For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

21:1.  “Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.”


“... judgments” is also translated laws: ordinances: rules: regulations.


21:2.  “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”


“Hebrew” means the other side (as having crossed over), and may be related to the fact that Abraham, the father of the Hebrew race, had not only crossed the Euphrates when he left Babylon, but also the Jordan when he entered Canaan. 


Since God was instructing a Hebrew who was buying another Hebrew, the spiritual counterpart of the direction may relate to the conduct of a believing employer in relation to a believing employee.


In western society at least, and in much of the rest of the world, slavery has been virtually abolished, but the six-year limit on the bondage may translate into the truth that God’s order relative to the six-day work week is not to be violated: the employee is to be allowed to enjoy the Lord’s day as a day of rest.


Nor is the instruction limited to the work-week: it applies also to his whole working life, and may be meant to teach that the worker is not to be compelled to work beyond his sixties, for after that his physical capacity for work diminishes rapidly.


His going out “free for nothing” means that he was not to be made to pay anything for his release.  On the contrary, he was to be liberally supplied, see Deuteronomy 15:13-14, “And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy (threshing) floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him.”


21:3.  “If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.”


Since the wife represents the expression of a believer’s spiritual life the lesson here is that that life can never be lost: it goes with the believer into heaven to be enjoyed in all its fullness eternally.


21:4.  “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.”


This seems to represent the case of one whose profession of faith is false, so that he will go out into eternity alone, i.e., without the spiritual life apart from which a man cannot enter heaven.  The children in this case represent the good deeds of the moral, but unconverted man: they have no eternal value.


21:5.  “And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:”


This is the symbolic portrait of the genuine believer.  His life is marked by love for God, for the new spiritual life God has given him in response to his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior; and the children represent the believers he himself has led to the Lord.  Each one is as dear to him as if he or she were his own child.  His refusal to go out free portrays the believer’s resolve not to permit in his life anything that would come between him and God.


21:6.  “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.”


“... judges” here means God (they were His representatives): God’s court of justice: the local sanctuary.  The door represents the place and time when the sinner trusted Christ as his Savior and Lord, see John 10:7-9, “Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep .... by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved ....”


The bored ear speaks of obedience, see Psalm 40:6-8 where the reference is clearly to the Lord Jesus Christ, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened (digged, bored).  Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” And He who was the perfect example of complete obedience, said to His own, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John 14:15-21.  We should remember too that those who serve Him here in humility, and often amid men’s mockery, will enjoy the privilege and honor of serving Him in glory around the throne in heaven, see Revelation 22:3-4, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.”


21:7.  “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the men servants do.”


“.... go out” in the present context means that her service, unlike that of a manservant, would not end in six years, for it seems that the master purchased her to be his wife.


21:8.  “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.”


The master who had bought a maidservant to be his wife, but who then rejected her, could allow her to be redeemed (bought back) but he  was not permitted to sell her to another family or tribe - that being the meaning of strange nation in the present context. 


“... dealt deceitfully” in the present context, is generally understood to mean that he had married her, but later wanted to be rid of her.


21:9.  “And if he hath betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.”


If he had bought her to be his son’s wife, he was to treat her as he would his daughter.


21:10.  “If he take him another wife: her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.”


If he married another woman he was forbidden to reduce the food and clothing of the rejected wife; and “duty of marriage” is generally understood to mean that he was to provide her also with living quarters.


21:11.  “And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.”


His failure to obey the above requirements gave the rejected wife freedom to leave him without having to pay him anything, the implication being that her leaving under any other circumstances obligated her to repay him for what he had given her while she was his wife.


21:12.  “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”


Death was the penalty for murder; nor has transition from the age of law to that of grace altered this.  But man, attempting to make himself appear more loving than God, is now trying to change the Divine order by abolishing capital punishment.  But God’s word still stands, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man,” Genesis 9:6.  This however, may not be taken to teach that God will not forgive the sin of murder.  In response to genuine repentant faith in Christ as Savior He will, but He will not set aside the judicial consequences of that crime.  The murderer must die.


21:13.  “And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint a place whither he shall flee.”


“... but God deliver him into his hand” is to be understood in context.  It means that where God permits what we would call an accident to happen. Where such an accidental killing occurred, the slayer might run to a place appointed by God, and be safe until his guilt or innocence could be determined by a fair trial.  For an example of this see Numbers 35, where each city of refuge is a figure or type of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One in Whom every sinner may find refuge from the guilt and penalty of sin, by simply confessing himself a sinner, and believing that Christ loved him, and died in his stead for his sins.  In response to every such confession and faith, God pardons every sin, and will receive the penitent into heaven.


21:14.  “But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.”


To “come presumptuously” means to come with resentment against: schemes against: lies in wait for: rages against: willfully attacks; and “with guile” means with craft, stealth, treachery.  Where such a murderer had fled for refuge to God’s altar, he was to be taken from it and slain.


21:15.  “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.”


The severity of the penalty here emphasizes the sanctity of the family.


21:16.  “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.”


Kidnapping was also a capital offence.


21:17.  “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”


This continues to emphasize the sanctity of the family.


21:18.  “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:


21:19.  “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.”


These verses require no comment.


21:20.  “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.”


The punishment isn’t stated, but seems to have stopped short of death.


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


It is unclear whether this refers to death, or recovery after a day or two, but the result is the same: the master was absolved, the self-incurred loss being his punishment, since obviously he had not intended to kill the person.


21:22.  “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.”


If a woman miscarried as the result of being injured by brawling men, the man or men causing the miscarriage must pay the woman’s husband the amount demanded by him and approved by the judges.


21:23.  “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,”


21:24.  “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,”


21:25.  “Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”


The person injuring the woman was to be identically injured, and if she died he was to be killed.


21:26.  “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.”


A man who blinded a servant, male or female, in one eye, must set that servant free as compensation.


21:27.  “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.”


A man who knocked out a tooth of his male or female servant must set that servant free.


21:28.  “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.”


An ox that gored a man or woman to death was to be killed by stoning, and its flesh uneaten, its owner being thus absolved of any further responsibility.


21:29.  “But if the ox were wont to push with the 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.”


The owner of an aggressive ox, who having been warned of the tendency, had failed to pen the animal, was also to be put to death.


21:30.  “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.”


If however, the judges imposed a fine instead, he could pay it, and thus save his life.


21:31.  “Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daugther, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.”


This is generally understood to mean that if the parents of the gored child were willing to accept instead an amount of money determined by the judges, the ox’s owner could save his life by paying it.


21:32.  “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.”


Where the ox had killed a servant, male or female, its owner had to pay the servant’s master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox was to be stoned to death.  This was the price paid Judas for betraying the Lord, the Jewish leaders’ estimate of His worth being that of a gored slave.


21:33.  “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;”


21:34.  “The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.”


Whether it was for the storage of grain, or a cistern for water, a pit was not be to be left uncovered, and where it was, the owner was responsible to reimburse anyone whose ox or ass died by falling into it, he himself having to dispose of the carcase.


21:35.  “And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he (it) die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.”


This verse is self-explanatory.


21:36.  “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.”


Where however, the live ox was known to be aggressive, and its owner had failed to keep it penned, he had to pay the owner of the dead ox its full value, while he himself had to dispose of the carcase.

[Exodus 22]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough