Exodus 21:6
Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
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(6) His master shall bring him unto the judges.—A formal act was necessary. The State must sanction the passing of a citizen into the slave condition, and so the “judges” were called in. The change was to be made by a significant ceremony. In order to mark that henceforth the volunteer bondman became attached to the household, he was to be physically attached to the house by having an awl forced through his ear, and then driven into the door or door-post. Hence “opening the ear” became a synonym for assigning a man to the slave condition in perpetuity (Psalm 40:6). The word used for “judges” is ha-Elohim, “the gods,” or “the exalted ones,” which has the same sense in Exodus 22:8-9.

Exodus 21:6. His master shall bring him to the judges — In the original, gods, magistrates being often so called as the visible representatives of God upon earth. In the Septuagint it is προς το κριτηριον θεου, to the tribunal of God, meaning probably the sanctuary. The sense seems evidently to be, that the master was to bring his slave to the temporal judges, that they might take cognizance of the case, and that the agreement, being publicly and solemnly confirmed, might be irrevocable. He shall bring him to the door — To wit, of his master’s house, as is expressed Deuteronomy 15:17, in token that he was fixed there, and must no more go out free. Shall bore his ear through with an awl — We find from Juvenal and Petronius that this continued to be a custom in Syria and Arabia many ages after this. And it fitly represented the servant’s perpetual obligation to abide in that house, and there to hear and obey his master’s commands, Psalm 40:6. For ever — As long as he lives, or till the year of jubilee.

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.Forever - That is, most probably, until the next Jubilee, when every Hebrew was set free. See Leviticus 25:40, Leviticus 25:50. The custom of boring the ear as a mark of slavery appears to have been a common one in ancient times, observed in many nations.

Unto the judges - Literally, "before the gods אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym." The word does not denote "judges" in a direct way, but it is to be understood as the name of God, in its ordinary plural form, God being the source of all justice. The name in this connection always has the definite article prefixed. See the marginal references. Compare Psalm 82:1, Psalm 82:6; John 10:34.

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). Shall bring him unto the judges; partly, that it may appear he chooseth this freely, and is not overawed nor overreached by his master; and partly, that the agreement being so publicly and solemnly confirmed, might be irrevocable.

He shall also bring him to the door, to wit, of his master’s house, as it is expressed, Deu 15:17; a token that he was fixed there, and never to go a freeman out of these doors.

His master shall bore his ear through with an awl, as a note of a servant; as it continued to be long after this in Syria and Arabia, as Juvenal and Petpontus Arbiter affirm; and it did fitly represent his settled and perpetual obligation to abide in that house, and there to hear and obey his master’s commands. See Psalm 40:6.

For ever, i.e. not only for six years more, but without any limitation of time, as long as he lives, until the jubilee, which is an exception made by God to this law, Leviticus 25:40 Deu 15:17. The Hebrew word olam, here used, oft signifies not eternity, but only a long time. See Exodus 12:14.

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges,.... To Elohim, to God, to the judgment seat of God, according to the Septuagint; to some person or persons to inquire of God what is to be done in such a case; but this seems needless, since it is here declared: no doubt civil magistrates or judges are meant by Elohim, or the gods, as in Psalm 82:1, and so Jarchi interprets it of the house of judgment, or sanhedrim, the court that had convicted the servant of theft, and had sold him to him, it was proper he should acquaint them with it, have their opinion about it; and especially it was proper to have him to them, that he might before them, even in open court, declare his willingness to abide in his master's service; and from whom, as the Targum of Jonathan, he was to receive power and authority to retain him in his service:

he shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost; either of the gate of the city, where the judges were sitting, before whom what follows was to be done, as Aben Ezra suggests; or rather the door of his master, or any other man's, as Maimonides (l):

and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; or with a needle, as the Targum of Jonathan, which also says it was the right ear; and so Jarchi; and the upper part of it, as says Maimonides, who likewise observes, that that with which it is bored must be of metal; and moreover, that it is the master himself that must do it, and not his son, nor his messenger, nor a messenger of the sanhedrim (m): the ear is an hieroglyphic of obedience, and the boring of it through to the doorpost denotes the strict and close obedience of such a servant to his master, and how he is, and ought to be, addicted to his service, and be constantly employed in it, and never stir from it, nor so much as go over the threshold of his master's house. This custom of boring a servant's ear continued in Syria till the times of Juvenal, as appears by some lines of his: (n).

and he shall serve him for ever; as long as he lives (o); however, until the year of jubilee, as the Targum of Jonathan, and so Jarchi; if there was one before his death, for nothing else could free him; denoting freedom by Christ in his acceptable year, and day of salvation.

(l) Hilchot Abadim, c. 3. sect. 9. (m) Ibid. (n) "----Molles quod in aure fenestrae Arguerint, licet ipse negem?" Satyr. 1.((o) "Serviet in aeternum, qui parvo nesciet uti". Horat.

Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the {d} door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for {e} ever.

(d) Where the judges sat.

(e) That is, to the year of Jubile, which was every fiftieth year.

6. unto God] i.e. (if the rend. be correct: see below) to the nearest sanctuary (for the expression, comp. especially 1 Samuel 10:3), in order that he might there affirm solemnly before God his intention to remain with his master. ‘God’ is resorted to here, not for a judicial decision (see on Exodus 18:15-16), but for the slave’s declaration to be solemnly ratified: still, as this would be done in the presence of God’s human representatives, the priests or judges, RVm. (= AV.), following Targ., Pesh., and Jewish interpreters (cf. LXX. τό κριτήριον τοῦ θεοῦ, ‘the tribunal of God’), renders the judges. This, however, is only a paraphrase; for though God, in cases such as the present, may be conceived as acting through a judge, as His representative or mouth-piece, that does not make ‘Elohim’ mean ‘judge,’ or ‘judges.’ ‘God’ is used in the same sense in Exodus 22:8-9, and 1 Samuel 2:25.

and he shall bring him] i.e (Di.) the judge at the sanctuary: better, perhaps, one shall bring him = he shall be brought (G.-K. §144d).

the door] not, as has been supposed, of the sanctuary, but, if the ceremony is to bear any relation to the thing which it is intended to signify, of his master’s house. The ear, as the organ of hearing, is naturally that of obedience as well; and its attachment (Deuteronomy 15:17) to the door of the house would signify the perpetual attachment of the slave to that particular household. Probably it was the right ear which was pierced: for the preference shewn for this, comp. Leviticus 8:23 f., Exodus 14:14; Exodus 14:17. The connexion ‘bring him to God (or the gods),’ and ‘bring him to the door’ seems, however, to suggest that both were in the same place: hence, as the ‘door’ of the sanctuary seems out of the question, Bä. and others render hâ-’ĕlôhîm (as is perfectly possible: cf. Genesis 3:5 RVm.) by the gods, supposing the reference to be to the household gods, or Penates, of the master’s house, kept and worshipped near the door: the ceremony would then have the effect of bringing the give into a relation of dependence on the gods of his master’s family, and of admitting him to the full religious privileges of the family (cf. Eerdmans Expositor, Aug. 1909, p. 163 f.). Kautzsch, on the other hand, supposes an image of Jehovah to be referred to (DB. v. 642b).

bore his ear] Whether a hole in the ear was really among other nations a mark of slavery, or even of dependence, is very doubtful: the passages cited by Di. from Kn. (cf. Now. Arch. i. 177) do not seem to shew more than that it was a mark of nationality: the ear was often bored (for ear-rings) among Africans and Orientals in general, but not specifically by slaves. See esp. Mayor’s note on Juv. i. 104 (‘Natus ad Euphraten, molles quod in aure fenestrae Arguerint’), Macrob. Saturn, vii. 3, Plin. H.N. xi. § 136: on Plaut. Poen. v. 2. 21 (‘aures anulatae’), see Ussing’s note.

for ever] i.e. till his life’s end: cf. ‘for ever’ in 1 Samuel 1:22, and esp. in the expression, ‘servant for ever,’ Exodus 27:12, Job 41:4 [Exodus 40:28 Heb.]. The explanation ‘till the next jubilee’ (Jos. Ant. iv. 8. 28, and others), which has been adopted for harmonistic reasons (see Leviticus 25:39-41), is exegetically impossible: as Di. says, the difference between the two laws must be frankly recognized; they spring, it is evident, out of different periods of the history.

Exodus 21:6There 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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