The laws in Exodus give us an outline of God’s value system, and that’s one of the ways you should read them. Chapter 21 begins with laws regarding slaves, but just because we don’t own slaves today doesn’t mean these laws have no value for us.
It becomes obvious that slavery is not a desirable life. Notice that polygamy is not condemned in these texts. But neither does its regulation mean “approval.” In every example of polygamy we have in the Bible, the stories never lead us to say: “Wow, I wish I had two wives!” The stories are filled with tragedy and complications. The same is true with these laws regarding slavery. Life gets complicated when human flesh becomes a possession. You don’t want to own people, and you don’t want to be owned.
Human life is more important above all others and the one who wantonly takes the life of another forfeits his own life. We are responsible for one another and to one another. And so if my actions cause you hurt, even though unintentional, I’m still liable. If intentional, my liability is greater (intent, therefore, is a factor). Different crimes have different degrees of seriousness (thus, though all sin is spiritually harmful, one sin is not just as bad as another).
The examples given in today’s reading are designed to give us an idea about how God thinks with regards to ethics. Because our nation is not a theocracy, and because the Church is not a political entity, the punishments prescribed here may no longer be exacted, but that doesn’t change how God feels about the behaviors involved. The New Testament did not change God’s ethical foundation, and Christian people, if they are to be “holy” people, must likewise begin to value as God values.