Exodus 21:26
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(26, 27) The eye . . . Tooth.—An exception to the law of retaliation is here made. If the injurer is a free man and the injured person a slave, the marked social inequality of the parties would make exact retaliation an injustice. Is the slave, then, to be left without protection? By no means. As the legislation had already protected his life (Exodus 21:20), so it now protects him from permanent damage to his person. The master who inflicts any such permanent damage—from the least to the greatest—loses all property in his slave, and is bound at once to emancipate him. The loss of an eye is viewed as the greatest permanent injury to the person; the loss of a tooth as the least.

Exodus 21:26-28. He shall let him go free — A very fit recompense to a servant for such a loss, and certainly meant to be extended to every other material personal injury. If an ox — Or any other creature.21:22-36 The cases here mentioned give rules of justice then, and still in use, for deciding similar matters. We are taught by these laws, that we must be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly. If we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make it good, and be desirous that nobody may lose by us.Freedom was the proper equivalent for permanent injury. 23-25. eye for eye—The law which authorized retaliation (a principle acted upon by all primitive people) was a civil one. It was given to regulate the procedure of the public magistrate in determining the amount of compensation in every case of injury, but did not encourage feelings of private revenge. The later Jews, however, mistook it for a moral precept, and were corrected by our Lord (Mt 5:38-42). No text from Poole on this verse. If a man smite the eye of his servant,.... Give him a blow on the eye in a passion, as a correction for some fault he has committed:

or the eye of his maid, that it perish; strike her on that part in like manner, so that the eye is beaten or drops out, or however loses its sight, and "is blinded", as the Septuagint version; or "corrupts" it (k), it turns black and blue, and gathers corrupt matter, and becomes a sore eye; yet if the sight is not lost, or corrupts so as to perish, this law does not take place; the Targum of Jonathan, and to Jarchi restrain this to a Canaanitish servant or maid:

he shall let him go free for his eye's sake; or "them", as the Septuagint; his right to them as a servant was hereby forfeited, and he was obliged to give them their freedom, let the time of servitude, that was to come, be what it would. This law was made to deter masters from using their servants with cruelty, since though humanity and goodness would not restrain them from ill usage of them, their own profit and advantage by them might.

(k) "et corruperit eum", Pagninus, Montanus, Drusius; so Ainsworth.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verses 26, 27. - Assaults on Slaves. The general law of retaliation was not made to extend to slaves. For ordinary blows the slave was not thought entitled to compensation, any more than the child. They were natural incidents of his condition. In extremer cases, where he was permanently injured in an organ or a member, he was, however, considered to have ground of complaint and to deserve a recompense. But for him to revenge himself upon his master by inflicting the same on him was not to be thought cf. It would have put the slave into a false position, have led to his prolonged ill-treatment, and have been an undue degradation of the master. Therefore, compulsory emancipation was made the penalty of all such aggravated assaults, even the slightest (ver. 27). Verses 26, 27. - If a man smite the eye, etc. The "eye" seems to be selected as the most precious of our organs, the "tooth" as that the loss of which is of least consequence. The principle was that any permanent loss of any part of his frame entitled the slave to his liberty. A very considerable check must have been put on the brutality of masters by this enactment. The case was different with regard to a slave. The master had always the right to punish or "chasten" him with a stick (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 13:24); this right was involved in the paternal authority of the master over the servants in his possession. The law was therefore confined to the abuse of this authority in outbursts of passion, in which case, "if the servant or the maid should die under his hand (i.e., under his blows), he was to be punished" (ינּקם נקם: "vengeance shall surely be taken"). But in what the נקם was to consist is not explained; certainly not in slaying by the sword, as the Jewish commentators maintain. The lawgiver would have expressed this by יוּמת מות. No doubt it was left to the authorities to determine this according to the circumstances. The law in Exodus 21:12 could hardly be applied to a case of this description, although it was afterwards extended to foreigners as well as natives (Leviticus 24:21-22), for the simple reason, that it is hardly conceivable that a master would intentionally kill his slave, who was his possession and money. How far the lawgiver was from presupposing any such intention here, is evident from the law which follows in Exodus 21:21, "Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two (i.e., remain alive), it shall not be avenged, for he is his money." By the continuance of his life, if only for a day or two, it would become perfectly evident that the master did not wish to kill his servant; and if nevertheless he died after this, the loss of the slave was punishment enough for the master. There is no ground whatever for restricting this regulation, as the Rabbins do, to slaves who were not of Hebrew extraction.
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