Exodus 21

1 “These are the laws you are to set before them:

Hebrew Servants

2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’
6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do.
8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.
9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.
10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.
11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Personal Injuries

12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death.
13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate.
14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.
15 “Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.
16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed,
19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result,
21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye.
27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.
29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death.
30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded.
31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter.
32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels[f] of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.
33 “If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
34 the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.
35 “If anyone’s bull injures someone else’s bull and it dies, the two parties are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally.
36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and take the dead animal in exchange.

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 25

  • 1. Exodus 24:3; Exodus 34:32; Deuteronomy 4:14; Deuteronomy 6:1
  • 2. Exodus 22:3
  • 3. ver 7; Jeremiah 34:8,14
  • 4. Deuteronomy 15:16
  • 5. Exodus 22:8-9; Deuteronomy 17:9; Deuteronomy 19:17; Deuteronomy 25:1
  • 6. Psalms 40:6
  • 7. Job 39:9; Job 41:4; Nehemiah 5:5
  • 8. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
  • 9. ver 15,17; S Genesis 4:14,23; Genesis 9:6; Exodus 31:15; Leviticus 20:9,10; Leviticus 24:16; Leviticus 27:29; Numbers 1:51; Numbers 35:16,30-31; Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 19:11; Deuteronomy 22:22; Deuteronomy 27:16; Job 31:11; Proverbs 20:20; S Matthew 26:52
  • 10. Numbers 35:10-34; Deuteronomy 4:42; Deuteronomy 19:2-13; Joshua 20:9; 1Sa 24:4,10,18
  • 11. Genesis 4:8; Numbers 35:20; 2 Samuel 3:27; 2 Samuel 20:10; Hebrews 10:26
  • 12. Deuteronomy 19:11-12; 1 Kings 2:28-34
  • 13. Genesis 37:28
  • 14. Exodus 22:4; Deuteronomy 24:7
  • 15. S ver 12; S Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 20:9-10; Matthew 15:4*; Mark 7:10*
  • 16. Leviticus 25:44-46
  • 17. ver 30; Deuteronomy 22:18-19
  • 18. Leviticus 24:19; Deuteronomy 19:21
  • 19. S ver 23; Matthew 5:38*
  • 20. ver 32; Genesis 9:5
  • 21. ver 36
  • 22. ver 22; Numbers 35:31
  • 23. Genesis 37:28; Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:3,9
  • 24. Luke 14:5
  • 25. ver 29

Footnotes 6

  • [a]. Or "before God"
  • [b]. Or "master so that he does not choose her"
  • [c]. Or "kills"
  • [d]. Or "with a tool"
  • [e]. Or "she has a miscarriage"
  • [f]. That is, about 12 ounces or about 345 grams

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