Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
Judgments - i. e. decisions of the law.
If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
A Hebrew might be sold as a bondman in consequence either of debt Leviticus 25:39 or of the commission of theft Exodus 22:3. But his servitude could not be enforced for more than six full years. Compare the marginal references.
If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
If a married man became a bondman, his rights in regard to his wife were respected: but if a single bondman accepted at the hand of his master a bondwoman as his wife, the master did not lose his claim to the woman or her children, at the expiration of the husband's term of service. Such wives, it may be presumed, were always foreign slaves.
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.
And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
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.
Forever - That is, most probably, until the next Jubilee, when every Hebrew was set free. See Leviticus 25:40, Leviticus 25:50. The custom of boring the ear as a mark of slavery appears to have been a common one in ancient times, observed in many nations.
Unto the judges - Literally, "before the gods אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym." The word does not denote "judges" in a direct way, but it is to be understood as the name of God, in its ordinary plural form, God being the source of all justice. The name in this connection always has the definite article prefixed. See the marginal references. Compare Psalm 82:1, Psalm 82:6; John 10:34.
And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
A man might, in accordance with existing custom, sell his daughter to another man with a view to her becoming an inferior wife, or concubine. In this case, she was not "to go out," like the bondman; that is, she was not to be dismissed at the end of the sixth year. But women who were bound in any other way, would appear to have been under the same conditions as bondmen. See Deuteronomy 15:17.
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.
And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
If he do not these three unto her - The words express a choice of one of three things. The man was to give the woman, whom he had purchased from her father, her freedom, unless
(i) he caused her to be redeemed by a Hebrew master Exodus 21:8; or,
(ii) gave her to his son, and treated her as a daughter Exodus 21:9; or,
(iii) in the event of his taking another wife Exodus 21:10, unless he allowed her to retain her place and privileges.
These rules Exodus 21:7-11 are to be regarded as mitigations of the then existing usages of concubinage.
He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
The case of murder of a free man and of a bondman. See Exodus 21:20 note. The law was afterward expressly declared to relate also to foreigners, Leviticus 24:17, Leviticus 24:21-22; compare the marginal references.
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.
There was no place of safety for the guilty murderer, not even the altar of Yahweh. Thus all superstitious notions connected with the right of sanctuary were excluded. Adonijah and Joab 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28 appear to have vainly trusted that the common feeling would protect them, if they took hold of the horns of the altar on which atonement with blood was made Leviticus 4:7. But for one who killed a man "at unawares," that is, without intending to do it, the law afterward appointed places of refuge, Numbers 35:6-34; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Deuteronomy 19:2-10; Joshua 20:2-9. It is very probable that there was some provision answering to the cities of refuge, that may have been based upon old usage, in the camp in the Wilderness.
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.
And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
The following offences were to be punished with death:
Striking a parent, compare Deuteronomy 27:16.
Cursing a parent, compare the marginal references.
Kidnapping, whether with a view to retain the person stolen, or to sell him, compare the marginal references.
And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:
If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.
Quit - i. e. if one man injured another in a quarrel so as to oblige him to keep his bed, he was free from the liability to a criminal charge (such as might be based upon Exodus 21:12): but he was required to compensate the latter for the loss of his time, and for the cost of his healing.
And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
The Jewish authorities appear to be right in referring this law, like those in Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:32, to foreign slaves (see Leviticus 25:44-46). The protection here afforded to the life of a slave may seem to us but a slight one; but it is the very earliest trace of such protection in legislation, and it stands in strong and favorable contrast with the old laws of Greece, Rome, and other nations. If the slave survived the castigation a day or two, the master did not become amenable to the law, because the loss of the slave was accounted, under the circumstances, as a punishment.
Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
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.
The rule would seem to refer to a case in which the wife of a man interfered in a quarrel. This law, "the jus talionis," is elsewhere repeated in substance, compare the marginal references. and Genesis 9:6. It has its root in a simple conception of justice, and is found in the laws of many ancient nations. It serves in this place as a maxim for the magistrate in awarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the infliction of personal injury. The sum was to be as nearly as possible the worth in money of the power lost by the injured person. Our Lord quotes Exodus 21:24 as representing the form of the law, in order to illustrate the distinction between the letter and the spirit Matthew 5:38. The tendency of the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was to confound the obligations of the conscience with the external requirements of the law. The law, in its place, was still to be "holy and just and good," Romans 7:12, but its direct purpose was to protect the community, not to guide the heart of the believer, who was not to exact eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but to love his enemies, and to forgive all injuries.
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
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.
Freedom was the proper equivalent for permanent injury.
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.
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.
The animal was slain as a tribute to the sanctity of human life (Compare the marginal references and Genesis 4:11). It was stoned, and its flesh was treated as carrion. Guilty negligence on the part of its owner was reckoned a capital offence, to be commuted for a fine.
In the case of a slave, the payment was the standard price of a slave, thirty shekels of silver. See Leviticus 25:44-46; Leviticus 27:3, and the marginal references for the New Testament application of this fact.
But if the ox were wont to push with his horn 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.
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.
Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.
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.
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;
The usual mode of protecting a well in the East was probably then, as now, by building round it a low circular wall.
The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.
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.
The dead ox in this case, as well as in the preceding one, must have been worth no more than the price of the hide, as the flesh could not be eaten. See Leviticus 17:1-6.
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.