Exodus 21

Ordinances for the People

1 "Now these are the 1ordinances which you are to set before them:
2 "If you buy 2a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
3 "If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, 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 belong to her master, 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 as a free man,'
6 then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
7 "4If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free 5as the male slaves do.
8 "If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.
9 "If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.
10 "If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or 6her conjugal rights.
11 "If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Personal Injuries

12 "7He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
13 "8But if he did not lie in wait for him, but 9God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.
14 "10If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.
15 "He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
16 "11He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.
17 "12He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
18 "If men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed,
19 if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.
20 "If a man strikes his male or female slave * with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished.
21 "If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; 13for he is his property.
22 "If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall 14pay as the judges decide.
23 "But if there is any further injury, 15then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life,
24 16eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
26 "If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave *, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye.
27 "And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave *, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.
28 "If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, 17the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.
29 "If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
30 "If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever * is demanded of him.
31 "Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule.
32 "If the ox gores a male or female slave *, the owner shall give his or her master 18thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
33 "If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
34 the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.
35 "If one man's ox hurts another's so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox.
36 "Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall 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.

Cross References 18

  • 1. Exodus 24:3, 4; Deuteronomy 4:14; Deuteronomy 6:1
  • 2. Leviticus 25:39-43; Deuteronomy 15:12-18; Jeremiah 34:14
  • 3. Deuteronomy 15:16, 17
  • 4. Nehemiah 5:5
  • 5. Exodus 21:2, 3
  • 6. 1 Corinthians 7:3, 5
  • 7. Genesis 9:6; Leviticus 24:17; Numbers 35:30; Matthew 26:52
  • 8. Numbers 35:10-34; Deuteronomy 19:1-13; Joshua 20:1-9
  • 9. 1 Sam 24:4, 10, 18
  • 10. Deuteronomy 19:11, 12; 1 Kings 2:28-34
  • 11. Deuteronomy 24:7
  • 12. Leviticus 20:9; Proverbs 20:20; Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10
  • 13. Leviticus 25:44-46
  • 14. Exodus 21:30; Deuteronomy 22:18, 19
  • 15. Leviticus 24:19; Deuteronomy 19:21
  • 16. Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38
  • 17. Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:32
  • 18. Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:15; Matthew 27:3, 9

Footnotes 33

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

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