, this isn’t quite true when we look at the practice as outlined in the New Testament. Mtw 20:1-16 shows us that hired servants were agreed with on the basis of an amount of money that would be paid to them for one day’s work (v.2). This amount (leaving the teaching of the parable to one side here) was a figure that was due upon the completion of that day’s work, it wasn’t paid as the summation of an hourly rate that accrued to the amount agreed upon.
If the worker toiled for 5 hours or 8, the daily rate was still applicable because an hourly rate wasn’t in question but a daily one. Therefore, if an employee is contracted on a month by month basis, it is on a month by month basis that they should be paid because the period has been defined after which payment is due. When North asks (page 223)
‘If the worker agrees in advance to wait longer than a day for his pay, why should the law of God prohibit the arrangement?’
he’s overlooked the terms of the contractual agreement that has been made between the employer and employee. If the agreement was for a month’s work for a specified amount then it’s after that time period that this legislation would expect the amount to be paid without delay - the passage can’t be pressed to make monthly wage settlements against the law unless the contracted period has been defined as a period that’s less than the time after which the employee receives his wages.
Therefore, when North makes the statement (page 225) that
‘The law here specifies that an employer who hires an individual to work for a period of time has to have the money available to pay that individual on a daily basis at the end of each work day’
he’s converting a contracted period into a daily payment period and sees them as one and the same. The only reason why the law specifies that the hired labourer must be paid on a daily basis is because his contract is also of a similar duration. When this changes, payment is due upon completion of the contracted period.
But North’s (page 223)
‘…rapid payment for services received’
is an accurate description of the principle of the legislation. Along with the observation that to delay payment to a worker
‘...testifies falsely about God’s character’
‘[God] always pays us on time’
If, however, a daily rate or hourly rate is part of the contracted agreement, then the Scripture implies that it’s after this period has been completed that payment should be made. This is impractical in today’s society and will continue to be so despite North’s hopes that a better means of Credit Transfer will be instituted that can be used to pay an employee as he earns his wage.
He writes (page 225)
‘Payments for a stream of continuous services cannot be simultaneous, although this limitation will change when the use of electronic cash becomes widespread...[and, in note 4] the cost of doing so is too high to make it feasible. This cost constraint will probably change in the near future as computer technology and the cost of using computer networks both decrease’
It seems reasonable, therefore, for an employer to pay an employee on a time basis that’s suitable for both parties but immediately after the agreed contract period has ended. There must be provision made also for the poorer sections of the workforce who need their wages on a more regular basis than, say, weekly or monthly (though this is going beyond the bounds of the Scripture).
North will go on to state (page 225) that
‘If the employer decides that it’s too much trouble to pay each worker at the end of each work day, he must advance the funds for the period of employment prior to the next payday...The employer must extend credit to the worker’
to get round the present day problem of having employers to pay out their workers on a daily basis - but the legislation in the Levitical passage makes no such mention of workers being paid in advance for employment that’s to be undertaken. At the risk of boring the reader silly, let me repeat that the legislation is concerned to protect the poorer members of society and to secure payment for them immediately after the agreed contract period has expired.
Therefore North’s discussion of credit and debit periods are, effectively, meaningless. When he writes (page 226) for instance that
‘...the law authorizes...an extension of credit by the worker to the employer for a maximum of one work day. At the end of the work day...credit is no longer extended by the worker, so he receives his day’s wage’
he’s seeing a credit/debit structure where one doesn’t exist unless payment had been agreed on an hourly basis and the payment has accrued to be paid at the end of every working day.
There are many other such instances (and I don’t intend either quoting or commenting on them) where North’s observations would be accurate if the contract that the hired servant was working under was different than the one that existed in ancient society - but that the contract period was a daily one causes the teaching to become irrelevant for the Scripture cited.
The foundation for his observations are, unfortunately, not established on a correct understanding of the intention or meaning of the verse.
North sees in Jacob’s comment in Gen 31:7 the implication (page 228 - my italics) that
‘...Laban had changed his wages repeatedly, meaning retroactively’
but a little further on in the Genesis passage Jacob explains what this changing of the wages entailed. He says (Gen 31:8-9)
‘If he said, “The spotted shall be your wages,” then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, “The striped shall be your wages,” then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me’
If Laban had known what the flock were naturally producing, then there is no doubt that, had he changed his wages retroactively, he would have specified the animals that were in the greater number that were his by right and the minimum as being Jacob’s - but, as it is, Laban made wage changes and, subsequently, God intervened to prosper Jacob at the expense of Laban.
Therefore Laban didn’t use retroactive wage settlements.
I’ve stated above that the principle of the legislation under consideration is that wages are due to be paid immediately upon the completion of the contract period and have gone so far as to say that, should the contract period be one month then it’s after this period that the wages must be paid without delay.
Commenting on a different matter, North notes (page 230)
‘The practice of delaying wages is therefore primarily a screening device. It favors workers who have capital in reserve’
which is a justifiable conclusion that could be drawn in a situation where only, say, monthly contracts are allowable. Therefore, should there be a reversion to Scriptural principles as outlined in Lev 19:13, there needs to be provision made for the less well-off in society to be contracted to work on a weekly or even a daily basis in order to supply them with what’s needed for their material prosperity.
But it needs to be remembered that the legislation is primarily dealing with short-term contracted employees - ones who, for instance, may be employed at harvest time - and isn’t commenting on long-term employees (if there was such a thing in Israelite society at that time - I can think of no evidence for such at this moment).
North devotes just two and a half pages to the second verse of his chosen passage (Lev 19:14) but summarises the implications of the verse well when he writes in the conclusion (page 234)
‘Verse 14 prohibits the active assault on the deaf and blind. We are not to attack defenseless people. The text specifies this’
In fact, both these verses (Lev 19:13-14) are recorded for us to prevent the exploitation of the weaker members of Israelite society who would have found it difficult to defend themselves from disadvantageous positions - the hired servant because he was at the mercy of the employer to receive his wages on time and the blind and deaf because they couldn’t discern the hindrances that were being cast against them.
As Wenham (page 267-8) notes
‘...vv.11-12 forbid crooked dealings between equals, or at least between those capable of taking one another to law if they have a grievance, these verses [v.13-14] deal with exploitation of the weak who would not be able to seek such redress...The deaf and the blind...have no comeback against those who take advantage of their disabilities’
and Harrison (page 198)
‘Whereas handicapped persons in the ancient Near East tended to be exploited and abused, among the Israelites they were to be treated with consideration, since they bore the image of the God whom Israel was commanded to reverence’
However, North goes on to state (page 234) that
‘This case law also implicitly condemns all those who sit idly by when others publicly assault these defenseless people. We are required by God to become covenantal agents of those victimized people in our presence who are inherently incapable of defending themselves judicially...’
Though it’s not incorrect to say that it was the ‘common’ Israelite who was to uphold the precepts of the Law and enforce them by standing up as a witness when needed, it’s surely going too far to see an implicit statement of responsibility.
The entire contents of the Law required the application and enforcing of the Law - not just these two verses - and the nature of the Covenant was such that the nation was to be zealous for seeing to its observance.
Finally, North’s application of the verse concerning the blind man and its application to the work ethic previously discussed at length is extremely dubious. The legislation concerning the blind man is distinct from the verse that precedes it and should stand alone as a separate command rather than as a comment on the necessity to settle employment debts speedily.
While it’s quite true that the common burden of both these verses is to protect the weaker within Israelite society, it’s unfair to take the mention of the blind man as a statement that the work ethic is again being referred to and that it should be referred to within this context and setting.
He writes (page 231)
‘The context of this law [tripping the blind] is the payment of wages...The case law of verse 14 means that the stronger party must not use another person’s inherent weakness in order to pay him less than a market wage. By implication, he must not cheat the illiterate man or the mentally retarded person’
North doesn’t similarly apply the legislation concerning the deaf man to the payment of wages but, if the blind is a direct reference and comment on the preceding verse, it should be.
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