New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Exo 21:1 Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them.

Exo 21:2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free without paying anything.
Exo 21:3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself. If he is married, then his wife shall go out with him.
Exo 21:4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.
Exo 21:5 But if the servant shall plainly say, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I will not go out free;’
Exo 21:6 then his master shall bring him to the elohim, and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him for ever-
speaks of bringing a slave "to God", i.e. to the door post of the home, and nailing his ear to it. "God" is paralleled with the door post. R.E. Clements notes that this alludes to the ancient pagan practice whereby "a household god would have been kept by the threshold of a house to guard it" (R.E. Clements, Exodus (Cambridge: C.U.P., 1972) p. 133). Moses is attacking this idea- by saying that God, Israel's God, is the One there- and not the household gods which those around Israel believed were there.  See on Ex. 12:7.

This custom is alluded to in Ps. 40:6, and applied to Christ in Heb. 10:5-10. For love of us, the wife whom He was given by God His “master” (:4), Christ chose to stay in the Father’s house for ever. The nailing of the ear to a piece of wood is understood in Hebrews 10 as prophetic of Christ’s nailing to the cross. The ear represented obedient listening to the Master’s word. Christ on the cross was ultimately obedient to God’s word- for our sakes. That we are seen as His wife should inspire us to the utmost faithfulness and support of His cause in this world.

It was Christ's love of the word which made Him endure the cross and obtain that great salvation, both for Himself and for us. His crucifixion was likened to His ear (His hearing of the word) being nailed to an upright piece of wood (cp. the cross; Ex. 21:6 = Ps. 40:6-8 = Heb. 10:5-12).  


Exo 21:7 If a man sells his daughter to be a female servant, she shall not go out as the male servants do.
Exo 21:8 If she doesn’t please her master, who has married her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.
Exo 21:9 If he marries her to his son, he shall deal with her as a daughter.
Exo 21:10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marital rights-

If a man betrothed his slave girl unto his son, he "must" ["shall"] treat her as he would his own daughter. But if he didn't, she could go free (Ex. 21:9-11). There were clearly different levels of obedience envisaged.

Exo 21:11 If he doesn’t do these three things for her, she may go free without paying any money.

Exo 21:12 One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death,
Exo 21:13 but not if it is unintentional, but God allows it to happen: then I will appoint you a place where he shall flee.
Exo 21:14 If a man schemes and comes presumptuously on his neighbour to kill him, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die-

The altar represented Christ (Heb. 13:10). He is the place of refuge whither we may flee, who like the man of v. 13 have committed sins worthy of death and yet against our deepest will. Whilst we cannot justify all our sins by blaming them on circumstances, within some kind of ‘situational ethic’, it is also true that God recognizes that at times and in some ways we sin without deeply intending to. 

Exo 21:15 Anyone who attacks his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.
Exo 21:16 Anyone who kidnaps someone and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
Exo 21:17 Anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death-

The Lord Jesus saw as parallel the commands to honour parents and also not to curse them. These two separate commands (from Ex. 20:12 and 21:17) He spoke of as only one: "the commandment" (Mk. 7:9). He therefore saw that not to honour parents was effectively to curse them (Mk. 7:10). Omitting to honour parents, even if it involved appearing to give one's labour to God's temple, was therefore the same as committing the sin of cursing them. Sins of omission are perhaps our greatest weakness.

To deal with a person as if they are an object is judged by God as bad as murder. The value and meaning of the human person is paramount with God, and is reflected in His law.

Exo 21:18 If men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone, or with his fist, and he doesn’t die, but is confined to bed;
Exo 21:19 if he rises again and walks around with his staff, then he who struck him shall be cleared: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for his healing until he is thoroughly healed-

The idea of the Lord as the good Samaritan taking care for the man is expressed in the language of Ex. 21:19, which says that if a man wounds another, "he shall pay...and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed". This somewhat odd allusion (at first sight) surely indicates that the Lord took upon Himself the full blame for our stricken condition, presumably in the sense that as the second Adam He took upon Himself the guilt of Adam. This is why there are so many connections between His death and the effects of Adam's sin (e.g. the crown of thorns, the Garden etc.). The way Christ compared Himself to a Samaritan, half Jew and half Gentile, shows that especially on the cross, this is how He felt.

Exo 21:20 If a man strikes his servant or his maid with a rod, and he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished-

A slave was to be respected as a person no less than anyone else. A person’s social or economic standing can never excuse abusing them.

Exo 21:21 Notwithstanding, if he gets up after a day or two, he shall not be punished, for he is his property.
Exo 21:22 If men fight and hurt a pregnant woman so that she gives birth prematurely, and yet no harm follows, he shall be surely fined as much as the woman’s husband demands and the judges allow.
Exo 21:23 But if any harm follows, then you must take life for life,
Exo 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot-
The Lord Jesus didn't come to destroy the Law of Moses. It still stood when He gave His teaching (Mt. 5:38). Yet He said that instead of insisting upon an eye for an eye in situations like a pregnant woman having a deformed child because of the violence of a man, she should instead try to forgive him (Ex. 21:22-24). He was not changing the Law, as some have wrongly thought. He was saying that the Law was capable of being lived on different levels, and that some aspects of it were a concession to human weakness. Thus the woman with a deformed child could legitimately express her anger by insisting on the physical deformation of the man who had attacked her during pregnancy; but this, the Lord was saying, can give way to a higher level: simply forgive the man.

Exo 21:25 burning for burning, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise.
Exo 21:26 If a man strikes his servant’s eye, or his maid’s eye, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.
Exo 21:27 If he strikes out his male servant’s tooth, or his female servant’s tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.
Exo 21:28 If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the bull shall not be held responsible-
These laws are almost verbatim with the laws of Hammurabi 250-252. The question is, who copied whom?

Exo 21:29 But if the bull had a habit of goring in the past, and it has been testified to its owner, and he has not kept it in, but it has killed a man or a woman, the bull shall be stoned, and its owner shall also be put to death-
Because Eli wouldn't exercise discipline, he was somehow seen as committing those very things which he failed to rebuke. The man who wouldn’t discipline his wayward ox was to be treated like as if he had committed the crime the ox did, and therefore must die if the ox killed a man (Ex. 21:29).

Exo 21:30 If a ransom is laid on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is laid on him-
After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus was sent to preach blessing and forgiveness to Israel (Acts 3:26). But after His resurrection, He sent His men to preach this message. His witness became expressed through, and therefore limited by, His preachers. When they wilfully misunderstood His commission as meaning preaching to Jews from all nations, rather than taking the message to the whole planet literally, His work was in that sense hindered and His intention delayed. Remember that the Rabbis taught that salvation was impossible for Gentiles: “For the heathen nations there will be no redemption”, so reads the targum on Ex. 21:30. Like us, the early Jewish converts were influenced by their backgrounds and their limited world views. Until the Lord brought experiences to bear which, when responded to, taught them what is now the obvious meaning of His words- that we each have a duty to take the good news of Him to the whole planet.

Exo 21:31 Whether it has gored a son or has gored a daughter, according to this judgment it shall be done to him.
Exo 21:32 If the bull gores a male servant or a female servant, thirty shekels of silver shall be given to their master, and the ox shall be stoned.

Exo 21:33 If a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and doesn’t cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it,-
I once heard a middle class woman say to her child (in that irksome White Anglo-Saxon Protestant way): "Look at that bad man lying there in the gutter. He’s been drinking! Silly man, hey!". She didn’t want to imagine how that red, contoured face had once been a sweet baby, a mothers pride and joy; a mischievous little lad at school; a young man with an ambition to marry a young woman and have a family. Yes, on one level it was his fault he was in the gutter. But the heart that bleeds sees the tragedy, the human pain and wastage of it all. The heart that bleeds cant walk on by. It will realize our limited ability to judge the total circumstances in any human encounter, but more than that, it will be hopeful and seeking for Gods glory to be achieved in the most apparently hopeless of cases. God need not have grieved for the grief of Israel. It was their fault. But He did, and He eventually grieved for it to the extent of giving His own son to be done to death. We began by recalling the Lords story about the little boy who falls down the well. The legalistic mind would have gone straight to Ex. 21:33: the man who dug a well and didn’t cover it was responsible for any deaths arising from it. The story would imply that the father of the child was the owner of the well. The Lord doesn’t draw the lesson that Its your own fault for being disobedient to the Law. He focuses instead on the need to act urgently to save, without maxing out on the issue of whose fault it was that the tragedy had occurred.

As the punishment for not keeping in an animal known to be dangerous (:29). These laws were seeking to inculcate sensitivity to others. We too should live our lives thinking about the possible consequence to others of our actions, both in what we commit and what we omit to do. 

Exo 21:34 the owner of the pit shall make it good. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall be his.
Exo 21:35 If one man’s bull injures another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live bull, and divide its price; and they shall also divide the dead animal.
Exo 21:36 Or if it is known that the bull was in the habit of goring in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall surely pay bull for bull, and the dead animal shall be his own.