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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 21

Verses 1-36



Moses is now given an expanded view of the law on Chapters 21-23. Special duties of masters are first considered. They may think they have full authority over their slaves, but they must first remember God's authority over themselves. For God decidedly limits their authority over slaves. It was permissible to buy a Hebrew slave. Sometimes one would become so poor as to sell himself to another (Leviticus 25:39), but his master was to strictly observe God's orders in this matter. After six years the slave was to be fully freed, and the master was required to "furnish him liberally out of the flock" and out of all the provisions he had (Deuteronomy 15:14). This was a gracious provisions of God so that people would not just be driven out on the street when they became poor.

If he was alone in becoming a slave, he should be freed alone: if his wife was with him, then both should be freed (v.3). However, if the master had given him a wife, then both the wife and any children she bore would still belong to the master, while he could be freed alone. This does not correspond to the grace of God today, but it illustrates the hardness of law alone.

However, what follows is a beautiful contrast. If the slave plainly says that he loves his master, his wife and his children, and does not want to go out free, then the master should present him to God, then bring him to the door or doorpost, and pierce his ear, which would indicate that the man was his servant for life (vs.5-6). The typical significance of this is by all means the most wonderful consideration. The servant is the Lord Jesus, who has willingly taken this place in coming into the world (Philippians 2:7). Now He has willingly decided to be a servant forever because He loves His Master (God the Father), He loves his wife (the church of God, the assembly), He loves His children (every individual who has been born again). The ear being bored is instructive too. A hearing ear is the major characteristic of a true servant, and its being bored in this case reminds us of the death of the Lord Jesus in obedience to His Father's will, that death confirming the fact that He is a servant forever.

The law did not forbid the sale of one's daughter to another man as a female slave (v.7). She would not however be set free in the year of jubilee, for she might actually be her purchaser's wife before that time, or the wife of his Son (vs.8-9). Yet the law did protect her. If the buyer was not pleased with her, he should allow her to be redeemed by her father or other relative. But he must not sell her to a foreigner.



One guilty of murder was himself to be put to death. Whatever people may say in opposing the death penalty today, in cases of proven murder, at least they cannot say it is unjust. However, if the case was not that of deliberate murder, but of manslaughter, there was a provision made for a guilty man to go to a city of refuge for his protection.

As to this, seeDeuteronomy 19:1-2; Deuteronomy 19:1-2. But in a case of premeditated murder, the penalty was death (v.14)

The law's exactions were most stern, as verse 15 shows. The death penalty was to be pronounced against one who struck his father or his mother. This is solemn guilt in the eyes of God. A kidnapper also was put to death, whether he had sold his victim or whether he held him as a captive (v.16). Again, death was the penalty for one who cursed his father or his mother (v.17). This of course is a great contrast to honoring one's parents.

Verses 18 and 19 deal with the question of a physical quarrel and one striking another with his fist or other weapon, so that he is injured. If death did not ensue, then there was not a death penalty, but the injurer must pay for the loss of time suffered by the injured party and also any medical expenses that might arise from this, till the person was fully healed.

One striking his servant and causing death would incur the death penalty himself, yet if the servant continued even only a day or two before dying, the penalty would not be effective. The only explanation given for this is, "for he is his money" (v.21).

If through physical striving a woman is caused an abortion, the person responsible must pay some recompense, as the woman's husband demands, or as was to be determined by a judge. If however there were bad results for the woman, the guilty party would be held responsible for this, the judgment would be commensurate with the injury, -- "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (vs.24-25). Of course, to literally pluck out one's eye because he had blinded another's eye, would not help the injured party. But he is entitled to a fair recompense.

This is intimated in verse 26. If a man blinded the eye of his slave, he must let him go free for his eye's sake, and similarly, if he knocked out his tooth (v.27).

An ox that gored anyone to death was to be stoned to death, and the meat of the ox not eaten. The owner of the ox would not be held responsible unless he had been warned that his ox was dangerous. In this case, if he had not kept the ox penned in and the ox killed anyone, the owner as well as the ox was to be put to death (v.29). This penalty could however be relaxed if the nearest relative of the victim would agree to accept ransom money instead (vs.30-31). If it were a matter of the ox only pushing a servant, the owner of the ox must pay thirty shekels of silver to the owner, and the ox must be stoned.

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.