21:1-6 You can only
own a Hebrew slave for 6 years. You shall set him free for nothing in year 7.
His wife shall go free if she was his wife before being bought as a slave. If
the master gives him a wife, then the wife and their children remain with the
master. The slave can always choose to stay with the master. The master shall
bore is ear through with an awl into the door and be his slave forever.
Note: Just as your work six days and
rest on the seventh, a slave rests permanently in the seventh year. Israel’s
life is to image the pattern set by the Lord in creation (Gen. 2:1–3), so that
they will continually trust him for their provision. Debt was the most common
reason that people became slaves. To employ a destitute person as a slave could
be seen as a benevolent act, as it guaranteed him food and shelter and some
income (Gen. 47:23–25). The security provided by a good employer could lead
some slaves to choose to remain in that status permanently.
Exodus 21:7-11 Woman slaves sold by
their father are not released like the males. They can be redeemed by the
master marrying her. If the girl finds no favor in the master’s eyes, he could
marry her to his son and treat her like a daughter. The slave’s provision shall
not be diminished if the son takes another wife. If none of these are done,
then and only then can she be released for free like the male slaves.
Note: If a poor family could not
afford the costs of a normal wedding, the father might “sell” his daughter to a
rich man as his “slave,” i.e., as a secondary wife like Zilpah and Bilhah.
Exodus 21:12-17 Anyone who purposely
kills someone must also be put to death. If not purposely done and was an
accident, that person can flee to a city and take refuge. Striking mother or
father is serious and the child shall be put to death. If you kidnap someone
and sell them as a slave they shall be put to death. Cursing your father or
mother is serious and the child shall be put to death.
Note: The reference to a place to
which he may flee looks forward to the cities of refuge that the Lord will
prescribe (see Num. 35:9–15) in order to protect someone who killed
unintentionally—until their case can be judged.
Exodus 21:18-25 If you strike a man that doesn’t die, you
shall pay for damages done and his loss in wages. If a man strikes his slave
and dies, he shall be avenged. If men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and
cause her to miscarry her baby, they shall be fined if the baby survives. If
harm is done, even to death, the same harm that came to the child shall be done
to the one that struck the mother.
Note: The punishment needs to fit
the crime. Whatever the punishment given by the judge is not clear and there
are opposing scholarly views. Regardless, if a pregnant women was hit on
purpose, I suppose the death penalty would be used as punishment if they baby
Exodus 21:26-27 If a master strikes a slave and destroys
his eye or knocks out a tooth, the slave can go free.
Exodus 21:28-32 If someone’s ox kills a human, they ox
shall be stoned to death, flesh not eaten, and the owner is not to be punished,
except if the ox had done it in the past and wasn’t put to death. In this case,
the owner shall die too. If a ransom is imposed instead, whatever is imposed on
him shall he do. If that ox that did this before kills a man’s son or daughter,
then the owner’s son or daughter must die. If it was a slave, the owner shall
give the master 30 shekels of silver.
Note: Human life is to be understood
as holy to the Lord. Christ was betrayed for the price of a slave.
Exodus 21:33-36 If someone’s ox or donkey falls into a pi not
covered and dies, the owner of the pit shall pay to the owner of the animals what
they were worth. If an ox kills another
man’s ox, they shall sell the surviving ox and split the cash. If the ox that
killed had been known to kill before and it wasn’t put to death earlier, he
shall pay the owner of the dead ox what is was worth.