Exodus 21

1 "Here are the laws you must explain to the people of Israel.

Set Your Hebrew Servants Free

2 "Suppose you buy a Hebrew servant. He must serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, you must set him free. He does not have to pay anything.
3 "If he does not have a wife when he comes, he must go free alone. But if he has a wife when he comes, she must go with him.
4 Suppose his master gives him a wife. And suppose she has sons or daughters by him. Then only the man will go free. The woman and her children will belong to her master.
5 "But suppose the servant says, 'I love my master and my wife and children. I don't want to go free.'
6 Then his master must take him to the judges. He must be taken to the door or doorpost of his master's house. His master must poke a hole through his ear lobe into the doorpost. Then he will become his servant for life.
7 "Suppose a man sells his daughter as a servant. Then she can't go free as male servants do.
8 "But what if the master who has chosen her does not like her? Then he must let the man buy her back. He has no right to sell her to strangers. He has broken his promise to her.
9 "What if he chooses her to get married to his son? Then he must grant her the rights of a daughter.
10 "What if he marries another woman? He must still give the first one her food and clothes and make love to her.
11 If he does not provide her with those three things, she can go free. She does not have to pay anything.

Laws About Harming Others

12 "You can be sure that if anyone hits and kills someone else, he will be put to death.
13 Suppose he did not do it on purpose. Suppose I let it happen. Then he can escape to a place I will choose.
14 But suppose he kills someone on purpose. Then take him away from my altar and put him to death.
15 "If anyone attacks his father or mother, he will be put to death.
16 "If anyone kidnaps and sells another person, he will be put to death. If he still has the person with him when he is caught, he will be put to death.
17 "If anyone calls down a curse on his father or mother, he will be put to death.
18 "Suppose two men get into a fight and argue with each other. One hits the other with a stone or his fist. He does not die but has to stay in bed.
19 And later he gets up and walks around outside with his walking stick. Then the man who hit him will not be held accountable. But he must pay the one who was hurt for the time he spent in bed. He must be sure that the person is completely healed.
20 "Suppose a man beats his male or female slave to death with a club. Then he must be punished.
21 But he will not be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two. After all, the slave is his property.
22 "Suppose some men are fighting and one of them hits a pregnant woman. And suppose she has her baby early but is not badly hurt. Then the man who hurt her must pay a fine. He must pay what the woman's husband asks for and the court allows.
23 "But if someone is badly hurt, a life must be taken for a life.
24 An eye must be put out for an eye. A tooth must be knocked out for a tooth. A hand must be cut off for a hand and a foot for a foot.
25 A burn must be given for a burn, a wound for a wound, and a bruise for a bruise.
26 "Suppose a man hits his male or female servant in the eye and destroys it. Then he must let the servant go free to pay for the eye.
27 "Suppose he knocks out the tooth of a male or female servant. Then he must let the servant go free to pay for the tooth.
28 "Suppose a bull kills a man or woman with its horns. Then you must kill the bull by throwing stones at it. Its meat must not be eaten. The owner of the bull will not be held accountable.
29 "But suppose the bull has had the habit of attacking people. And suppose the owner has been warned but has not kept it fenced in. Then if it kills a man or woman, you must kill it with stones. The owner must also be put to death.
30 "But suppose payment is required of him instead. Then he can save his life by paying what is required.
31 "The same law applies if the bull wounds a son or daughter with its horns.
32 "Suppose the bull wounds a male or female slave. Then the owner must pay the slave's master 12 ounces of silver. You must kill the bull with stones.
33 "Suppose a man uncovers a pit or digs one and does not cover it. And suppose an ox or donkey falls into it.
34 Then the owner of the pit must pay the animal's owner for the loss. The dead animal will belong to the owner of the pit.
35 "Suppose a man's bull wounds a neighbor's bull and it dies. Then they must sell the live one. And they must share the money and the dead animal equally.
36 "But suppose people knew that the bull had the habit of attacking. And suppose the owner did not keep it fenced in. Then he must give another animal to pay for the dead animal. The dead animal will belong to him.

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.

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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