Exodus 21:33
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;
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(33-36) The legislation slides from rights of persons to rights of property easily and without effort, by passing from the injuries which cattle cause to those which they suffer. They are injured (1) by the culpable laches of persons leaving their pits uncovered; (2) by hurts which one man’s cattle inflict upon another’s. Both kinds of loss have to be made good.

(33) If a man shall open a pit.—Rather, uncover a well. The wells in the East commonly have covers, which are removed when water is drawn, and then replaced. If a man neglected to replace a cover, he was rightly answerable for any damage that might ensue. The case was the same if he dug a new well, and neglected to cover it over.

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.The usual mode of protecting a well in the East was probably then, as now, by building round it a low circular wall. 30. If there be laid on him a sum of money, &c.—Blood fines are common among the Arabs as they were once general throughout the East. This is the only case where a money compensation, instead of capital punishment, was expressly allowed in the Mosaic law. If a man shall either

open an old pit which hath been covered with earth; or

dig a new

pit, to wit, in a public way, as the reason of the law shows; for if it were done in a man’s own house or ground, there was no danger of such an accident, except the beast transgressed his bounds, and then the man was not culpable.

If a man shall open a pit,.... That has been dug in time past, and filled up again, or take the covering from it, and leave it uncovered: "or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it": a new one, in the street, as the Targum of Jonathan; or in a public place, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra; otherwise a man might dig one for water, in his own fields, in enclosed places, where there was no danger of cattle coming thither, and falling therein:

and an ox or an ass fall therein; or any other beast, as Jarchi observes; for these are mentioned only as instances, and are put for all others. Maimonides (s) says,"if a man digs a pit in a public place, and an ox or ass fall into it and die, though the pit is full of shorn wool, and the like, the owner of the pit is bound to pay the whole damage; and this pit (he says) must be ten hands deep; if it is less than that, and an ox, or any other beast or fowl fall into it and die, he is free,''

(s) Hilchot Niske Maimon. c. 12. sect, 1, 10. so Bartenora in Misn. Bava Kama, c. 1. sect. 1.

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

Verse 33. - If a man shall open a pit. Rather, "If a man shall uncover a cistern." Cisterns, very necessary in Palestine, were usually closed by a flat-stone, or a number of planks. To obtain water from them, they had to be uncovered; but it was the duty of the man who uncovered them, to replace the covering when his wants were satisfied. Or dig a pit and not cover it. A man who was making a cistern might neglect to cover it while it was in course of construction, or even afterwards, if he thought his own cattle would take no hurt. But in the unfenced fields of Palestine it was always possible that a neighbour' s cattle might go astray and suffer injury through such a piece of negligence. An ox, or an ass, falling into a cistern, would be unable to extricate itself, and might be drowned. Exodus 21:33Passing from life to property, in connection with the foregoing, the life of the animal, the most important possession of the Israelites, is first of all secured against destruction through carelessness. If any one opened or dug a pit or cistern, and did not close it up again, and another man's ox or ass (mentioned, for the sake of example, as the most important animals among the live stock of the Israelites) fell in and was killed, the owner of the pit was to pay its full value, and the dead animal to belong to him. If an ox that was not known to be vicious gored another man's ox to death, the vicious animal was to be sold, and its money (what it fetched) to be divided; the dead animal was also to be divided, so that both parties bore an equal amount of damage. If, on the other hand, the ox had been known to be vicious before, and had not been kept in, carefully secured, by its possessor, he was to compensate the owner of the one that had been killed with the full value of an ox, but to receive the dead one instead.
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