Exodus Chapter 21


Laws respecting servants. (Verse 1-11.)

Judicial laws. (Verse 12-21.)

Judicial laws. (Verse 22-36.

When Israel went down into Egypt, they were a family of seventy on the verge of starvation, but God nourished them and multiplied them until they were as numerous as the sands of the sea.

They later left the womb of Egypt as they came through the waters of the Red sea as a woman whose water breaks when it is time and she begins to travail in birth.

God called his Son (Israel/Jesus) out of Egypt and he gave him (Israel) the law as he would become a nation now and need God’s word to govern the children of God.

Israel was born the first time in Exodus and they will need to be born again the second time as a nation as they enter into their future kingdom.

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. 15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

Did God allow Israel to have slaves? First of all, the term slave is only used once in the Bible and it is concerning Israel being a slave, and the word itself is in italics.

Jeremiah 2:14  Is Israel a servant? is he a homeborn slave? why is he spoiled?

The use of it in the plural is also only used once in scripture, in the book of the Revelation concerning MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, and them trading in slaves. The people we are about to look at here are servants, they are literally employees.

1 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.

2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.

3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.

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.

5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

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.

In Israel if a Jewish man through misfortune or bad business dealings could sell himself to a potential employer to pay off his debt so he would not go to debtor’s prison.

There were many more freedoms for a person to have a somewhat more normal life than if he went to debtor’s prison.

This was not slavery in any way, shape, or form. Please see our study on slavery in the Bible on this site. You may not like the title of the employer being called their Master, but it carries with it its original meaning not the meaning associated with slavery in the U.S. 200 years ago. It meant boss.

The whole deal with there being a seven-year contract relates to the biblical week of seven days, six for working and the seventh being the time of rest, which both foreshadowed the millennial kingdom when Messiah would give Israel her rest.

The parts about if their master giving them a wife and her remaining in his employment even though he was free is not what people want to make it sound like.

She was under a contract and must serve out her contract to her employer. He could if he had the means pay her debt and redeem her at that time, or he could contract to work for her master to pay off the remainder of her debt.

If she had children and the man could redeem them all he could work to redeem them or if he loved his master, he could stay in his service forever.

7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

[1st Cor 7:3, 1st Pet 3:7]

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

A man selling his daughter to be a maidservant insured she would have a viable source of income for the next six years that her father could not afford her.

If while she was in her masters/employer’s service and certain promises were made to marry her and they were broken, then she had recourse under the law to be recompensed by the one who broke the deal. That is not slavery, it is a business contract that was backed by the Law of the nation to prevent abuse.

12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

[Gen 9:6, Lev 24:17, Matt 26:52, Rev 13:10]

13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.

The place appointed is called a city of refuge. Numbers 35:11

14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.

16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.

17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

[Ex 20:12 Lev 20:9 Dt 5:16 27:16 Prov 30:17 Mt 15:4 Mark 7:10]

18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:

19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

[abroad – outdoors; away from home; scattered about]

20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

[Lev 24:20, Deut 19:21, Matt 5:38]

25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.

27 And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

[Gen 9:5]

29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

30 If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.

31 Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.

32 If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein;

34 The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.

35 And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.

36 Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.

Many of these laws were a part of our Law system in the early days of our nation. They have been revised obviously over the past 200 years.

Words meanings have changed slightly. New laws added, but God didn’t allow his people to be taken advantage of by his own people.

Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.

Verse 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.

Verse 12-21 – God, who by his providence gives and maintains life, by his law protects it. A wilful murderer shall be taken even from God’s altar. But God provided cities of refuge to protect those whose unhappiness it was, and not their fault, to cause the death of another; for such as by accident, when a man is doing a lawful act, without intent of hurt, happens to kill another. Let children hear the sentence of God’s word upon the ungrateful and disobedient; and remember that God will certainly requite it, if they have ever cursed their parents, even in their hearts, or have lifted up their hands against them, except they repent, and flee for refuge to the Saviour. And let parents hence learn to be very careful in training up their children, setting them a good example, especially in the government of their passions, and in praying for them; taking heed not to provoke them to wrath. Through poverty the Israelites sometimes sold themselves or their children; magistrates sold some persons for their crimes, and creditors were in some cases allowed to sell their debtors who could not pay. But “man-stealing,” the object of which is to force another into slavery, is ranked in the New Testament with the greatest crimes. Care is here taken, that satisfaction be made for hurt done to a person, though death do not follow. The gospel teaches masters to forbear, and to moderate threatenings, Ephesians 6:9,. considering with Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up? Job 31:13,14.

Verse 22-36 – The cases here mentioned give rules of justice then, and still in use, for deciding similar matters. We are taught by these laws, that we must be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly. If we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make it good, and be desirous that nobody may lose by us.