Exodus 21

Listen to Exodus 21

Laws About Slaves

1 "Now these are the 1rules that you shall set before them.
2 2When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.
3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out alone.
5 But 3if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,'
6 then his master shall bring him to 4God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
7 "When a man 5sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.
8 If she does not please her master, who has designated her[a] for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her.
9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.
10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or 6her marital rights.
11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
12 7"Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.
13 8But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then 9I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee.
14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, 10you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
15 "Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.
16 11"Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found 12in possession of him, shall be put to death.
17 13"Whoever curses[b] his father or his mother shall be put to death.
18 "When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed,
19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.
20 "When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.
21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the 14slave is his money.
22 "When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and 15he shall pay as the 16judges determine.
23 But if there is harm,[c] then you shall pay 17life for life,
24 18eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 "When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye.
27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
28 "When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the 19ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.
29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.
30 If 20a ransom is imposed on him, then 21he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him.
31 If it gores a man's son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule.
32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master 22thirty shekels[d] of silver, and 23the ox shall be stoned.

Laws About Restitution

33 "When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.
35 "When one man's ox butts another's, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share.
36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be 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.

Cross References 23

  • 1. Exodus 24:3; Deuteronomy 4:14; Deuteronomy 6:1
  • 2. Deuteronomy 15:12; Jeremiah 34:14; See Leviticus 25:39-41
  • 3. Deuteronomy 15:16, 17
  • 4. [Psalms 82:6; John 10:34, 35]
  • 5. Nehemiah 5:5
  • 6. 1 Corinthians 7:5
  • 7. Genesis 9:6; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:30, 31; [Matthew 26:52]
  • 8. Deuteronomy 19:4, 5; See Numbers 35:22-25
  • 9. Numbers 35:11; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Deuteronomy 19:2, 3; See Joshua 20:2-9
  • 10. See 1 Kings 2:28-34
  • 11. Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:10
  • 12. Exodus 22:4
  • 13. Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 27:16; Cited Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10; [Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:11]
  • 14. [Leviticus 25:45, 46]
  • 15. [Deuteronomy 22:18, 19]
  • 16. [Job 31:11]
  • 17. Deuteronomy 19:21
  • 18. Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Cited Matthew 5:38
  • 19. Genesis 9:5
  • 20. Exodus 30:12; Numbers 35:31, 32
  • 21. [See ver. 22 above]
  • 22. [Zechariah 11:12, 13; Matthew 26:15]
  • 23. [See ver. 28 above]

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. Or so that he has not designated her
  • [b]. Or dishonors; Septuagint reviles
  • [c]. Or so that her children come out and it is clear who was to blame, he shall be fined as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he alone shall pay. If it is unclear who was to blame...
  • [d]. A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

Chapter Summary


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

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.