Exodus 21:4
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.
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(4) If his master have given him a wife.—If, however, the Hebrew slave, being previously unmarried, had been allowed by his master to take to wife one of his female slaves, then, when the husband claimed his freedom the wife could not claim hers. Both she and her children remained in the slave condition.

Exodus 21:4. Her children shall be her master’s — Having become his in consequence of the right which he had to the parents. He shall go out by himself — But was not this separation of man and wife inconsistent with the first institution of marriage, by which that bond is made indissoluble? Answer, 1st, That bond was not necessarily dissolved by this law, both because the separation was at the man’s choice, who might have stayed if he pleased, and because the distinction of their habitations might consist with the right use of matrimony, which the master would probably permit for his own advantage.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.If a married man became a bondman, his rights in regard to his wife were respected: but if a single bondman accepted at the hand of his master a bondwoman as his wife, the master did not lose his claim to the woman or her children, at the expiration of the husband's term of service. Such wives, it may be presumed, were always foreign slaves. 2-6. If thou buy an Hebrew servant—Every Israelite was free-born; but slavery was permitted under certain restrictions. An Hebrew might be made a slave through poverty, debt, or crime; but at the end of six years he was entitled to freedom, and his wife, if she had voluntarily shared his state of bondage, also obtained release. Should he, however, have married a female slave, she and the children, after the husband's liberation, remained the master's property; and if, through attachment to his family, the Hebrew chose to forfeit his privilege and abide as he was, a formal process was gone through in a public court, and a brand of servitude stamped on his ear (Ps 40:6) for life, or at least till the Jubilee (De 15:17). That being a true rule, and approved both by Scripture and by heathen authors, that the birth follows the belly, Genesis 21:10 Galatians 4:24,25; and he that owns the tree hath right to all its fruit.

Quest. How was this separation of man and wife agreeable with the first institution of marriage, by which that bond is made indissoluble?

Answ. 1. That bond was not necessarily dissolved by this law, both because the separation was at the man’s choice, who might have staid there if he so pleased; and because the distinction of their habitations might consist with the right and use of matrimony, which the master also would probably permit for his own advantage.

Answ. 2. God might here, as well as in the case of divorces, dispense with his own laws and institutions, especially in this case, where he might design this for a punishment to the man for marrying a stranger, which was not pleasing to God, as appears from Deu 21:11 Ezra 10:2 Nehemiah 13:23. And that this woman was a stranger, and not a Hebrewess, is manifest, because then she also must have gone out free, Exo 21 7-9 Deu 15:12. If his master have given him a wife,.... One of his slaves, a Canaanitish woman, on purpose to beget slaves on her, since all born in his house were his own; this is supposed to be after he was come into his house, and into his service:

and she have born him sons or daughters; as she might have born him several of the one sort, or the other, if she was given to him quickly after his servitude began:

the wife and her children shall be her master's: she being his slave, and bought with his money, he had a right unto her, and to the children belonging to her, the birth following the belly; and being born in his house, they were also his. Jarchi here observes, that the Scripture speaks of a Canaanitish woman, for an Hebrew woman went out at the sixth year, and even before the sixth, if she produced the signs, that is, of puberty:

and he shall go out by himself; without his wife and children: if it be objected to this law, that it is contrary to the law of marriage, which is indissoluble, but by this dissolved; it may be replied, that the servant was not obliged by it to leave his wife, unless he chose it; on complying with certain conditions after mentioned, he might continue with her; besides, she was, according to Jarchi, but his secondary wife, and not only so, the marriage was not lawful, being with a Canaanitish woman, and not agreeable to the Lord; and being also her master's slave, to whom he had a right, he could retain her if he pleased, having only given her to his servant to beget slaves on for 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 {c} master's, and he shall go out by himself.

(c) Till her time of servitude was expired which might be the seventh year or the fiftieth.

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.Verse 4. - If his master have given him a wife. If the slave was unmarried when he went into servitude, or if his wife died, and his master then gave him a wife from among his female slaves, the master was not to lose his property in his female slave by reason of having permitted the marriage. When the man claimed his freedom at the end of the sixth year, he was to "go out" alone. Should children have been born, they were also to be the property of the master and to remain members of his household. No doubt these provisos, which cannot be regarded as unjust, had the effect of inducing many Hebrew slaves not to claim their release (vers. 5, 6). For the worship of Jehovah, the God of heaven, Israel needed only an altar, on which to cause its sacrifices to ascend to God. The altar, as an elevation built up of earth or rough stones, was a symbol of the elevation of man to God, who is enthroned on high in the heaven; and because man was to raise himself to God in his sacrifices, Israel also was to make an altar, though only of earth, or if of stones, not of hewn stones. "For if thou swingest thy tool (חרב lit., sharpness, then any edge tool) over it (over the stone), thou defilest it" (Exodus 20:25). "Of earth:" i.e., not "of comparatively simple materials, such as befitted a representation of the creature" (Schultz on Deuteronomy 12); for the altar was not to represent the creature, but to be the place to which God came to receive man into His fellowship there. For this reason the altar was to be made of the same material, which formed the earthly soil for the kingdom of God, either of earth or else of stones, just as they existed in their natural state; not, however, "because unpolished stones, which retain their true and native condition, appear to be endowed with a certain native purity, and therefore to be most in harmony with the sanctity of an altar" (Spencer de legg. Hebr. rit. lib. ii. c. 6), for the "native purity" of the earth does not agree with Genesis 3:17; but because the altar was to set forth the nature of the simple earthly soil, unaltered by the hand of man. The earth, which has been involved in the curse of sin, is to be renewed and glorified into the kingdom of God, not by sinful men, but by the gracious hand of God alone. Moreover, Israel was not to erect the altar for its sacrifices in any place that it might choose, but only in every place in which Jehovah should bring His name to remembrance. וגו שׁם הזכּיר does not mean "to make the name of the Lord remembered," i.e., to cause men to remember it; but to establish a memorial of His name, i.e., to make a glorious revelation of His divine nature, and thereby to consecrate the place into a holy soil (cf. Exodus 3:5), upon which Jehovah would come to Israel and bless it. Lastly, the command not to go up to the altar by steps (Exodus 20:26) is followed by the words, "that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon." It was in the feeling of shame that the consciousness of sin first manifested itself, and it was in the shame that the sin was chiefly apparent (Genesis 3:7); hence the nakedness was a disclosure of sin, through which the altar of God would be desecrated, and for this reason it was forbidden to ascend to the altar by steps. These directions with reference to the altar to be built do not refer merely to the altar, which was built for the conclusion of the covenant, nor are they at variance with the later instructions respecting the one altar at the tabernacle, upon which all the sacrifices were to be presented (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 12:5.), nor are they merely "provisional" but they lay the foundation for the future laws with reference to the places of worship, though without restricting them to one particular locality on the one hand, or allowing an unlimited number of altars on the other. Hence "several places and altars are referred to here, because, whilst the people were wandering in the desert, there could be no fixed place for the tabernacle" (Riehm). But the erection of the altar is unquestionably limited to every place which Jehovah appointed for the purpose by a revelation. We are not to understand the words, however, as referring merely to those places in which the tabernacle and its altar were erected, and to the site of the future temple (Sinai, Shilloh, and Jerusalem), but to all those places also where altars were built and sacrifices offered on extraordinary occasions, on account of God, - appearing there such, for example, as Ebal (Joshua 8:30 compared with Deuteronomy 27:5), the rock in Ophrah (Judges 6:25-26), and many other places besides.
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