Making Sense of the
Mystery of Christ

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Kim Davis, three goats and a cow

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I made the mistake this morning of clicking on a Huffington Post link that read, “Kim Davis is about to get a BIG surprise in her hometown.” Let’s just say my human curiosity took over. The substance of the article was that a LGBTQ group paid for a billboard with an old meme that reads, “Dear Kim Davis, The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.” The HuffPo article ends with the sentence, “We hope you understand the Bible a bit better now, Kim!”

To be clear from the outset, I’m not going to tackle the propriety or impropriety of the recent issues surrounding Davis. For the moment, I’m more interested in the three goats and a cow meme itself – and what it suggests. A few observations:

First, there is no verse in the Bible that speaks to selling a daughter for three goats and a cow. Not one. It just isn’t there – period. There is a principal of paying a dowry in the Bible (eg. Exodus 22:16-17), but I’m not sure anyone finds that to be particularly appalling in and of itself.

Second, there IS a verse about selling your daughter in Exodus 21:-1-11 in the section about Hebrew slaves. And on its face, that is a bit alarming, but like so many other things it is important to put in context. Slavery in the Old Testament does not directly correspond to the institution of racial / chattel slavery we are more familiar with in our culture. In fact, the slavery of the Old Testament was more a function of the social / judicial safety nets of that time. People might voluntarily enter into a 6-year season of servitude to pay off a debt, for example. Financial damages in a legal dispute might be paid for by becoming a short-term servant in someone’s house. Even conquered peoples were only permitted to be held as servants for a period of six years… In that time and place, God’s law actually erected significant boundaries and limits to this non-racial version of slavery.

But back to the matter at hand. I would submit for your consideration that these verses in Exodus 21 promote protections for women in that ancient culture. If you look at the verses concerning female slaves, it is clear that the master was agreeing to take on and support someone’s daughter with the intent of grafting them into the family through marriage. The master might take the daughter in marriage, have her “redeemed” by a relative, or arrange a marriage with a son. And if none of those three things happened, the woman was supposed to go free with no obligation to the master.

This may still sound incredibly backward to us now, but that is because we have forgotten how brutal the world and ancient cultures could be. The Mosaic laws concerning slaves were meant to limit the rights of masters and to enhance the well-being of impoverished and abandoned women. The most fundamental safe-guard to a woman in that culture was the institution of marriage. The message to masters was clear – take care of the female slave by providing a loving spouse, or set her free.

No matter how you slice it, this has NOTHING to do with supporting this woefully ignorant meme about “three goats and a cow.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than arguing for the redefinition of marriage, these verses underscore its importance and place in God’s redemptive program. I hope you understand the Bible a bit better, Huffington Post!

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