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.
Jump to: BarnesBensonBICalvinCambridgeClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctGaebeleinGSBGillGrayGuzikHaydockHastingsHomileticsJFBKDKingLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWParkerPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBWESTSK
(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). Exodus 21:4There 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.)
Exodus 21:4 Interlinear
Exodus 21:4 Parallel Texts

Exodus 21:4 NIV
Exodus 21:4 NLT
Exodus 21:4 ESV
Exodus 21:4 NASB
Exodus 21:4 KJV

Exodus 21:4 Bible Apps
Exodus 21:4 Parallel
Exodus 21:4 Biblia Paralela
Exodus 21:4 Chinese Bible
Exodus 21:4 French Bible
Exodus 21:4 German Bible

Bible Hub

Exodus 21:3
Top of Page
Top of Page