King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

Exodus > Old Testament > Home

Exodus 21

Laws respecting servants. (1-11) Judicial laws. (12-21) Judicial laws. (22-36)

Exodus 21 Audio:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Laws respecting servants

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.

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.

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

Judicial laws

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Judicial laws

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,

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.

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.

« »

G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Judgments, or laws directing the civil conduct of the Israelites. M.

Ver. 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, v. 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. H. Bonfrere.

Ver. 3. Raiment. Hebrew Gaph may signify also the body. “If he come (with his body) alone, let him so depart.” Sept. C.

Ver. 6. To the gods: Elohim. That is, to the judges, or magistrates, authorized by God. Ch. — 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. Lev. xxv. 40. M.

Ver. 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. C.

Ver. 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. H.

Ver. 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. Heb. “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.) Sept.

Ver. 12. With a will. The Heb. and Sept. 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. C. — 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. Gen. ix. 6. Ten paces from the place of execution, the criminal Hebrew had to confess his sin. Maimon. C.

Ver. 13. God. When a person was slain undesignedly, the Providence of God was to be adored in silence, as nothing happens without his permission. H. See Num. xxv. 6.

Ver. 14. Altar, if he should flee thither for safety. No asylum was allowed to such murderers. Thus Joab was slain by Solomon. 3 K. ii. 31. M.

Ver. 15. Striketh, even though death should not ensue. But some require a grevious wound, and that the son should be twice admonished. Deut. xxi. 18. Parricide seemed a crime so shocking and unnatural, that neither Moses nor Solon made any express law against it.

Ver. 17. Curseth, or speaking injuriously. The Athenians put such in prison.

Ver. 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, v. 24. C.

Ver. 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. H. — Many nations tolerated the murder of slaves by their masters. But this was contrary to reason and humanity, (C.) and condemned by many of the Roman laws. Christen.

Ver. 22. But live herself. So Josephus also reads, Ant. iv. 8. But Philo and the Sept. have, “of a child unformed;” and v. 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 Vulg. explains of the mother. To destroy the life of either was punished with death. “She who first taught the art of expelling the tender fÅ“tus, deserved to perish by his own malice.” Ovid. C. — 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, c. Ap. ii. shews how the Jews abhorred such wickedness. The Romans punished it with death. H. — Homicidii festinatio est prohibere nasci. Tert. 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:” (C.) in which decision he agrees with the Vulg. H. — The Heb. is ambiguous, “If death ensue not.” C.

Ver. 24. Eye. “This law tended to restrain, not to encourage, fury and revenge.” S. Aug. c. 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. C.

Ver. 28. Stoned, that he may do no more harm, and that the owner may be punished at least by this loss. H. — Sentence was passed by the 23 judges. By the Roman law, the animal which struck a man was forfeited to him (C.); and its master had to make good all damages. Justinian iv. 9.

Ver. 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. H. — Sicles. Sept. “didrachmas.” This was the price of a slave, for which our Saviour was sold: that of a free-man was double. C.