Exodus 21:6

6 then his master is to bring him before God and to a door or doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, a sign that he is a slave for life.

Exodus 21:6 Meaning and Commentary

Exodus 21:6

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges
To Elohim, to God, to the judgment seat of God, according to the Septuagint; to some person or persons to inquire of God what is to be done in such a case; but this seems needless, since it is here declared: no doubt civil magistrates or judges are meant by Elohim, or the gods, as in ( Psalms 82:1 Psalms 82:6 ) , and so Jarchi interprets it of the house of judgment, or sanhedrim, the court that had convicted the servant of theft, and had sold him to him, it was proper he should acquaint them with it, have their opinion about it; and especially it was proper to have him to them, that he might before them, even in open court, declare his willingness to abide in his master's service; and from whom, as the Targum of Jonathan, he was to receive power and authority to retain him in his service:

he shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost;
either of the gate of the city, where the judges were sitting, before whom what follows was to be done, as Aben Ezra suggests; or rather the door of his master, or any other man's, as Maimonides F12:

and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl;
or with a needle, as the Targum of Jonathan, which also says it was the right ear; and so Jarchi; and the upper part of it, as says Maimonides, who likewise observes, that that with which it is bored must be of metal; and moreover, that it is the master himself that must do it, and not his son, nor his messenger, nor a messenger of the sanhedrim F13: the ear is an hieroglyphic of obedience, and the boring of it through to the doorpost denotes the strict and close obedience of such a servant to his master, and how he is, and ought to be, addicted to his service, and be constantly employed in it, and never stir from it, nor so much as go over the threshold of his master's house. This custom of boring a servant's ear continued in Syria till the times of Juvenal, as appears by some lines of his: F14

and he shall serve him for ever;
as long as he lives F15; however, until the year of jubilee, as the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi; if there was one before his death, for nothing else could free him; denoting freedom by Christ in his acceptable year, and day of salvation.


F12 Hilchot Abadim, c. 3. sect. 9.
F13 Ibid.
F14 "----Molles quod in aure fenestrae Arguerint, licet ipse negem?" Satyr. 1.
F15 "Serviet in aeternum, qui parvo nesciet uti". Horat.

Exodus 21:6 In-Context

4 If the master gives him a wife and she gave him sons and daughters, the wife and children stay with the master and he leaves by himself.
5 But suppose the slave should say, 'I love my master and my wife and children - I don't want my freedom,'
6 then his master is to bring him before God and to a door or doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, a sign that he is a slave for life.
7 "When a man sells his daughter to be a handmaid, she doesn't go free after six years like the men.
8 If she doesn't please her master, her family must buy her back; her master doesn't have the right to sell her to foreigners since he broke his word to her.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved.