Exodus 21:6

6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him 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 his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out alone.
5 But if the slave declares, "I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,"
6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.
8 If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her.

Footnotes 1

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.