|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
21:12-21 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, Eph 6:9, considering with Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up? Job 31:13,14.
Verses 20, 21. - Homicide of slaves. In most ancient states the slave was the absolute property of his master, and might be ill-used to any extent, even killed, without the law in any way interfering. It is said that the state of things was different in Egypt (Kalisch); but we have scarcely sufficient evidence on the point to be certain that the slave enjoyed there any real and efficient protection. At Athens, beyond a doubt, the law protected the life of the slave; and a very moderate amount of ill-treatment entitled a slave to bring an action. At Rome, on the contrary, "the master could treat the slave as he pleased, could sell him, punish him, and put him to death" (Dict. of Greek & Roman Antiq. p. 1036). And this was the ordinary state of the law, particularly in Oriental countries. The Mosaic legislation must be regarded as having greatly ameliorated the condition of the native slave population. Hebrew bondmen it placed nearly upon a par with hired servants (Leviticus 25:40); foreign slaves, whether prisoners taken in war, or persons bought in the market, it protected to a very great extent. By the law given in verses 26, 27, it largely controlled the brutality of masters, who had to emancipate their slaves if they did them any serious injury. By the law laid down in verse 20, it gave their lives the same protection, or nearly the same, as the lives of freemen. "Smiting "was allowed as a discipline, without which slavery cannot exist; but such smiting as resulted in death was, as a general rule, punishable like any other homicide. The only exception was, if the slave did not die for some days (ver. 21). In that case the master was considered not to have intended the slave' s death, and to be sufficiently punished by the loss of his property. Verse 20. - If a man smite his servant, or his maid. "Maids" would commonly be chastised by their mistress, or by an upper servant acting under the mistress' s authority. "A man" here means "any one." With a rod. The rods wherewith Egyptian slaves were chastised appear upon the monuments. They were long canes, like those used by our schoolmasters. Under his hand. Criminals in the East are said often to die under the bastinado; and even in our own country there have been cases of soldiers dying under the lash. A special delicacy of the nervous system will make a punishment of the kind fatal to some, which would have been easily borne by others.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And if a man smite his servant or his maid with a rod,.... A Canaanitish servant or maid, as the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi; and that only with a rod for the correction of them, and not with a sword or any such destroying weapon, which would seem as though he intended to kill, yet nevertheless:
and he die under his hand; immediately, while he is smiting or beating him or her, on the same day, as the above Targum interprets it:
he shall be surely punished; or condemned to the punishment of being slain with the sword, as the said Targum and Jarchi explain it: this law was made to deter masters from using severity and cruelty towards their servants.
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