Exodus 21

1 "These are the ordinances that you must set before them:

Laws about Slaves

2 "When you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for six years; then in the seventh he is to leave as a free man[a] without paying anything.
3 If he arrives alone, he is to leave alone; if he arrives with[b] a wife, his wife is to leave with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children belong to her master, and the man must leave alone.
5 "But if the slave declares: 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I do not want to leave as a free man,'
6 his master is to bring him to the judges[c] and then bring him to the door or doorpost. His master must pierce his ear with an awl, and he will serve his master for life.
7 "When a man sells his daughter as a slave,[d] she is not to leave as the male slaves do.
8 If she is displeasing to her master, who chose her for himself, then he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners because he has acted treacherously toward her.
9 Or if he chooses her for his son, he must deal with her according to the customary treatment of daughters.
10 If he takes an additional wife, he must not reduce the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.
11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she may leave free of charge, without any exchange of money.[e]

Laws about Personal Injury

12 "Whoever strikes a person so that he dies must be put to death.
13 But if he didn't intend any harm,[f] and yet God caused it to happen by his hand, I will appoint a place for you where he may flee.[g]
14 If a person willfully[h] acts against his neighbor to murder him by scheming, you must take him from My altar to be put to death.
15 "Whoever strikes his father or his mother must be put to death.
16 "Whoever kidnaps a person must be put to death, whether he sells him or the person is found in his possession.
17 "Whoever curses his father or his mother must be put to death.
18 "When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist, and the injured man does not die but is confined to bed,
19 if he can [later] get up and walk around outside [leaning] on his staff, then the one who struck [him] will be exempt from punishment. Nevertheless, he must pay for his lost work time[i] and provide for [his] complete recovery.
20 "When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies under his abuse,[j] the owner must be punished.[k]
21 However, if the slave can stand up after a day or two, the owner should not be punished[l] because he is his [owner's] property.[m]
22 "When men get in a fight, and hit a pregnant woman so that her children are born [prematurely],[n] but there is no injury, the one who hit her must be fined as the woman's husband demands from him, and he must pay according to judicial assessment.
23 If there is an injury, then you must give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, bruise for bruise, wound for wound.
26 "When a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave and destroys it, he must let the slave go free in compensation for his eye.
27 If he knocks out the tooth of his male or female slave, he must let the slave go free in compensation for his tooth.
28 "When an ox[o] gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned,[p] and its meat may not be eaten, but the ox's owner is innocent.
29 However, if the ox was in the habit of goring, and its owner has been warned yet does not restrain it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox must be stoned, and its owner must also be put to death.
30 If instead a ransom is demanded of him, he can pay a redemption price for his life in the full amount demanded from him.
31 If it gores a son or a daughter, he is to be dealt with according to this same law.
32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, he must give 30 shekels of silver[q] to the slave's master, and the ox must be stoned.
33 "When a man uncovers a pit or digs a pit, and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
34 the owner of the pit must give compensation; he must pay money to its owner, but the dead animal will become his.
35 "When a man's ox injures his neighbor's ox and it dies, they must sell the live ox and divide its proceeds; they must also divide the dead animal.
36 If, however, it is known that the ox was in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not restrained it, he must compensate fully, ox for ox; the dead animal will become his.

Exodus 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

Laws respecting servants. (1-11) Judicial laws. (12-21) Judicial laws. (22-36)

Verses 1-11 The laws in this chapter relate to the fifth and sixth commandments; and though they differ from our times and customs, nor are they binding on us, yet they explain the moral law, and the rules of natural justice. The servant, in the state of servitude, was an emblem of that state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, which man is brought into by robbing God of his glory, by the transgression of his precepts. Likewise in being made free, he was an emblem of that liberty wherewith Christ, the Son of God, makes free from bondage his people, who are free indeed; and made so freely, without money and without price, of free grace.

Verses 12-21 God, who by his providence gives and maintains life, by his law protects it. A wilful murderer shall be taken even from God's altar. But God provided cities of refuge to protect those whose unhappiness it was, and not their fault, to cause the death of another; for such as by accident, when a man is doing a lawful act, without intent of hurt, happens to kill another. Let children hear the sentence of God's word upon the ungrateful and disobedient; and remember that God will certainly requite it, if they have ever cursed their parents, even in their hearts, or have lifted up their hands against them, except they repent, and flee for refuge to the Saviour. And let parents hence learn to be very careful in training up their children, setting them a good example, especially in the government of their passions, and in praying for them; taking heed not to provoke them to wrath. Through poverty the Israelites sometimes sold themselves or their children; magistrates sold some persons for their crimes, and creditors were in some cases allowed to sell their debtors who could not pay. But "man-stealing," the object of which is to force another into slavery, is ranked in the New Testament with the greatest crimes. Care is here taken, that satisfaction be made for hurt done to a person, though death do not follow. The gospel teaches masters to forbear, and to moderate threatenings, ( Ephesians 6:9 ) , considering with Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up? ( Job 31:13 Job 31:14 ) .

Verses 22-36 The cases here mentioned give rules of justice then, and still in use, for deciding similar matters. We are taught by these laws, that we must be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly. If we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make it good, and be desirous that nobody may lose by us.

Footnotes 17

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO EXODUS 21

In this, and the two following chapters, are delivered various laws and precepts, partly of a moral, and partly of a religious, but chiefly of a civil nature, respecting the commonwealth of Israel, and its political good. This chapter treats of servants, and laws relating to them; to menservants, how long they shall serve, and what is to be done to those who are desirous of staying with their masters after their time is up, Ex 21:1-6, to maidservants, and especially betrothed ones, either to a father or a son, Ex 21:7-11, likewise it contains laws concerning the slaughter of men, whether with design or unawares, Ex 21:12-14, and concerning the ill usage of parents, Ex 21:15,17, and man stealing, Ex 21:16 and of mischief that comes by men's quarrelling and fighting, Ex 21:18,19 and by smiting a man or maidservant, Ex 21:20,21,26,27, to a woman with child, that is, by means of men's striving and contending with each other, Ex 21:22-25 and of damages that come by oxen, or to them, Ex 21:28-36.

Exodus 21 Commentaries