Exodus 21

Listen to Exodus 21
1 “These are the regulations you must present to Israel.
2 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.
3 If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him.
4 “If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave and they had sons or daughters, then only the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.
5 But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’
6 If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.
7 “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.
8 If she does not satisfy her owner, he must allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her.
9 But if the slave’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave but as a daughter.
10 “If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy.
11 If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.
12 “Anyone who assaults and kills another person must be put to death.
13 But if it was simply an accident permitted by God, I will appoint a place of refuge where the slayer can run for safety.
14 However, if someone deliberately kills another person, then the slayer must be dragged even from my altar and be put to death.
15 “Anyone who strikes father or mother must be put to death.
16 “Kidnappers must be put to death, whether they are caught in possession of their victims or have already sold them as slaves.
17 “Anyone who dishonors father or mother must be put to death.
18 “Now suppose two men quarrel, and one hits the other with a stone or fist, and the injured person does not die but is confined to bed.
19 If he is later able to walk outside again, even with a crutch, the assailant will not be punished but must compensate his victim for lost wages and provide for his full recovery.
20 “If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished.
21 But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.
22 “Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve.
23 But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life,
24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot,
25 a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.
26 “If a man hits his male or female slave in the eye and the eye is blinded, he must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye.
27 And if a man knocks out the tooth of his male or female slave, he must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
28 “If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox must be stoned, and its flesh may not be eaten. In such a case, however, the owner will not be held liable.
29 But suppose the ox had a reputation for goring, and the owner had been informed but failed to keep it under control. If the ox then kills someone, it must be stoned, and the owner must also be put to death.
30 However, the dead person’s relatives may accept payment to compensate for the loss of life. The owner of the ox may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.
31 “The same regulation applies if the ox gores a boy or a girl.
32 But if the ox gores a slave, either male or female, the animal’s owner must pay the slave’s owner thirty silver coins, and the ox must be stoned.
33 “Suppose someone digs or uncovers a pit and fails to cover it, and then an ox or a donkey falls into it.
34 The owner of the pit must pay full compensation to the owner of the animal, but then he gets to keep the dead animal.
35 “If someone’s ox injures a neighbor’s ox and the injured ox dies, then the two owners must sell the live ox and divide the price equally between them. They must also divide the dead animal.
36 But if the ox had a reputation for goring, yet its owner failed to keep it under control, he must pay full compensation—a live ox for the dead one—but he may keep the dead ox.

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.

Footnotes 5

  • [a]. Or before the judges.
  • [b]. Greek version reads Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of. Compare Matt 15:4 ; Mark 7:10 .
  • [c]. Or so she has a miscarriage; Hebrew reads so her children come out.
  • [d]. Or bull, or cow; also in 21:29-36 .
  • [e]. Hebrew 30 shekels of silver, about 12 ounces or 342 grams in weight.

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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