Exodus 21:12
He that smites a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
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(12-14) He that smiteth a man, so that he die.—Homicide had been broadly and generally forbidden in the sixth commandment. But something more was necessary. Laws are for the most part inoperative unless they are enforced by penalties; and for every case of homicide the same penalty would not be fitting. Accordingly we have here, first, the assignment of the death penalty for homicide of the first degree, i.e., murder; and secondly, the provision of a refuge for homicide of the second degree, i.e., manslaughter, or death by misadventure. The death penalty for murder had already received Divine sanction in the injunctions given to Noah (Genesis 9:6). Tradition, backed up by conscience, had made it an almost universal law. The Sinaitic legislation adopted the law into the national code, and lent it additional force by the proviso, which we know to have been carried out in practice (1Kings 2:28-34), that the

Murderer was even to be torn from God’s altar, if he took refuge there.

Exodus 21:12-13. He that smiteth a man — Knowingly and wilfully, as appears from the next verse; shall be surely put to death — Neither the friends of the person slain nor the magistrate shall give him a pardon, or accept a ransom for him, Numbers 35:31. If God deliver him into his hand — As the Scriptures teach us to acknowledge God in every thing that falls out, so when a man is killed by what we call accident, without any intention of the agent, he is said to have been delivered into his hand by God, without whose divine foresight and permission the event could not have happened. I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee — It is probable, that while the Israelites were in the wilderness the place of refuge was the camp of the Levites or the altar. Afterward, it is well known, certain cities were appointed for that purpose.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.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. Ex 21:7-36. Laws for Maidservants.

7-11. if a man sell his daughter—Hebrew girls might be redeemed for a reasonable sum. But in the event of her parents or friends being unable to pay the redemption money, her owner was not at liberty to sell her elsewhere. Should she have been betrothed to him or his son, and either change their minds, a maintenance must be provided for her suitable to her condition as his intended wife, or her freedom instantly granted.

He that smiteth a man knowingly and wilfully, as appears by the next verse, neither the friends of the party slain, nor the magistrate, shall give him a pardon, or accept a ransom for him, Numbers 35:31. He that smiteth a man, so that he die,.... The Targum of Jonathan is, that smites a man or daughter of Israel with the sword; but there is no need to restrain the words either to persons of any certain nation, nor to any instrument with which a person may be smitten as to die: but any human person, man, woman, or child, of whatsoever nation, and they smitten with anything whatever, that issues in their death:

shall surely be put to death; by the order of the civil magistrate, and by the hand of such as shall be appointed by him; for this is the original law of God, Genesis 9:6.

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.Verses 12-14. - Homicide. Ver. 12 reiterates the Sixth Commandment, and adds to it a temporal penalty - "he shall surely be put to death." The substance of this law had already been given to Noah in the words, "Whoso sheddeth man' s blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). Real murder, with deliberate intent, was under no circumstances to be pardoned. The murderer was even to be torn from the altar, if he took refuge there, and relentlessly punished (ver. 14). See the case of Joab (1 Kings 2:28-34). But, if a man happened suddenly upon his enemy, without having sought the opportunity, and slew him (ver. 13), then the case was one not of murder, but at most of manslaughter, or possibly of justifiable homicide. No legal penalty was assigned to such offences. They were left to the rude justice of established custom, which required "the avenger of blood" to visit them with due retribution. According to the general practice of the Eastern nations, he might either insist on life for life or take a money compensation. With this custom, deeply ingrained into the minds of the Oriental people, the law did not meddle. It was content to interpose between the avenger of blood and his victim the chance of reaching an asylum. Places were appointed, whither the shedder of blood might flee, and where he might be safe until his cause was tried before the men of his own city (Numbers 35:22-25), and afterwards, if the judgment were in his favour. Some particular part of the camp was probably made an asylum in the wilderness. There were three different circumstances possible, under which emancipation might take place. The servant might have been unmarried and continued so (בּגפּו: with his body, i.e., alone, single): in that case, of course, there was no one else to set at liberty. Or he might have brought a wife with him; and in that case his wife was to be set at liberty as well. Or his master might have given him a wife in his bondage, and she might have borne him children: in that case the wife and children were to continue the property of the master. This may appear oppressive, but it was an equitable consequence of the possession of property in slaves at all. At the same time, in order to modify the harshness of such a separation of husband and wife, the option was given to the servant to remain in his master's service, provided he was willing to renounce his liberty for ever (Exodus 21:5, Exodus 21:6). This would very likely be the case as a general rule; for there were various legal arrangements, which are mentioned in other places, by which the lot of Hebrew slaves was greatly softened and placed almost on an equality with that of hired labourers (cf. Exodus 23:12; Leviticus 25:6, Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:43, Leviticus 25:53; Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 16:11). In this case the master was to take his servant האלהים אל, lit., to God, i.e., according to the correct rendering of the lxx, πρὸς τὸ κριτήριον, to the place where judgment was given in the name of God (Deuteronomy 1:17; cf. Exodus 22:7-8, and Deuteronomy 19:17), in order that he might make a declaration there that he gave up his liberty. His ear was then to be bored with an awl against the door or lintel of the house, and by this sign, which was customary in many of the nations of antiquity, to be fastened as it were to the house for ever. That this was the meaning of the piercing of the ear against the door of the house, is evident from the unusual expression in Deuteronomy 15:17, "and put (the awl) into his ear and into the door, that he may be thy servant for ever," where the ear and the door are co-ordinates. "For ever," i.e., as long as he lives. Josephus and the Rabbins would restrict the service to the time ending with the year of jubilee, but without sufficient reason, and contrary to the usage of the language, as לעלם is used in Leviticus 25:46 to denote service which did not terminate with the year of jubilee. (See the remarks on Leviticus 25:10; also my Archologie.)
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