Exodus 21 - Outline of Exodus (Book Notes menu page)
The Judgments (ch. 21-23, the second section of "the Law") -
provide practical application of the moral standards (the Commandments) to everyday life.
Here, the LORD concerns Himself with common human problems. Psa 113:5,6
The Judgments speak to a variety of issues, some of which apply easily to life today, others relate primarily to Israel's specific circumstances and the culture of that day. Many of these Judgments are repeated in Leviticus and/or Deuteronomy, often with additional instruction or further detail relating to various aspects of the issues. Modern jurisprudence draws heavily from the Commandments and the Judgments.
Judgments regarding Masters and Slaves (v.1-11) -
21:1 Now these [are] the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
21:2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve:
and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
{cp. Deu 15:12-18}
21:3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself:
if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
21:4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters;
the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.
21:5 And if the servant shall plainly say,
I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges;
he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post;
and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go free...-
  • Hebrew slaves were to be set free after six years of service 'in the seventh year,' or earlier, at the 'year of Jubile' (which occurred once every seven Sabbatic Years, cp. Ex 23:10,11; Lev 25:8-11,39-43).
    This is a picture of the 'fullness of time,' when servants of sin would be set free. cp. Joh 8:34-36; Gal 4:4,5
  • The LORD addressed the neglect of this commandment, as one of many reasons for judgment, shortly before the Babylonian captivity. Jer 34:8-17
I love my master, my wife, and my children...-
This is a picture of Christ, who became a servant because of love...
  • for the Master - He came to do the Father's will (Joh 6:37-39; Php 2:6-8).
  • for His wife & children (ie., for His Church, Eph 5:25-27) -
    Because of love for us, even when we were the servants of sin,
    He allowed Himself to be pierced for our transgressions, that He might purchase to Himself a Bride, and bring many children unto God. cp. Psa 40:6-8; Heb 10:5-9; also see the Notes at Psa 40:6
21:7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant,
she shall not go out as the menservants do.
21:8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself,
then shall he let her be redeemed:
to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power,
seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.
21:9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son,
he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
21:10 If he take him another [wife];
her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
21:11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
The Judgments regarding women servants differed from those regarding men servants, for the protection of the woman. In that time, a woman (set free to live on her own) would be more vulnerable and less able to provide for herself, than would a man. Also, since a woman servant often served as the master's wife, her rights and protections of marriage were to be preserved.
Judgments regarding Personal Injury -- (v.12-36)
21:12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. {cp. Ex 20:13}
21:13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver [him] into his hand;
then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
21:14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile;
thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.
he... shall surely be put to death.- Justice sometimes requires capital punishment.
The death penalty was established by God (Gen 9:6). It was designed...
  • to "put away the guilt of innocent blood" (Deu 19:11-13),
    through the punishment of the guilty, and as a deterrant to future murders, and
  • to prevent the "pollution of the land with blood" (Num 35:30-34),
    by ensuring the exercise of true justice, and by derailing endless cycles of vengeance killings.
a place whither he shall flee...-
Six "cities of refuge" would be established when Israel settled in the promised land.
The man who killed another man unintentionally or in self-defense was to flee to one of these cities, until the judges decided his case (Num 35:11; Josh 20:2-9). However, the person guilty of intentional murder, would find no refuge from judgment (v.14).
21:15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
21:16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand,
he shall surely be put to death.
{cp. Deu 24:7}
21:17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
{cp. Deu 21:18-21}
Murder was not the only crime deserving the death penalty. eg., Lev 20:2,9-16,27; 24:16,17,21
21:18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with [his] fist,
and he die not, but keepeth [his] bed:
21:19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff,
then shall he that smote [him] be quit
{ie., 'exempt' from the punishment due a murderer}:
only he shall pay [for] the loss of his time, and shall cause [him] to be thoroughly healed.
21:20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand;
he shall be surely punished.
21:21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished:
for he [is] his money.
21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child,
so that her fruit depart [from her], and yet no mischief follow:
he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him;
and he shall pay as the judges [determine].
21:23 And if [any] mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
21:24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
21:25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
{cp. Lev 24:19,20}
21:26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish;
he shall let him go free for his eye's sake.
21:27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth;
he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.
eye for eye, tooth for tooth...- Justice requires reciprocity.
This principle is also an element in modern law. A man who commits a wrong against another should expect to pay a price commensurate with the crime.
     There is a tension between the law of Justice and the law of Love, which cannot be resolved until the Kingdom of the Messiah is established on earth. cp. Mat 5:38-46; 1Pet 2:19-21
21:28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die:
then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten;
but the owner of the ox [shall be] quit
{ie. cleared of guilt}.
21:29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn
{ie., apt to gore} in time past,
and it hath been testified to his owner,
and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman;
the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.
21:30 If there be laid on him a sum of money,
then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.
21:31 Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter,
according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.
21:32 If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant;
he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
21:33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it,
and an ox or an ass fall therein;
21:34 The owner of the pit shall make [it] good,
[and] give money unto the owner of them; and the dead [beast] shall be his.
21:35 And if one man's ox hurt another's, that he die;
then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it;
and the dead [ox] also they shall divide.
21:36 Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past,
and his owner hath not kept him in;
he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.
if... but if...- Justice requires determination of relative responsiblity.
the owner... shall make it good...- Justice requires restitution (restoration of damages).
These principles are also embedded in modern law.
thirty shekels of silver (v.32)- The price of a servant (a slave). cp. Zech 11:12; Mat 26:14-16
Combine this reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, with the principles noted above:
  • By Grace, He made restitution for the offenses committed by sinners. Psa 69:4
  • Although we bore full responsibility, we could neither set right our wrongs, nor pay the penalty (death) we deserved.
  • With regard to reciprocity, He took, upon Himself, the full weight of our offense against God: sin for sin, death for death. 2Cor 5:20,21; 1Pet 2:24

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