Exodus Chapter 21

At this point in Exodus, the people of God are camped around Mount Sinai and have witnessed the appearance of the Lord in a heavy cloud. The Israelites have had judges established throughout the land and now have been given the Ten Commandments from the Lord. This chapter continues the establishment of laws as follows:

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 awl; and he shall serve him for ever.

These are strictly my understanding of these verses. I don’t know if I am 100% accurate on these, but here it goes. It was established that a hebrew servant was only to be in his servitude for six years. Then he, and his wife if he had one when he began servitude, would be allowed their freedom. If, after the master gave the man a wife, and they had any children, the wife and children would remain with the master of the house and the man would have his freedom. They could also choose to stay as servants for the remainder of his days. I find it interesting servants would serve for an initial six years. I think it is a reminder of the six periods of labor which the Lord took to create the world, followed by rest from his labor.

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.

In the event that a man sells a daughter to be a partner to another man, or a maidservant to him, and she is not pleasing to him, there are three options. He can redeem her, give her to a son, or continue to care for her as a wife and marry another. I think to redeem her may mean to return her to her father, but I am not sure. If he sold her, he would be doing a deceitful thing and it would not be valid. If he did not do any of these things, she would go free, without his money or care. Marriage was not what it is today in those times. This was the way of the time and what was expected of women. I can honestly say that I am glad to be living where I am today.

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.

If someone hit another man to the point of death, or rather kill him in any way, he was to be put to death. Rather, if a man was killed by another who had the intent to kill, that man would be put to death. Those who did not intend to kill, could flee to another part of the land to avoid wrongful death from revenge of another.

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.

Death was the penalty for hitting or cursing a parent and for stealing and keeping or selling another man. That sounds a lot like kidnapping to me.

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.

If two men worked together, and one hurt the other with stone or fist, leaving the injured unable to work, the other would have to pay for the wages lost and what it took to get well from the injury, but then be cleared of the offense.

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.

If a man killed his servant he was to be punished, but if the servant was alive for a few days, he would not be punished. According to the Joseph Smith Translation of the word”punished”, the Lord meant put to death. So if the servant died right then, the master would be put to death. If the servant lived even a couple of days, the master was not put to death.

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.

Any unborn child that was lost because of injury from another man, would deserve the punishment required by the master and the judges over them. If “mischief” followed the loss of the child, or any other kind of harm to the woman, the offense would be met in kind. If she would die, the man would die. If she lost an eye, then he would loose and eye, and so on.

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.

Any man who injured his servant to the point of loosing his or her eye or tooth, would let the servant go free. They were not to cause permanent injury to their servants.

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.

A man had to keep charge of his oxen, because if one were to kill a man or woman, the master would loose the ox to death and then he’d be cleared of the offense. If the ox had occasion to act up in the past and the master did not keep him away, and then he killed someone, both the ox and the master would be put to death. I don’t quite understand what is meant by verses 30 and 31, but it sounds like the death of a son or daughter of another could cost the loss of his own son or daughter. If an ox acted out and pushed a servant, then the servant’s master was owed 30 shekels and his ox would be killed.

The footnote to verse 32 reminds us that 30 shekels was the amount that was paid to Judas when he betrayed the Lord. Interesting to think that the Son of God and Savior of the world was worth the same as payment for a servant’s injury from an ox.

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.

Any loss of cattle from carelessness of another, such as an uncovered pit, would result in the master being paid for the loss of the ox.

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.

If two people had oxen and one ox killed the ox of the other man, they were to sell the living and split the money and then split the dead ox. If, however, the ox was known to act up in the past and his owner did nothing to prevent this kind of thing from happening, then he would pay the other for the ox in full and take the dead ox for himself.

This chapter does not seem to have much in the way of gospel principles. It is an establishment of the judgments and results of different offenses, that must have occurred normally at the time. This was established by the Lord, I think, so that there were no discrepancies between different groups among the Israelites. According to the manual I am using for additional insight, it says that these were the maximum judgement one would receive for these offenses. It may seem strange to us that the Lord would establish these particular rules. In Mosiah 13, Abinadi taught wicked priests and King Noah the following:

29 And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God;
30 Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him.

These rules had a wise purpose from God, even if the Israelites did not realize it. We have laws from God, that we can keep Him in remembrance and know of our duty to him. We cannot afford to be slow to remember Him and quick to do iniquity as the children of Israel were then. We have been given the higher law from Jesus Christ and we can know what that is by reading what he taught to the people during his life ministry and those things he taught the Nephites found in the Book of Mormon. I am glad that the Lord has given us rules (commandments) and judgments to live by, so that we have a standard to live up to.

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About My Scripture Study Buddy

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love the scriptures, but I am not a scriptorian. I've been told that I'm too "deep" for some, but if you are willing, I'd love to have others join me in my quest for a greater understanding of the gospel. Please feel free to leave me comments and hopefully we can help each other to learn.
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