|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
21:1-11 The laws in this chapter relate to the fifth and sixth commandments; and though they differ from our times and customs, nor are they binding on us, yet they explain the moral law, and the rules of natural justice. The servant, in the state of servitude, was an emblem of that state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, which man is brought into by robbing God of his glory, by the transgression of his precepts. Likewise in being made free, he was an emblem of that liberty wherewith Christ, the Son of God, makes free from bondage his people, who are free indeed; and made so freely, without money and without price, of free grace.
Verses 5, 6. - I love my master, etc. Affection might grow up between the slave and the master, if he were well treated. The Hebrew form of slavery was altogether of a mild kind. Masters are admonished to treat their slaves "not as bond-servants, but as hired servants or sojourners," and again "not to rule over them with rigour" (Leviticus 25:39, 40, 43). Even among the heathen, slaves often bore a true affection to their masters. Or, the slave might be so attached to his wife and children as to be unwilling to separate from them, and might prefer slavery with the solace of their society to freedom without it. For such cases the provision was made, which is contained in ver. 6. On the slave declaring to his master his unwillingness to go free, the master might take him before the judges, or magistrates (literally "gods") as witnesses, and perhaps registrars of the man' s declaration, and might then reconduct him to his house, and by a significant ceremony mark him as his slave "for ever." The ceremony consisted in boring through one of his ears with an awl, and driving the awl into the door or doorpost of the house, thereby attaching him physically to the dwelling of which he became thenceforth a permanent inmate. Almost all commentators assert that some such custom was common in the East in connection with slavery, and refer to Xen. Aaab. 3:1, § 31; Plant. Poenul. 5:2, 21; Juv. Sat. 1:104; Plutarch. Vit. Cic. § 26, etc. But these passages merely show that the Orientals generally - not slaves in particular - had their ears bored for the purpose of wearing earrings, and indicate no usage at all comparable to the Hebrew practice. The Hebrew custom - probably a very ancient one - seems to have had two objects -
1. The declaring by a significant act, that the man belonged to the house; and
2. The permanent marking of him as a slave, dis-entitled to the rights of freemen, he shall serve him for ever. Josephus (Ant. Jud. 4:8, § 20) and the Jewish commentators generally maintain that the law of the jubilee release overruled this enactment; but this must be regarded as very doubtful.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And if the servant shall plainly say,.... Or, "in saying shall say" (i) shall express himself in plain and full terms, and repeat his words, and abide by them, signifying it as his last will and determined resolution:
I love my master, my wife, and my children, and I will not go out free; but continue in his servitude, having a great affection for his master, and that he might enjoy his wife and children he dearly loved; and being animated with such a principle, his servitude was a pleasure to him: and when our obedience to God springs from love to him, and to his cause and interest, which should be as dear to us as our families, it is then acceptable to God and delightful to ourselves; in Deuteronomy 15:16,
it is, because he loveth thee, and thine house, because he is well with thee; hence the Jewish writers say (k), understanding by "house" a family, if a servant has a wife and children and his master not, his ear is not to be bored; and if his master has a wife and children and he has not, his ear is not to be bored; if he loves his master and his master do not love him, or his master loves him and he do not love his master, or if he is sick, &c. his ear is not to be bored.
(i) (k) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 22. 1. Maimon. in Misn. Kiddushin, c. 1. sect. 2.
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