Exodus 21:1
Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
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(1) These are the judgments.—“The laws” (Knobel), “the rights” (Keil), “the rules which shall guide judicial decisions” (Pool). The paraphrase alone gives the full meaning.

Exodus 21:1. The first verse is the general title of the laws contained in this and the two following chapters. Their government being purely a theocracy, that which in other states is to be settled by human prudence, was directed among them by a divine appointment. These laws are called judgments; because their magistrates were to give judgment according to them. In the doubtful cases that had hitherto occurred, Moses had particularly inquired of God, but now God gave him statutes in general, by which to determine particular cases. He begins with the laws concerning servants, commanding mercy and moderation toward them. The Israelites had lately been servants themselves, and now they were become not only their own masters, but masters of servants too; lest they should abuse their servants as they themselves had been abused, provision was made for the mild and gentle usage of servants.

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.Judgments - i. e. decisions of the law. CHAPTER 21

Ex 21:1-6. Laws for Menservants.

1. judgments—rules for regulating the procedure of judges and magistrates in the decision of cases and the trial of criminals. The government of the Israelites being a theocracy, those public authorities were the servants of the Divine Sovereign, and subject to His direction. Most of these laws here noticed were primitive usages, founded on principles of natural equity, and incorporated, with modifications and improvements, in the Mosaic code.Law concerning bond-men or slaves, Exodus 21:1-5. Servants bored through the ear, Exodus 21:6. Ordinances for bond-women, Exodus 21:7-11. Of murderers, Exodus 21:12. Of them that curse their parents, Exodus 21:17. Of strikers, Exodus 21:18,19. Of them that hurt a woman with child, Exodus 21:22-25. Of a master of a family that strikes out an eye or tooth of his man or maid servant, Exodus 21:26,27. Of a pushing ox, Exodus 21:29. Of them that hurt their neighbour’s ox by digging a pit, Exodus 21:33. Of one ox killing another, Exodus 21:35,36.

Or, the judicial laws, by which thou and the judges before mentioned shall govern thyself and the people in civil and criminal causes.

Now these are the judgments,.... The judicial laws respecting the civil state of the people of Israel, so called because they are founded on justice and equity, and are according to the judgment of God, whose judgment is according to truth; and because they are such by which the commonwealth of Israel was to be judged or governed, and were to be the rule of their conduct to one another, and a rule of judgment to their judges in the execution of judgment and justice among them:

which thou shall set before them; besides the ten commands before delivered. They were spoken by God himself in the hearing of the people; these were delivered to Moses after he went up to the mount again, at the request of the people, to be their mediator, to be by him set before them as the rule of their behaviour, and to enjoin them the observance of them; in order to which he was not only to rehearse them, but to write them out, and set them in a plain and easy light before them: and though they did not hear these with their own ears from God himself, as the ten commands; yet, as they had the utmost reason to believe they came from him, and it was at their own request that he, and not God, might speak unto them what was further to be said, with a promise they would obey it, as if they had immediately heard it from him; it became them to receive these laws as of God, and yield a cheerful obedience to them; nor do we find they ever questioned the authority of them; and as their government was a Theocracy, and God was more immediately their King than he was of any other people, it was but right, and what might be expected, that they should have their civil laws from him, and which was their privilege, and gave them the preference to all other nations, Deuteronomy 4:5.

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.

Verse 1. - These are the judgments. The term "judgment" applies most properly to the decisions of courts and the laws founded upon them. No doubt the laws contained in the "Book of the Covenant" were to a large extent old laws, which had been often acted on; but we should do wrong to suppose that there was nothing new in the legislation. The Hebrew mishphat is used with some vagueness. Vers 2-11. - Exodus 21:1The mishpatim (Exodus 21:1) are not the "laws, which were to be in force and serve as rules of action," as Knobel affirms, but the rights, by which the national life was formed into a civil commonwealth and the political order secured. These rights had reference first of all to the relation in which the individuals stood one towards another. The personal rights of dependants are placed at the head (Exodus 21:2-11); and first those of slaves (Exodus 21:2-6), which are still more minutely explained in Deuteronomy 15:12-18, where the observance of them is urged upon the hearts of the people on subjective grounds.
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