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Bible Commentaries

Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Exodus 21

Verse 1

Judgments, or laws directing the civil conduct of the Israelites. (Menochius)

Verse 2

Servant, or slave. A man might sell himself and his children. But if they were females, under age, God prescribes how they are to be treated, ver. 7. --- Six years: in case he were brought immediately after the expiration of the Sabbatic law: none could be detained for a longer period. If a person lost his liberty in the fourth year after the general release, he would recover it in the space of two or three years at latest. (Haydock) (Bonfrere)

Verse 3

Raiment. Hebrew Gaph may signify also the body. "If he come (with his body) alone, let him so depart," Septuagint. (Calmet)

Verse 6

To the gods: Elohim. That is, to the judges, or magistrates, authorized by God. (Challoner) --- In a matter of such consequence, great deliberation was requisite. --- Posts, of his own house. This ceremony tended to punish the slave for neglecting his liberty, and shewed, that he should not pass the threshold any more without his master’s leave. --- For ever; till the year of Jubilee, when all the Hebrews were to be set free, Leviticus xxv. 40. (Menochius)

Verse 7

Go out, to work in the fields, according to Grotius; or rather, to enjoy her liberty. A father who sold his daughter, always expected that she should be the wife of the purchaser, or of his son. If this did not take place, she was free after six years, or before, if her master died. Constantine sanctioned the power of the Romans to sell their children. The Phrygians and Thebans had the like custom. (Calmet)

Verse 9

Daughters. When she is old enough to be married, he shall give her a dowry like his own daughter, or like a free woman. (Haydock)

Verse 10

Marriage. This seems to insinuate that she was divorced: but the best commentators suppose, that the introduction of the second wife was not to infringe the rights of the first. Hebrew, "he shall not diminish her food, raiment, and dwelling," but treat her as his wife. The Athenians required husbands to visit their wives thrice a month. --- Price, &c. A sufficient dowry, or the rights of marriage; "her company," (omilian.) Septuagint.

Verse 12

With a will. The Hebrew and Septuagint do not express this, but the context shews it to be necessary. --- Death, by the sword, as people soliciting idolatry to others were also. Eighteen crimes were punished with lapidation, ten with fire, or melting lead poured down their throats, and six with strangling. The royal tribunals always commanded the criminal’s head to be struck off. (Calmet) --- When the punishment is not defined, stoning must be understood; (Rabbins and Selden, Syned ii. 13.) at least when it is said, his blood be upon him. But when it is only determined that he shall die, Grotius understands he must be strangled, with towels put round the malefactor’s neck, while he stands up to the knees in a dunghill; (Drusius) as he does also when he is to be killed with melted lead. Murder was punished by the ancient Greeks with exile. (Plato, &c.) "At that time it was deemed unlawful to inflict a capital punishment upon any, who, however criminal, were still men." (Lartant 2.) But as these crimes became more frequent, God enacts this law of retaliation, blood for blood, Genesis ix. 6. Ten paces from the place of execution, the criminal Hebrew had to confess his sin. (Maimonides) (Calmet)

Verse 13

God. When a person was slain undesignedly, the Providence of God was to be adored in silence, as nothing happens without his permission. (Haydock) See Numbers xxv. 6.

Verse 14

Altar, if he should flee thither for safety. No asylum was allowed to such murderers. Thus Joab was slain by Solomon, 3 Kings ii. 31. (Menochius)

Verse 15

Striketh, even though death should not ensue. But some require a grevious wound, and that the son should be twice admonished, Deuteronomy xxi. 18. Parricide seemed a crime so shocking and unnatural, that neither Moses nor Solon made any express law against it.

Verse 17

Curseth, or speaking injuriously. The Athenians put such in prison.

Verse 19

Staff, as people in health do, or even as a convalescent. In the mean time the other person was confined, and subjected to the law of retaliation, if the sick man lost either limb or life, ver. 24. (Calmet)

Verse 21

Money, which purchased the slave. Hence, as he will be punished in some degree, and it is not absolutely certain that the slave died of his wounds, his master shall not be put to death. "They are slaves, (says Seneca, ep. 47,) but they are our fellow-slaves." We have one common origin, and one master over us all, Job xxxi. 13. (Haydock) --- Many nations tolerated the murder of slaves by their masters. But this was contrary to reason and humanity, (Calmet) and condemned by many of the Roman laws. (Christen.)

Verse 22

But live herself. So Josephus also reads, Antiquities iv. 8. But Philo and the Septuagint have, "of a child unformed;" and ver. 23, "But if the child be formed, (exeikonismenon, animated and organized) he shall give soul for soul;" as if all were referred to the child, which the Vulgate explains of the mother. To destroy the life of either was punished with death. "She who first taught the art of expelling the tender fœtus, deserved to perish by his own malice." (Ovid) (Calmet) --- The precise time when the soul begins to animate the body is so very uncertain, that, after conception, the person who should cause a miscarriage wilfully, would expose himself to incur the guilt of murder. Josephus, contra Apion ii., shews how the Jews abhorred such wickedness. The Romans punished it with death. (Haydock) --- Homicidii festinatio est prohibere nasci. (Tertullian, apol.) Onkelos says, that "if the mother should not die of the stroke, the offender was to satisfy the husband by paying a fine, to be awarded by the husband, or by the judges: but in case the mother died, he should render life for life:" (Calmet) in which decision he agrees with the Vulgate. (Haydock) --- The Hebrew is ambiguous, "If death ensue not." (Calmet)

Verse 24

Eye. "This law tended to restrain, not to encourage, fury and revenge." (St. Augustine, contra Faust. xix. 25.) Some explain it, as if a sum of money could only be required, equivalent to the ransom of an eye, in case a person should be under a necessity of losing or of redeeming it. (Muis; Jonathan) --- Retaliation was not left to the injured party’s discretion. The judge was to decide. Christ enjoins what is more perfect, ordering us to turn the left cheek, when we have received a blow on the right. The canon law inflicts the punishment of retaliation upon the calumniator. (Calmet)

Verse 26


Verse 28

Stoned, that he may do no more harm, and that the owner may be punished at least by this loss. (Haydock) --- Sentence was passed by the 23 judges. By the Roman law, the animal which struck a man was forfeited to him (Calmet); and its master had to make good all damages. ( Justinian iv. 9.)

Verse 32

Bond man, &c., of any of those uncircumcised nations, (Jonathan) whom it was lawful to put to death; and hence their life was esteemed of less value. (Haydock) --- Sicles. Septuagint, "didrachmas." This was the price of a slave, for which our Saviour was sold: that of a free-man was double. (Calmet)

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Bibliographical Information
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Exodus 21". "Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.