Laws About Slaves
21 “Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 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. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has 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 broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.
“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.
“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
“Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.
“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.
“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
“When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.
“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
Laws About Restitution
“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.
“When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.
Exodus 21 Commentary
by Hank Workman
Everything we do has consequences. Everything. Whether good or bad, our decisions cause ripple effects of something else.
We move into various laws given by God to the people of Israel to think before they act. These would put guardrails up in order to live the best life they possibly could free from the dire effects of their choices.
It may seem strange that the first set of laws given were for slaves. Here the Hebrews had been freed from slavery but now there were instructions on dealing with this among His people.
There were 4 ways a Hebrew could become a slave to another. If they were poor they could sell their rights. A father had the option of selling his children to pay off debt. If a person declared bankruptcy they could become a slave to pay back to the master who had the papers of their debt. If a thief was caught, this was an option for him.
In all of these cases, these were not life long commitments. They would be a slave for 6 years and then would be set free. The reality was they would go into slavery with nothing and exit just the same. In a strange twist, if the master of this slave ever provided a wife and consequently children were born each of these would have to be paid for upon their exit.
There were options to this though as well. If the master treated the slave well and at the end of 6 years that slave wanted to remain the rest of his life with the master, he would become a bondslave. This happened when the master was a good and fair man and the slave loved his master. A ceremony would commence where an awl would pierce the slave’s ear.
Jesus was the perfect bondservant to His Father. And through His death and resurrection, Jesus gave us the ability to make such a commitment of love to Him and the Father as well. We were no longer enemies, nor slaves of sin but friends of His. Paul referred to himself as such a slave in Galatians 6.
We don’t think along the lines of slavery very much. But when we commit ourselves to Jesus and give up our rights in order to serve Jesus – we become His servant. The beauty of this is as Jesus calls us friends, He loves us deeply. And when we make such a commitment to Him, we love Him wholly in all our decisions and ways.
Exodus 21 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
God, through His law, established some basic truths that the people were to follow. It’s interesting how things are viewed somewhat differently today. During a less civilized time, and without the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead them, the people needed this direction. Here are some of the overall guiding principles for this chapter…
Life is superior to property. If an ox gored a man to death, it was to be killed and the flesh was not to be eaten. This is interesting considering that if that happened today, it would probably be considered an accident. I doubt in many cases that the animal would be put to death. The idea here was not animal cruelty, but rather, to value human life to the fullest extent.
The careless were accountable. In that same scenario, if the ox that gored a man had a history of doing it and the owner had not restrained the animal, then he was punishable by death as well. We see some accountability today with household pets such as dogs and cats, but the seriousness of this punishment sent a clear message – the careless will be culpable.
The laws may seem strange to us but it was a different culture in a different time period. The prevention of crime and attention to responsibility were paramount during this era. People were to take their duties and responsibilities seriously and with great care because if not, they would be punished.