Exodus 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
1. Now] And—introducing a new element in the collection, viz. the ‘judgements’ contained in Exodus 21:2 to Exodus 22:17.

the judgements] i.e. legal precedents, intended to have the force of law. The Heb. mishpâṭ means a judicial decision, (1) given in an individual case, and then (2) established as a precedent for other similar cases1[184]. No doubt, the decisions which Moses gave, when he ‘sat to judge the people’ (Exodus 18:13; cf. on Exodus 18:15-16), became thus the foundation of Hebrew legislation (cf. p. 161)2[185].

[184] In its original sense, the word is a term belonging to civil and criminal law; but it is sometimes extended so as to include moral and religious injunctions (as Leviticus 18:4-5; Leviticus 19:15; Leviticus 19:35); it is also sometimes in EVV. rendered more clearly by ‘ordinance’ (e.g. Exodus 15:25, Joshua 24:25, Isaiah 58:2, Jeremiah 8:7 RV.).

[185] ‘En-Mishpâṭ (Genesis 14:7), the ‘Spring of judgement,’ as Ḳadesh (the ‘sacred’ place) was also called, was doubtless once a sacred spring, at which judicial decisions were obtained (cf. DB. iii. 67a, v. 616b).

set before them] Exodus 19:7, Deuteronomy 4:44.

If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
2. If thou buy] In the Heb. the primary cases (vv. 2, 7, 20, 22 &c.) are introduced by ki, ‘when,’ the subordinate ones (vv. 3a, 3b, 4, 5; 8, 9, 10, 11, &c.) by ’im, ‘if,’ or ’ô, ‘or if’; but the distinction is not preserved in EVV.

an Hebrew servant] better, an Hebrew bondman (RVm.) or male slave, i.e. one of Hebrew birth, as opposed to foreigners, who did not enjoy the same privileges as Hebrew slaves, and might be slaves for life (Leviticus 25:44-46). The release in the seventh year, after six years of servitude, seems, like the Sabbatical Year (Exodus 23:10 f.), to be suggested by the weekly sabbath closing the six days of toil.

go out free] Cf. Ḥammurabi’s Code, § 117 (below, p. 421). The philanthropic legislator of Deuteronomy (Exodus 15:13 f.) enjoins the master to bestow a handsome present upon his slave when he thus leaves him.

2–6. Hebrew male slaves. Their term of service is fixed for six years (v. 2). A slave is to leave his master’s service exactly as he entered it: if he entered it without a wife, he is to leave it without wife, even though he may have taken a wife in the meantime (vv. 3a, 4). If on the other hand he was married when his master bought him, his wife may accompany him when he receives his Freedom (v. 3b). Provision is further made for a voluntary life-service (v. 5 f.).

2–11. The law of slavery. Cf. Deuteronomy 15:12-18, Leviticus 25:39-55 (H and P), where there are other regulations on the same subject, in some respects differing remarkably from those of Ex., and springing evidently out of a different and more advanced stage of society. The present law deals only with Hebrew slaves: the case of foreign slaves is dealt with in Leviticus 25:44-46. The conditions of society in ancient Israel were such that slavery could not be abolished: but it was regulated, and restrictions were imposed on the power of a master over his slave (see also vv. 20 f., 26 f.). An Israelite might fall into slavery from different causes: (1) he might be sold by his parents, a case of particularly common occurrence with daughters; (2) he might be sold for theft (Exodus 22:3) or insolvency (2 Kings 4:1, Amos 2:6); (3) he might be obliged by poverty to sell himself (Leviticus 25:39). Of course, also, he might be born a slave. The later legislation of Leviticus 25:39-46 sought to limit slavery to foreigners.

If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
3. First and second of the special cases, viz. the cases (1) of an unmarried slave, and (2) of one married before he became a slave. There is no counterpart to this and the following verse in Dt.

by himself (twice)] lit. with his back or body, and with nothing else, i.e. alone, without wife or child. A peculiar expression, found only here and v. 4.

married] Heb. the possessor of a woman (or wife); so v. 22; ba‘al, ‘possessor,’ also, in the sense of ‘husband,’ Genesis 20:3, Deuteronomy 24:4 al. The woman, being the possession of her husband, naturally shared his fortunes, and both entered into servitude, and left it, with him.

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.
4. The third case. If the master marries a slave to one of his female slaves, the wife remains her master’s slave as she was before, and does not go free with her husband. If she has borne him children, the remain in servitude with their mother. At this early time, children’s relationship to their mother was held to be closer and more binding than that to their father.

give him] for the slave would not have the right to choose a wife for himself.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
5. plainly say] ‘Plainly’ should be omitted. It is an attempt to represent in English the idiomatic use of the Hebrew inf. abs., which emphasizes the verb to which it is attached, and is often used in the expression of a condition (G.-K. § 113o). ‘Plainly,’ however, does not give the correct emphasis.

I love my master] A slave was no doubt often well treated, and would then naturally ‘prefer slavery with comfort to freedom with destitution’ (EB. iv. 4656).

my wife, and my children] The case is supposed to be the one provided for in v. 4, in which the slave’s wife and children would not accompany him into freedom.

5, 6. The fourth case. A slave, if he was happy with his master might, if he desired to do so, remain in his master’s service for life.

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.
6. unto God] i.e. (if the rend. be correct: see below) to the nearest sanctuary (for the expression, comp. especially 1 Samuel 10:3), in order that he might there affirm solemnly before God his intention to remain with his master. ‘God’ is resorted to here, not for a judicial decision (see on Exodus 18:15-16), but for the slave’s declaration to be solemnly ratified: still, as this would be done in the presence of God’s human representatives, the priests or judges, RVm. (= AV.), following Targ., Pesh., and Jewish interpreters (cf. LXX. τό κριτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ, ‘the tribunal of God’), renders the judges. This, however, is only a paraphrase; for though God, in cases such as the present, may be conceived as acting through a judge, as His representative or mouth-piece, that does not make ‘Elohim’ mean ‘judge,’ or ‘judges.’ ‘God’ is used in the same sense in Exodus 22:8-9, and 1 Samuel 2:25.

and he shall bring him] i.e (Di.) the judge at the sanctuary: better, perhaps, one shall bring him = he shall be brought (G.-K. §144d).

the door] not, as has been supposed, of the sanctuary, but, if the ceremony is to bear any relation to the thing which it is intended to signify, of his master’s house. The ear, as the organ of hearing, is naturally that of obedience as well; and its attachment (Deuteronomy 15:17) to the door of the house would signify the perpetual attachment of the slave to that particular household. Probably it was the right ear which was pierced: for the preference shewn for this, comp. Leviticus 8:23 f., Exodus 14:14; Exodus 14:17. The connexion ‘bring him to God (or the gods),’ and ‘bring him to the door’ seems, however, to suggest that both were in the same place: hence, as the ‘door’ of the sanctuary seems out of the question, Bä. and others render hâ-’ĕlôhîm (as is perfectly possible: cf. Genesis 3:5 RVm.) by the gods, supposing the reference to be to the household gods, or Penates, of the master’s house, kept and worshipped near the door: the ceremony would then have the effect of bringing the give into a relation of dependence on the gods of his master’s family, and of admitting him to the full religious privileges of the family (cf. Eerdmans Expositor, Aug. 1909, p. 163 f.). Kautzsch, on the other hand, supposes an image of Jehovah to be referred to (DB. v. 642b).

bore his ear] Whether a hole in the ear was really among other nations a mark of slavery, or even of dependence, is very doubtful: the passages cited by Di. from Kn. (cf. Now. Arch. i. 177) do not seem to shew more than that it was a mark of nationality: the ear was often bored (for ear-rings) among Africans and Orientals in general, but not specifically by slaves. See esp. Mayor’s note on Juv. i. 104 (‘Natus ad Euphraten, molles quod in aure fenestrae Arguerint’), Macrob. Saturn, vii. 3, Plin. H.N. xi. § 136: on Plaut. Poen. v. 2. 21 (‘aures anulatae’), see Ussing’s note.

for ever] i.e. till his life’s end: cf. ‘for ever’ in 1 Samuel 1:22, and esp. in the expression, ‘servant for ever,’ Exodus 27:12, Job 41:4 [Exodus 40:28 Heb.]. The explanation ‘till the next jubilee’ (Jos. Ant. iv. 8. 28, and others), which has been adopted for harmonistic reasons (see Leviticus 25:39-41), is exegetically impossible: as Di. says, the difference between the two laws must be frankly recognized; they spring, it is evident, out of different periods of the history.

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.
7. if a man sell his daughter] as he easily might do, either from actual poverty, or because he was in such circumstances that it would be more advantageous for his daughter to be the concubine of a well-to-do neighbour than to marry a man in her own social position.

maidservant] better, bondwoman (RVm.), or female slave: ‘maid-servant’ has associations which are not at all those of ancient Hebrew society. Here the word (’âmâh) denotes in particular a female slave bought not only to do household work, but also to be her master’s concubine. Cf. the same word in Genesis 21:10 ff. (of Hagar), Jdg 9:18 (of Gideon’s concubine; see Exodus 8:31), Exodus 19:19.

as the male slaves do] v. 2.

7–11. Hebrew female slaves. The law for female slaves is different. A female slave does not receive her freedom at the end of six years (v. 7); still, she cannot be sold to a non-Israelite; and if her master, before actually taking her as his concubine, finds he does not like her she must be redeemed (v. 8). If her master has bought her for his son she must have the usual rights of a daughter (v. 9). If her master take another concubine, she is in no respect to be defrauded of her food, dress, and conjugal rights (v. 10): if these be withheld, her freedom must be given her unconditionally (v. 11). The reason for the different treatment of female slaves is to be found in the fact that a female slave was as a rule (v. 8) her master’s concubine; she stood consequently to her master in a relation which could not suitably be terminated at the end of six years. Concubinage was common among the ancient Hebrews (among the patriarchs, Genesis 16:3; Genesis 22:24; Genesis 30:3; Genesis 30:9; Genesis 36:12; in the time of the Judges, Jdg 8:31; Jdg 9:18; Jdg 19:1 ff.; and among the early kings, 2 Samuel 3:7; 2 Samuel 5:13; 2 Samuel 15:16; 2 Samuel 21:11; 1 Kings 11:3), as it was also among the Babylonians in the age of Ḥammurabi (Code, §§ 144–71[186]), and as it is still in Mohammedan countries (see e.g. Lane, Modern Egyptians, i. 122, 227, 232 f.).

[186] Cf. the interesting case attested by two contemporary contract-tablets (Pinches, OT. in the Light of Ass. and Bab. records and legends, p. 174 f.; Cook, Moses and Ḥamm. p. 113 f.): a man marries his wife’s sister, to become her waiting-maid.

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.
8. First special case under the general law of v. 7: if a woman, bought with the intention of being made her master’s concubine, does not please her master, he must let her be redeemed, and he has no power to sell her into foreign slavery.

who hath designated (2 Samuel 20:5; Jeremiah 47:7) her for himself] viz. at the time when he bought her: ‘for himself’ is shewn by its position in the Heb. to be emphatic; it is opposed to ‘for his son’ in v. 9, The marg. (לא for לו) may be disregarded, if only because yâ‘ad does not mean to ‘espouse’: to ‘designate’ a woman for any one may indeed be equivalent to ‘to espouse,’ but that does not justify ‘designate,’ used absolutely, being rendered ‘espouse.’

let her be redeemed] by her father, or other relative, if able to do so: she had been bought to become a concubine, and had consequently certain rights. If however the woman’s relatives did not redeem her, her master was apparently at liberty to sell her to another Israelite; for the following clause only forbids him to sell her into foreign servitude. Of course, the woman is not to be supposed to have actually become her master’s concubine: in this case, if he found he did not like her, he would have to give her her freedom unconditionally (cf. v. 11).

strange] foreign, the now obsolete sense of ‘strange’ noticed on Exodus 2:22.

deceitfully] or untruly, viz. in not making her his concubine, as it was understood, when he bought her, that he would do.

And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
9. Second special case: if at the time of purchasing the woman, her master intends her for his son.

If he designate her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the rights of daughters] i.e. treat her as a daughter of his own household, give her the maintenance, clothing, &c. which a daughter would naturally have.

for his son] ‘as in Persia (Chardin, Voyage, ii. 259), Arabia, Niebuhr, Arabia, p. 74, Snouck-Hurgronje, Mekka, p. 157’ (Dillm.-Ryss.).

If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
10. her flesh] The case contemplated is that of a well-to-do Israelite, who could have several concubines, and enjoy animal food every day: Israelites of the poorer class ate animal food seldom or never. ‘Flesh’ (Psalm 78:20; Psalm 78:27) should not be weakened to ‘food’: a diminution of ordinary food, such as bread and vegetables, is not contemplated.

her rights of marriage] i.e. her conjugal rights. The Heb. word occurs only here; and its etymological meaning is uncertain.

10, 11. Third special case: if after having taken the woman as a concubine he takes another concubine as well: in that case, he must still allow his first concubine her full rights; if he does not do this, he must give her her freedom.

And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
11. these three] The three rights mentioned in v. 10.

The view expressed above is the one ordinarily taken of vv. 7–11, vv. 8–10 stating three special cases, falling under the general case of v. 7, If a man sell his daughter, &c. Budde, however (ZATW. 1891, p. 102 f.), argues forcibly, and Bä. agrees, that the three special cases fall, not under the general case of v. 7, but under the general case of v. 8a, If she please not her master,—the first two, as upon the ordinary view, relating to the time before the woman is taken actually as a concubine: the three cases being (1) he may let her be redeemed, v. 8b; (2) how he is to deal with her, if he passes her on to his son, v. 9; (3) how he is to deal with her, if, after having made her his concubine, he takes another concubine as well. If the girl bought in this way was as a matter of course bought to be her master’s concubine, the words in v. 8, ‘who hath designated her for himself,’ are otiose; on the other hand, the condition that the two alternatives mentioned in vv. 8, 9 are to be adopted only if she is still a virgin, ought, Budde thinks, to be clearly expressed: accordingly, taking ‘not’ from the margin, and transposing two letters in the following word, he reads for the words quoted, who (or in case he) hath not known her (Genesis 4:1): he further argues that this view does better justice to the wording of v. 8 (which is not, as it should be on the ordinary view, If he hath designated her for himself, and she please him not), and to the tense of ‘designate’ in v. 9 (which is the impf., as in vv. 10, 11, not the perf., as in v. 8a), and also that it explains better v. 9b (why, if he originally intended her as a concubine for his son, should he treat her as a daughter, and so place her in a better position than if he intended he for himself? On the other hand, this is intelligible, if he did not fulfil his original engagement to her, and passed her on to his son). For another solution of the difficulties of the passage, resting upon a further emendation, see W. R. Smith, ZATW. 1892, p. 162 f., or Ryssel in Di.2 p. 253.

He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
12. Murder. The same general principle is laid down in P, Genesis 9:6, Numbers 35:30 f., and in H, Leviticus 24:17.

shall be put to death] The execution of this penalty was the duty not, as in communities in which a more advanced stage of civilization has been reached, of the State, but of the ‘Avenger of blood,’ i.e. of the nearest kinsman of the murdered man, upon whom, according to primitive ideas, the duty of vindicating his rights devolved, 2 Samuel 14:11, Deuteronomy 19:6; Deuteronomy 19:12, Numbers 35:19; Numbers 35:21; Numbers 35:27 (P). See Goel in DB. or EB.

12–17. Capital offences. In v. 12 is laid down the general principle that death is the punishment for killing a man. If the act is unpre-meditated (manslaughter), the penalty is modified (v. 13), but retained in full in the case of the act being evidently intentional (v. 14). Kidnapping a fellow Israelite, and smiting or cursing a parent (vv. 15–17), are also treated as capital offences.

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.
13. Manslaughter, and the right of asylum. The distinction, not found in Homer, but thus early drawn among the Hebrews, between intentional and unintentional homicide is noteworthy: it is insisted on in all the codes (Deuteronomy 19:1-13; Numbers 35:9-34 P).

liein wait] 1 Samuel 24:11 (RVm.)†: cf. the derivative, ‘with lying in wait’ (i.e. with malicious intent), in P’s law of homicide, Numbers 35:20; Numbers 35:22 (‘without’)†. In Dt. and D2[187] the idea of ‘unintentional’ is expressed by unawares (lit. without knowledge), Deuteronomy 4:42; Deuteronomy 19:4, Joshua 20:3; Joshua 20:5; P says unwittingly (lit. in error), Numbers 35:11; Numbers 35:15, Joshua 20:3; Joshua 20:9.

[187] Deuteronomic passages in Josh., Jud., Kings.

deliver] in the Heb. a rare word, meaning properly, as Arabic shews, bring opportunely (cf. the derivative opportunity, Jdg 14:4). The meaning of the clause is (as we should express it), if he kills him accidentally. Cf. Ḥamm. § 249 ‘if God have struck it (a hired ox), and it die,’ 266 ‘a stroke of God’ (killing a sheep), below, p. 423.

a place whither he shall flee] i.e. an asylum where he may be safe from the avenger of blood. V. 14, which speaks of the fugitive as having taken refuge at an altar, shews that the place meant can only be the sacred place at which the altar stood. In the later legislation of Dt. (Deuteronomy 19:1-13) fixed cities are appointed for the purpose and regulations for their use are laid down. The technical term, ‘cities of refuge,’ first occurs in P (Numbers 35:6; Numbers 35:11 ff.). In ancient times ‘the right of asylum was possessed by different sanctuaries in various degrees, depending on prescription, the holiness of the place, and other circumstances; it sometimes extended to an entire city, or even to a mark beyond its walls.… In the Greek period, and later (under Roman rule), many Hellenistic cities in Syria enjoyed the privileges of asylums, the title ἄσυλος appearing on their coins’ (Moore, in EB. Asylum). Cf. Rel. Sem. 148. Moslems, adhering to the tradition of heathen times, treat tombs, esp. those of ancestors, notabilities, and saints, as asylums.

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.
14. But the protection of the altar is not to be extended to the wilful murderer. Cf. Deuteronomy 19:11-13; also the more detailed treatment of the case of wilful murder in the law of P (Numbers 35:16-21).

from mine altar] See 1 Kings 1:50; 1 Kings 2:28, which shew that the fugitive would seize hold of the ‘horns’ (see on ch. Exodus 27:2) of the altar, in order to avail himself of its protection. The altar served as an asylum also among the Greeks (Thuc. iv. 98).

And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
15. Striking a parent. Notice that the mother is placed on an equality with the father.

smiteth] simply, without killing: the murder of a parent would fall under the general rule of v. 12. The severity of the penalty was in accordance with the high respect paid to both parents in ancient Israel: see Exodus 20:12, and cf. Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Hạmmurabi (§ 195) ordained that if a son struck his father—no mention is made of his mother—his hands should be cut off. The older Sumerian laws said1[188]: ‘If a son has said to his father, Thou art not my father [i.e. repudiated him], he may brand him, lay fetters upon him, and sell him. If a son has said to his mother, Thou art not my mother, one shall brand his forehead, drive him round the city, and expel him from the house.’ At Athens γονέων κάκωσις (‘maltreatment of parents’) was actionable, and might be punished with ἀτιμία, or loss of civil rights (Andoc. de Myst. § 74, cf. Demosth. adv. Timocr. §§ 103, 105, p. 732 f.); and Plato (Legg. ix. 881 b–d), if any one struck a parent, would have any one who witnessed the act, and failed to interfere, severely punished, and the offender himself condemned to perpetual exile, or death if he ever returned home. Solon (Cic. Rosc. 25) is said to have made no mention of such a crime, on the ground that he considered its occurrence impossible (Kn.).

[188] Winckler, Gesetze Hamm. (1904), p. 85; Pinches, op cit. [p. 212 n.], p. 190 f.

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
16. Man-stealing. Cf. Deuteronomy 24:7, where the present law is merely expanded, and recast in Deuteronomic phraseology.

a man] in Deuteronomy 24:7, expressly limited to an Israelite: so LXX Targ. add here, ‘of the children of Israel.’ No doubt this interprets correctly the intention of the law.

and selleth him] into a foreign country is probably what is thought (cf. v. 8). This would not only sever the victim cruelly from his own people, and his own religion (1 Samuel 26:19), but also expose him to many risks of death. The Phoenicians (Amos 1:9, and, at a later time, Joel 3:4-6), to say nothing of other nations (Genesis 37:36), would be ready purchasers of slaves.

or if he be found in his hand] i.e. if he has not yet actually sold him.

shall be put to death] The same punishment in Ḥamm. § 14. At Athens, the ἀνδραποδιστής, who enslaved a free man, or enticed away another person’s slave, was punished with death (Hermann, Griech. Antiq. iii. §§ xii. 12; lxii. 12: cf. Demosth. Phil. i. p. 53 end, § 47; Xen. Memor. i. 2. 62): among the Romans both the seller and the buyer of a free-born citizen were punished with death (Kn.).

And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
17. Cursing a parent. Comp. Deuteronomy 27:16, Leviticus 20:9 (H): also Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 30:17. In the LXX. this verse stands more suitably immediately after v. 15. It is cited in Matthew 15:4 = Mark 7:10.

curseth] a stronger word than the maketh light of, or dishonoureth, of Deuteronomy 27:16.

And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:
18. contend] or dispute, wrangle in words: rendered strive, Genesis 26:20-21, contend, as here, Nehemiah 13:11; Nehemiah 13:17.

fist] Isaiah 58:4 †. So LXX. Vulg. Di.: the Heb. ’egrôph has also this sense in the Talm. The meaning spade or hoe, which Ryssel in Di.2 argues for, would be possible etymologically (for the root signifies to scoop or sweep away, Jdg 5:21): but it does not suit Isaiah 58:4. The rend. of the Targums, club or cudgel, would suit both passages, but lacks philological justification.

and he die not] for, if he did, the case would be regulated presumably by the mishpâṭ of v. 12.

18, 19. Bodily injury inflicted in a quarrel.

18–27. Bodily injuries caused by human beings. Four cases are taken, two arising out of a quarrel, and two out of rough treatment of a slave (vv. 22–25 would more naturally follow vv. 18, 19). In fixing the penalties, consideration is taken of the status and sex of the persons involved, as also of the character of the injury, and the consequences following from it.

18–36. Bodily injuries, caused (a) by human beings, vv. 18–27; (b) by animals, or through the neglect of reasonable precautions, vv. 28–36.

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.
19. walk abroad upon his staff] a proof of convalescence. The ‘staff’ (lit. something to lean upon) was used for help in walking (2 Kings 4:29,—by Elisha): in Zechariah 8:4 a characteristic of old age.

be quit (lit. innocent)] If he died in his bed, the person who injured him might reasonably be held responsible for his death: if he died after the had taken his first walk, he might himself have met with some farther accident, or imprudently ventured out too soon.

only, &c.] Though he is no longer in danger of suffering the capital penalty, he must still compensate his victim for his loss of time, and pay his doctor’s bill. Cf. Ḥamm. 206; and Manu, viii. 287 (Cook, p. 254).

the loss of his time] a necessary paraphrase of the Heb. shibtô, which may be derived from either yâshab, to ‘sit down,’ or shâbath, to ‘desist,’ ‘cease’ (viz. from toil): hence the two margins.

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
20. his servant, or his maid] i.e. (cf. marg.) his male or female slave.

a rod] The usual implement of punishment (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 13:24).

punished] lit. avenged; so v. 21. In what the punishment consisted, is not stated. The Jews (Mechilta, Ps.-Jon., &c.) understood death (viz. by the sword) to be intended: but in that case ‘he shall surely be put to death’ would certainly have been said, as in other cases (vv. 12, 15, 16, & c.); besides, vv. 21 (cf. 19 f.), 26 f. (cf. 23 ff.), 32 (cf. 28 ff.) shew that a marked difference was made between a slave and a free man. No doubt the determination of the penalty was left to the discretion of the judge (Di.), or it was a fine payable to the sanctuary (Bä.), the amount of which varied with the means of the slave’s master.

20, 21. Beating a slave so that he dies. Vv. 26 f., 32, also deal with injuries to slaves. The penalties prescribed shew that less was thought of the life of a slave than of that of a free man,—in v. 21 he is called simply his master’s ‘money’; at the same time he has rights, and cannot be treated with entire impunity. The position of slaves in Israel must thus have been considerably better than that of slaves in Rome, at least in the time of the Republic, when their masters could kill them with impunity (Dion. Halic. vii. 68, Plutarch, Cato 21,—cited by Kn.).

Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
21. If the slave survives a day or two, his master escapes even the comparatively light penalty of v. 20; for then it is clear that he did not intend to kill him, but only to correct him.

he is his money] i.e. his master’s property, purchased by his master’s money. His master is considered to have sufficiently punished himself by the loss of his property.

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.
22. Injury arising to a pregnant woman out of an affray.

And if men strive together] i.e. quarrel and fight, ch. Exodus 2:13, 2 Samuel 14:6, Psalms 60 title. The same words in Deuteronomy 25:2. Not the verb used in v. 18 (which means only to dispute in words).

hurt] properly, smite or strike (ch. Exodus 8:2; Isaiah 19:22): so v. 35. Probably the woman is to be thought of (as in Deuteronomy 25:11) as intervening to separate the combatants.

her fruit depart] Heb. her children (a generic plural) come forth (Genesis 25:25; Genesis 38:28).

but no (other) mischief happen] i.e. no permanent injury from the miscarriage. ‘Mischief’ (’âsôn, v. 23, Genesis 42:4; Genesis 42:38; Genesis 44:29 †) means some serious, or even (cf. v. 23) fatal, bodily injury.

fined] viz. for the loss of the child, which would have been the parents’ property. Holzinger cites for parallels, among the Arabs, W.R. Smith, ZATW. 1892, p. 163, and among the Kirghissians, in Turkestan, Radloff, Aus Sibirien (1884), p. 524; here, if a pregnant woman is injured so that her child is born dead, the penalty is a horse or a camel according to its age (the penalty for killing a free man being a fine of 100 horses, and for killing a woman or slave, 50 horses).

he shall pay (lit. give) with (the approval of) arbitrators] If the text is correct, the meaning apparently is that the amount of the fine, fixed in the first instance by the woman’s husband, had, before payment, to be submitted to arbitrators, and approved by them. But the word for arbitrators is rare and poetical (Deuteronomy 32:31, Job 31:11 †), the use of the prep. ב is strange, the mention of arbitration is unexpected after the unconditional discretion just given to the husband, nor are any arbitrators mentioned in the similar enactment of v. 30. Under these circumstances the clever suggestion of Budde, בנפלים for בפלילים deserves consideration, he shall pay it for the untimely birth (Job 3:16, Psalm 58:9),—the plural being required on account of the plural ‘children,’ just before (concealed in EVV. by the rend. fruit: the ב pretii, as Deuteronomy 19:21). Cf. Ḥamm. §§ 209–214; Cook, p. 253 f.

And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
23–25. The Lex Talionis. But if any mischief happen, then compensation is to be made on the principle of the lex talionis. Vv. 23–25 are, however, worded quite generally, and mention many injuries not at all likely to happen to the woman in the special case contemplated in v. 22, or even to the combatants themselves (injuries to whom Di. thinks might be included in the ‘mischief’ meant): hence, probably, either (Budde, Bä.) vv. 23–25 are misplaced, and should be transposed to follow vv. 18, 19 (where the quarrel is of a more general kind, and serious consequences are contemplated as happening to one other of the combatants), or (McNeile) ‘mischief’ in v. 22 means definitely the woman’s death, and v. 23 assigns the penalty for it, and vv. 24, 25 are ‘an abridged summary of the laws of retaliation, which has been added here though it is not relevant to the case in point—the death of the woman.’ Similar specifications of the application of the lex talionis are given in Deuteronomy 19:21 (in the special case of the punishment to be awarded to a malicious witness: cf. Ḥamm. §§ 3, 4, for cases of false witness), and Leviticus 24:18; Leviticus 24:20 (H), in the case of any injury (‘blemish’) done to a neighbour. Comp. Matthew 5:38.

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
25. wound] Genesis 4:23 c (lit. for my wound). Isaiah 1:6.

stripe] Genesis 4:23 d (lit. for my stripe), Isaiah 1:6 [EVV. bruises], Isaiah 53:5.

The talio is a principle of punishment which was anciently, and still is, current widely in the world: Kn. quotes examples from the Thurians and Locrians (an eye for an eye), the Indians (Strabo, p. 710) the XII. Tables (‘si membrum rupit, ni cum eo pacit, talio esto’): Rhadamanthys was said to have declared that it was a just punishment when a man suffered what he had done (Arist. Eth. N. v. 8. 3); and there are several cases in the code of Hạmmurabi, §§ 116, 196, 197, 200, 210, 219, 229, 235, 263, &c.: see Cook, p. 249). For numerous instances is modern times, see A. H. Post, Grundriss der ethnol. Jurisprudenz (1894–5), ii. 238 ff.

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.
26, 27. Striking out the eye or tooth of a slave. The person of slave being not as valuable as that of a free man, the lex talionis (vv. 23–25) is not applicable in his case (cf. Ḥamm. § 199, as compared with § 196): the slave, however, receives his freedom as compensation for his injury, and his master pays for his maltreatment of him by the loss of his services.

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.
28. shall be stoned] The sanctity of human life demanded that an animal, not less than a man, should suffer for violating it: cf. (in P) Genesis 9:5. Stoning was a common punishment among the Hebrew see e.g. Leviticus 20:2; Leviticus 20:27; Leviticus 24:14; Leviticus 24:16; Leviticus 24:23, Deuteronomy 13:10; Deuteronomy 17:5; Deuteronomy 21:21; Deuteronomy 22:21; Deuteronomy 22:24 f.: of an animal, as here, vv. 29, 32, Exodus 19:13.

For the punishment of an animal—and even of an inanimate object, such as a piece of wood or stone—which had caused the death of a human being, there are many analogies. At Athens the court of the Phylobasileis (‘Tribe-kings’) in the Prytaneion, established, it was said, Draco (b.c. 624), investigated cases thus arising (Demosth. adv. Aristocr. § 76, p. 645, Arist. Constit. of Athens, 57 end); and so Plato (Legg. ix. 873 e–874 a) would have an animal or inanimate object that had killed a man tried, and, if found guilty, expelled from the country (the animal having been first slain). Pausanias (v. 27. 10; vi. 11. 6) mentions two cases of statues, one thrown into the sea, and the other ceremonially purified, for having caused a death. An interesting collection of parallels from many different nations is given by Frazer, Pausanias, ii. 370 ff. (cited by Cook, p. 252, who also refers to Baring-Gould, Curiosities of Olden Times, 1895, p. 57 ff.),—many taken from Chambers, Book of Days, i. 126 ff. In mediaeval Europe animals charged with causing a death were often tried in a court of law, and, if found guilty, killed: a cow was executed in this way in France as late as 1740.

his flesh shall not be eaten] Blood-guilt would be resting upon it, which would be transferred to any one partaking of it.

quit] i.e. pronounced innocent, acquitted, as v. 19. The owner is acquitted, because it is assumed to be the first time that the animal has so acted. On ‘quit,’ see Aldis Wright’s Bible Word-Book, s.v.

28–32. Injury done by a vicious ox to a free man or woman. Cf Ḥamm. §§ 250–2.

28–36. Bodily injuries due to animals, or neglect of reasonable precautions.

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.
29. If, however, the owner of the animal had been warned that it was vicious, and had taken no precautions to keep it in, he is held responsible, if it kills any one, and must suffer the penalty of death himself.

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.
30. The owner of the ox may, however, escape the extreme penalty of the law, if the relatives of the man who had been killed are willing to accept a money-compensation for his life. The owner’s negligence amounted to murder only in theory, so it was reasonable to allow him his merciful alternative.

be laid on him (cf. v. 22)] viz. by the relatives of the man who has been killed.

a ransom] Heb. kôpher, the price of a life: see Exodus 30:12, Psalm 49:7, Proverbs 6:35; Proverbs 13:8; Proverbs 21:18, Isaiah 43:3. This and v. 32 are the only cases in which Heb. law allowed what was so common among many ancient nations, the ποινή, or ‘wergild,’ i.e. the money offered for the life of a murdered man to appease a kinsman’s wrath: see Numbers 35:31 f. (P), where the acceptance of a kôpher is forbidden.

redemption] The same word, in a similar connexion, Psalm 49:8 (where ‘soul’ = ‘life’ here, lit. soul). For the corresponding verb, used of the redemption of a life that is forfeit, see on Exodus 13:13.

Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.
31. The same law is to hold good, if the person who has been killed is (as we should say) a minor, of either sex.

this judgement] The decision embodied in the preceding laws (vv. 28–30). Cf. on v. 1.

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.
32. If the ox killed a slave, however, it was sufficient if its owner paid his master as compensation the ordinary value of a slave, and suffered at the same time the loss of his animal’s services. Another instance of the lower value set upon a slave’s life: he is in this case valued simply as a chattel.

a manservant or a maidservant] a male or female Slave.

thirty shekels of silver] doubtless the average price of a slave at the time It seems that the intrinsic value of a shekel of silver was about 2 Samuel 9 d. (DB. iii. 420a), so that the silver of 30 shekels would be worth now about £4. 2 Samuel 6 d, (though its purchasing power would be many times greater: ibid. note, and 431 f.). The free Hebrew was valued at 50 shekels (Leviticus 27:3 f.). The same sum was offered as his wages to the prophet who, in the allegory of Zechariah 11, represented the rejected ruler of his people (v. 12: cf. Matthew 26:15). Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28 b [J]).

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;
33, 34. Injury caused by culpable neglect in leaving an open pit.

open] i.e. open a pit which already existed = reopen.

a pit] for the storage of water or (cf. Jeremiah 41:8; Thomson, L. and B. i. 89, 90, ii. 194, iii. 458) grain, or perhaps also for the capture of wild beasts. Thomson (ii. 283) writes, ‘I have been astonished at the recklessness with which wells and pits are left uncovered and unprotected all over this country’; and adds that he had seen a blind man walk into such a well, and known a valuable horse lost similarly

The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.
34. Having paid the value of the dead animal to the owner, he is naturally at liberty to keep the carcase himself. The carcase would be of value for its hide: but though ‘that which died of itself’ was forbidden later as food (Deuteronomy 14:21; cf. Leviticus 17:15 f. P), this may not have been the case at the time when the present code of laws was drawn up.

money] i.e. to the value of the beast; its money (= the price of it, v. 35: כספו for כסף) would be clearer, and should perhaps be restored.

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.
35. ‘If this admirable statute were faithfully administered now, it would prevent many angry, and sometimes fatal, feuds between herds-men, and at the same time would be a very fair adjustment of the questions of equity that grow out of such accidents’ (Thomson, L. and B. ii. 283). It is now the ‘custom of the desert’ (Doughty, Arab. Deserta, i. 351).

35, 36. Injury done by an ox to one belonging to another person. If no neglect can be proved against the owner of the vicious ox, the damage is to be divided equally between the owners of the two animals (v. 35): but if the owner of the vicious ox culpably neglects to keep it in, he is to make full compensation to the owner of the ox which has been killed.

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.
36. and the dead beast shall be his] as v. 34.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Exodus 20
Top of Page
Top of Page