Exodus 21:3
If he arrived alone, he is to leave alone; if he arrived with a wife, she is to leave with him.
Regulations for the Treatment of SlavesD. Young Exodus 21:1-11
Attachment to a MasterGreat ThoughtsExodus 21:2-6
Love for a MasterH. O. Mackey.Exodus 21:2-6
Slavery and SovereigntyW. Burrows, B. A.Exodus 21:2-6
The Ear Bored with an AulSpurgeon, Charles HaddonExodus 21:2-6
Hebrew Bond-ServiceJ. Orr Exodus 21:2-12

The laws relating to this subject are to be found, in addition to those in the present chapter, in Exodus 12:43-45; Exodus 22:3; Leviticus 25:39-55; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 12:12, 18; Deuteronomy 15:15-19; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Deuteronomy 21:10-15; Deuteronomy 23:15; Deuteronomy 24:7. An impartial examination of these laws will show how fallacious must be every argument attempted to be deduced from them in favour of modern slave-holding. (On the fallacy of all such arguments, based on the state of matters in primitive society, see Maine''s "Ancient Law," pp. 162-166.) The Mosaic law did not establish slavery - at most it accorded to it a very modified toleration. It accepted it as an existing usage, labouring to the utmost to reduce, and as far as that was practicable, to abolish, the cvils connected with it. It could not well do more, for slavery, under the then existing conditions of society, was in some form or other almost inevitable, and was often the only alternative to a worse evil. Yet the law in its entire spirit and fundamental doctrines was opposed to slavery. Its doctrines of the dignity of man as made in God''s image, and of the descent of all mankind from one pair, contained in principle the recognition of every human right. As a member of the theocracy, redeemed by Jehovah for himself, every Israelite was free by constitutional right (see the emphatic annunciation of this principle in Leviticus 25:42, 55; Leviticus 26:13). If from temporary causes, the Hebrew lost the use of his freedom, the right to it was not thereby destroyed. It returned to him at the beginning of the seventh year. A law can hardly be regarded as favourable to slavery which makes man-stealing a crime punishable by death (ver. 18), and which enacts that a fugitive slave, taking refuge in Israel from his heathen master, is not to be delivered back to him, but is to be permitted to reside where he will in the land (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16). Bondsmen (both Hebrew and non-Israelite) were incorporated as part of the nation, had legal rights, sat with the other members of the family at the board of the passover, took part in all religious festivals, and had secured to them the privilege of the Sabbath rest. The master was responsible for the treatment of his slave; and if he injured him, even to the extent of smiting out a tooth, the slave thereby regained his freedom (vers. 26, 27). A female slave was to be treated with strictest honour (vers. 7-11), and with due consideration for her womanly feelings (Deuteronomy 21:10-15). Humanity and kindness are constantly inculcated. When the Hebrew bondsman went out in the seventh year he was to go forth loaded with presents (Deuteronomy 15:13-16). The legislation of Moses is thus seen to be studiously directed to the protection of the slave''s interests and rights. If there is a seeming exception, it is the one precept in ver. 20, on which see below. The law as a whole must be admitted to be framed in the spirit of the greatest tenderness and consideration, recognising the servant''s rights as a man, his privileges as a member of the theocracy, his feelings as a husband and father. As respects the Hebrew bondsman, indeed, his position did not greatly differ from that of one now who sells his labour to a particular person, or engages to work to him on definite terms for a stated period (Fairbairn). He could be reduced to servitude only by debt, or as the penalty for theft. In this latter case (Exodus 22:3), liberty was justly forfeited - is forfeited still in the case of those convicted of felony, and doomed to compulsory labours, or to transportation, or lengthened terms of imprisonment. The laws in the present section embrace three eases -

1. That of the Hebrew servant who is unmarried (ver. 2). He goes out at the beginning of the seventh year.

2. That of the Hebrew servant who is married. In this case, if the wife came in with her husband, she goes out with him in the year of release (ver. 3); but if his master has given him a wife - presumably a non-Israelite - he has not the privilege of taking her with him when he leaves. He may, however, elect to remain in his master''s service, in which case his servitude becomes perpetual (vers. 5, 6). The retention of the wife may appear oppressive, but it was, as Keil points out, "an equitable consequence of the possession of property of slaves at all."

3. The third case is that of a Hebrew daughter, sold by her father to be a maidservant, i.e., as the sequel shows, as a housekeeper and concubine (vers. 7-12). The master may betroth her to himself, or may give her to his son, but in either case the law strictly guards her honour and her rights. If her full rights are not accorded her, she is entitled to her freedom (ver. 11). Lessons.

(1) Ver. 2. - The natural right of mar. to his freedom.

(2) Ver. 5. - Recognition of the slave''s personality. "In modern systems, the man is a mere chattel, but in the Mosaic system, the slave''s manhood is declared. He is sovereign over himself, and is allowed the power of choice. The Southern slaveholder would not permit his slave to say, 'I will not'; but the Hebrew slave is permitted to say, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free'" (Burrows).

(3) Vers. 5, 6. - Love, the true reconciler between servitude and freedom. Paul the "slave" of Christ, yet the truest freeman.

(4) Jehovah''s care for the unfriended. This comes beautifully out in the law for the protection of the woman. - J.O.

If an ox gore.

1. If an ox injured a man for the first time, the life of the ox only was forfeited (ver. 28). But —

2. If the owner of the ox, acquainted with the proved vicious character of his beast, neglected to put him under restraint, and the ox killed his victim — as culpably negligent, —

(1)the owner was put to death; or —

(2)his life commuted for a fine.

II. GOD CARES FOR THE SAFETY OF THE BEAST. Other Scriptures demonstrate this (Matthew 6:26, etc.).


1. This provision should be made promptly.

2. This provision should be permanent.Application:

1. Beware of injuring your neighbour's soul by an unguarded inconsistency.

2. Beware of injuring your neighbour's friendship by any unguarded passion.

3. Beware of injuring your neighbour's character by any unguarded word.

4. Beware of injuring your neighbour's peace by any unguarded look or action.

5. In all matters concerning your neighbour, remember that "Whatsoever ye would," etc.

(J. W. Burn.)

I. LIFE IS SUPERIOR TO PROPERTY. The ox that had gored a man to death was to be killed, and put out of the way. The ox is stoned to death; and, legally, it would involve physical uncleanness to eat of the flesh.

II. THE CARELESS MAN IS CULPABLE. If the animal had been known to gore; if this fact had been testified to the owner, and proper precautions had not been taken, then the owner was in some measure participant in the evil doings of the vicious creature. Carelessness is culpable. He that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. To prevent evil by wise precaution is our bounden duty, and is an indirect method of doing good. All life is precious; but it seems to be indicated that some lives are more precious than others. Thirty shekels is a high price for some; but a hundred shekels would be a low price for others. After death has visited, then estimates nearer the truth of a man's worth will be formed.

III. MAN IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PREVENTABLE EVIL. If into the uncovered pit an ox or an ass fall, the owner of the pit shall make good the damage. Will the Almighty hold us responsible for the moral pits we have left uncovered? We have not placed precautionary signals in sufficient number along those highways where moral pits and quagmires abound.

(W. Burrows, B. A.)

If Moses had to regulate our legislation in reference to railway accidents, he would put it on altogether a new basis. If half-a-dozen people were killed and a score seriously injured through the mail running into a goods train, and Moses found that the engine driver who missed the signal had been on his engine twelve or fourteen hours, or that the pointsman who turned the mail into the goods siding had been kept at his post for, perhaps, a still longer period, I cannot help thinking that managers and directors would stand a chance of having a much, sharper punishment than they commonly receive now. And if criminal carelessness which might be fatal to life was punished by Moses with death, I think that fraudulent acts which are certain to injure the health and perhaps the life of the community, would have been punished by him not less severely. He would certainly have approved the sentence under which a few months ago a large farmer, greatly to his own astonishment and the astonishment of his friends, was put in prison for sending diseased meat to market; only I think that the old Jewish legislator would have inflicted a still heavier punishment — a few years' penal servitude instead of a month or two's imprisonment. Chemists, who adulterate the drugs on which the rescue of life depends — the rescue of the life not only of ordinary members of the community like ourselves, whom also Moses would have protected, but of men of science, poets, and statesmen, whose death would be a calamity to the nation, and to the world — would I think, have been made responsible by him for the death of those who perished through their fault; and if they were not stoned or hung for murder, which I think would have been possible, a criminal penalty so heavy would have been inflicted on them, and they would have been branded with such imfamy, that other evil-disposed persons would have feared to repeat the crime.

(R. W. Dale, D. D.)

We have this principle certainly in our law, but with what beneficial effect a much wider application of it might be made! Look at a few instances of carelessness. There is a block of crowded, unventilated, and badly-drained houses, into which necessity drives the poor to herd, and where they sicken and die. Think you this principle would not lay hands on the owner of such property? Would it spare a corporation if it neglected to deal with a pestilence breeding quarter? Neither would trifling carelessness escape. What is trifling? A traveller goes to a strange hotel, and retires to damp sheets, and ever afterwards suffers from ill-health, sometimes speedily loses life. Think of the thousands who travel, and follow even one stricken one into a sorrowful and bereaved family! Carelessness, when seen in its consummation, speaks for itself. But worse than carelessness is selfishness which pursues its ends regardless of others. In the sloppy winter of the Franco-German war, an army contractor furnished boots with paper soles to the French. In the Crimean war we heard of manufacturers who supplied blankets which, so to speak, rotted on the backs of our soldiers. How much death and disaster was due to this selfishness! Because we cannot count the victims is there no guilt? Moses would say, if life be lost and can be traced to a man, let him atone for it; results must be dealt with. Life is the one sacred thing. Nor is it difficult to see that such a principle applies itself to the selfishness of those who by their trickery and roguery in business ruin the commerce of their country. Alas! for the advice because it is utopian, and more because it is needed, but it is true that no tribunal would better serve England at this juncture than one which held the terror of moral justice over manufacturers who send out worthless goods and taint our honest name, and impair our credit the wide world over. They rob others, and they destroy their country. There are traitors to-day as real as those who in olden days took a bribe and sold their armies or their castles to the enemy.

(W. Senior, B. A.)

Christian Herald.
On a cold Sabbath morning in February, a gentleman was walking along, somewhat hastily, through the snow. He noticed a bright-looking little lad standing upon the pavement, with his cap in his hand and his eyes fixed upon one spot on the sidewalk. As he approached him he looked up to him, and pointing to the place, said, "Please don't step there, sir. I slipped there and fell down." What a different world this would be if all Christians were as particular as this lad to warn others against dangers, whether temporal or spiritual.

(Christian Herald.)

Christian Herald.
At Saltcoats, not very far from the shore, stands a beacon in the winter. If you were to ask any one who belongs to that place, why it is there, you would be told this story: — "A merchant from Glasgow, with his family, was residing there for the summer months. One morning the merchant went out to bathe before breakfast, and he thought he was quite safe as long as he kept near the shore. But there was a pit there which he did not know anything of, and into this pit he fell, and nothing more was seen or heard of him. After this accident a beacon was put up as a warning to all others to keep from the spot." What were the feelings that prompted this beacon to be put up? It must have been feelings of love to keep all others from danger.

(Christian Herald.).

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