Exodus 21

Sunday Morning Bible Study

July 13, 2008


Moses and the people heard God give them the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai.  Moses is now getting some more details in a section (Ex. 21-23) we call the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex. 24:7).

Exodus 21

:1-11 Slaves

The next section deals with laws concerning slavery.

This is kind of difficult, why doesn't God just abolish slavery outright?

Keep in mind, the world’s economy at that time depended on slavery.  Up through the time of Christ, much of the world’s population were slaves.  The children of Israel themselves had just come out of slavery in Egypt.

Rather than just outright outlawing slavery, God begins to lay out some boundaries, laws concerning slaves that were unheard of in ancient cultures.

Even though there have been plenty of Christians throughout history who abused Bible passages like this to justify slavery, keep in mind that it was Christians like William Wilberforce who were the ones who brought about the end of slavery.

Paul would write,

(Gal 3:28 NKJV)  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul would write,

(1 Cor 7:21 NLT)  Are you a slave? Don't let that worry you--but if you get a chance to be free, take it.

:1 "Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them:

:2 "If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.

Where did slaves come from?  A person could become a slave in a couple of ways:

Some were captives of war.  If you spared your enemy’s life, he would be your slave (Num. 31:26; Deu. 20:11)

Foreign slaves could be purchased. (Ex. 12:44)

A man in debt might sell himself into slavery.  A father might even sell his children. (Neh. 5:5; Lev. 25:39)

What was unique in Israel was that the Israelites were not allowed to enslave their fellow Israelites as permanent slaves.  You could be a slave for six years, but at the end of the six years you were free.

Even though you might “purchase” a fellow Hebrew as a slave, in Israel you didn’t treat him as a slave:

(Lev 25:40 NKJV)  As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.

Notice the mention of the “Jubilee”.  Every fifty years all Hebrew slaves were to be released.  God did not want families to remain in slavery generation after generation.

:3 "If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.

:4 "If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.

If you are already married when you become a slave, then when you get your freedom you go out with your wife.

If you get married after being enslaved, then when you are freed, your wife stays with the master.

:5 "But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,'

:6 "then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

If you liked being the servant of your master and didn’t want to be released, your master would take you to the front door of the house, take an “awl” in his hand, and pierce your ear by punching the hole into the doorpost – kind of like “nailing” you to the house.

After the master punches a hole in your ear, you would wear an earring in the hole to keep the hole from healing shut.

The earring meant that you were a willing slave to your master – you were a “bondservant”.

:7-11 "And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do….

:8 "If she does not please her master, who has betrothed 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.

:9 "And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.

:10 "If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.

:11 "And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.

If a father sells his daughter as a slave, she didn’t just automatically become free after six years.

Apparently the idea of buying a daughter came with the intent that you would one day marry the girl.

If the master ends up not liking her, he can’t sell her to a foreign nation, though he can allow her to be “redeemed” and let another Hebrew purchase her as a wife.

If the slave girl is married to the son, she becomes a full on daughter-in-law, not a slave.

If a man takes more than one wife, he can’t cut the amount he gives her.

Keep in mind, polygamy was practiced, and the Law doesn't clearly outlaw it.

Again, God isn’t changing the culture all at once.
But by the time Jesus comes around, He clarifies that God’s design for marriage comes from the first marriage – one man and one woman – Adam and Eve.
God’s pattern was meant to be for all of us.

If the man didn't give the woman food, clothing, and children, then she could be free from her slavery.

:12-27 Violence

We get a little more instruction about the law concerning murder.

:12 "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.

If your intention was to kill the person when you hit him, then you are guilty of murder and the sentence was death.

There’s a difference between killing and murder.  The Bible prohibits murder.  The punishment for murder is death.

:13 "However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.

In the culture of that day, if you killed a person, even accidentally, then the family of that person was bound by oath to hunt you down and kill you in revenge.

The one from the family chosen to hunt you down was called the “avenger of blood”, the go-el ha-dam, or the “redeemer of blood”.


After the Civil War, a problem developed between two clans, the Hatfields and the McCoys.  It’s thought it all started with a p-p-p-pig and who owned the land under the pig.
One thing led to another and over a period of twenty years a dozen family members of the Hatfields and the McCoys were killed.  Dozens of bounty hunters were sent in by various governors to stop the feud, but they all disappeared.
We think of the “Hatfield-McCoy” feud as the ultimate in “eye for an eye”.

God’s law broke that cycle of “feud” killings, by setting up “cities of refuge”, where a person guilty of manslaughter (not murder) could run to and hide, and would be protected from the “avenger of blood”.

By the time of Joshua, there would be six of these cities of refuge set up through the land of Israel, you were always within a days’ run of a city of refuge.

:14 "But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.

A person who accidentally kills another person could run to the altar of God and cling to it, pleading for mercy.

If they were only guilty of involuntary manslaughter and not murder, they would find help.

But a man who was guilty of first degree murder couldn’t get out of his crime by clinging to the altar.  He would be put to death.

David’s nephew Joab had killed two men, and when time for his judgment came, he ran to the altar (1Ki. 2:29), but Solomon had him taken from the altar and put to death.

:15-22 (summarize)

More laws concerning violence, including violence against parents, kidnapping, what happens when men get into a fight, even what happens when a pregnant woman gets into the middle of a fight…

:15 "And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

:16 "He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

Kidnapping was worthy of the death penalty.

Even though we see laws regarding slavery – if I read this correctly, it was worthy of capital punishment to take a person and force them into slavery by selling them.

According to this law, Joseph’s brothers were worthy of death for kidnapping him and selling him to be a slave in Egypt.

:17 "And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

:18 "If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed,

:19 "if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed.

Two guys fight.  One gets hurt but later recovers.  The hurt one is paid for his lost wages and medical expenses, but that’s it.

No million dollar settlements for “pain and suffering”.

:20 "And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished.

:21 "Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

A slave owner was punished if the slave died, but not punished if the slave recovered.

Keep in mind, as tough as this sounds to us, in other cultures of that day, a slave owner could put his slave to death without any punishment.

:22 "If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

A pregnant gal gets in the middle of a fight between two men and she goes into premature labor.

In verse 22 – if the woman gives birth prematurely, and the baby and mom are okay, then the man only has to pay what the father of the child thinks is appropriate.

In verse 23 – if the mother or baby die, then the one who hit her is put to death.

:23 "But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,

:24 "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

:25 "burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This is called the law of “reciprocity”.  You get what you gave.

Jesus talked about this law.

(Mat 5:38-39 NKJV)  "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' {39} "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Question:  How does a Christian look at the “eye for an eye” this in light of Jesus' words?

Answer:  We need to understand the difference between the government’s responsibility and our own responsibility.

What we read in Exodus are the standards of governmental responsibility, those by which a government should make its judgments.  It’s what our judicial system should be based upon. (Rom. 13:3-4)
But as individuals, we should not be out for our own revenge.
As Christian individuals, we learn to let God and the government do the punishing.
We are different.  We respond to injury with love.

(Mat 5:40-48 NKJV)  "If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. {41} "And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. {42} "Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. {43} "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' {44} "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.


Show mercy like Dad does

Our God is an amazing God.  He is known throughout the universe as being merciful.  His mercies endure forever.  He wants us to be like Him.
Every day, for close to seven years, Walter “Buck” Swords cursed and stomped his feet in his favorite restaurant, Luby’s Cafeteria, demanding that he get his food exactly as he wanted it. Every day, for close to seven years, his preferred waitress, Melina Salazar, offered a patient smile and did whatever she could to help her most stubborn customer. After years of thankless service, Salazar was rewarded. When Swords died at 89 years old, just days before Christmas (2007), he left Salazar $50,000 and a 2000 Buick.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said. After all, she says, he was always “kind of mean.”
David Slagle, Decatur, Georgia, and Brian Lowery, associate editor, PreachingToday.com; source: Associated Press, "Man leaves $50,000, Buick to waitress," USA Today (12-28-07)
We shouldn’t show mercy because we expect a big payoff.  We show mercy because that’s what God does.  That’s how God  acts.
Maybe if we could try to realize that the people around us are also loved by our Father, maybe we could learn to love them like God loves them.  God loves them with mercy and with patience.

:26 "If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye.

:27 "And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.

If you caused your servant to lose an eye or a tooth, they would gain their freedom as payment for their loss.

:28-36 Animal control

:28 "If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted.

Oops.  This isn't an Al Gore, but an ox that gores …

This is quite a punishment for the owner, to lose his ox, and not even get any steaks out of it.

:29 "But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.

If the ox had a reputation for being dangerous, and the owner didn’t do anything to stop the ox or protect others, then not only would the ox be killed, but the owner as well.

I wonder about people who have vicious dogs, but don’t do anything to keep them under control.

Skip to …vs. 33

:30 "If there is imposed on him a sum of money, then he shall pay to redeem his life, whatever is imposed on him.

In other words, the owner could pay a penalty instead of dying, but just in regard to a case like this.

:31 "Whether it has gored a son or gored a daughter, according to this judgment it shall be done to him.

:32 "If the ox gores a male or female servant, he shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Remember that the servant was a part of the master’s economy.  The master was paid for the loss of the servant and the ox was put to death.

:33 "And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it,

:34 "the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his.

If you dug a hole and someone’s donkey falls into it and dies, it’s your fault, you had to buy the dead donkey.

:35 "If one man's ox hurts another's, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the money from it; and the dead ox they shall also divide.

:36 "Or if it was known that the ox tended to thrust in time past, and its owner has not kept it confined, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall be his own.


Take responsibility

We live in a society that doesn’t want to take responsibility.  If we break something, we want someone else to pay for it.  If we cause an accident, we want to sue the insurance company for our own pain and suffering.
God’s idea is that if you are responsible for something, you need to pay for it.

Let’s go back to the earring thing again… (vs. 5-6)

David wrote something interesting, and if you’re not paying attention, you might miss it as you read through Psalms.

(Psa 40:6-8 NKJV)  Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. {7} Then I said, "Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. {8} I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart."

The “opened” ear was an ear with an earring.  David is saying that he has become a “bondservant” of God.  He has chosen to be God’s servant for life.
He talks about delighting to do God’s will – this is the heart of a bondservant, taking delight in obeying his master.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that this passage was talking about Jesus (Heb. 10:5-9).

David was speaking prophetically when he said that in the “volume of the book it is written of Me”.  He was saying that all of the Bible is about Jesus.

Have you ever pictured Jesus with an earring?  Jesus was a bondservant.  Jesus came to do God’s will.

 (Heb 10:5-9 NKJV)  Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. {6} In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. {7} Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God.'" {8} Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), {9} then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first that He may establish the second.

Paul also writes about being a bondservant.  He is writing to the Philippians and telling them the secret of “unity”, the secret of getting along with each other.

(Phil 2:2-11 NKJV)  …fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. {3} Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. {4} Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

The secret of getting along with others is about learning to cultivate the character trait of humility.
Humility is learning to think more of the needs of others than your own needs.


Cross-country Drive
Four men are driving cross-country together: one from Idaho, one from Iowa, one from Florida, and the last one is from New York. A bit down the road the man from Idaho starts to pull potatoes from his bag and throws them out the window. The man from Iowa turns to him and asks, “What are you doing?” The man from Idaho says, “Man, we have so many of these darned things in Idaho. They’re laying around on the ground, I’m sick of looking at them!” A few miles down the road, the man from Iowa begins pulling ears of corn from his bag and throwing them out the window. The man from Florida asks “What are you doing that for?” The man from Iowa replies, “Man, we have so many of these darned things in Iowa. I’m sick of looking at them!” Inspired by the others, the man from Florida opens the car door and pushes the New Yorker out.

When you become too self-absorbed, too caught up in your own agenda, thinking more of yourself than you do the other person, you’re going to find yourself driving alone because you’ve pushed everyone else out of the car.

Unity requires humility. And for Paul, when it comes to humility he can think of no better example than that of Jesus.

{5} Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, {6} who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, {7} but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.


At a reception honoring musician Sir Robert Mayer on his 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her well. Lady Diana’s failing eyesight prevented her from recognizing her fellow guest, until she peered more closely at the magnificent diamonds and realized she was talking to Queen Elizabeth! Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Diana curtsied and stammered, “Ma’am, oh, ma’am, I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t recognize you without your crown!” “It was so much Sir Robert’s evening,” the queen replied, “that I decided to leave it behind.”

Jesus is God.  He was the king of heaven but chose to leave His crown behind and take on human flesh, becoming a “bondservant.

Jesus chose to serve the Father.

{8} And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. {9} Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, {11} and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

David told us that as God’s bondservant, Jesus delighted to do the will of the Father.  Jesus was delighted to die on a cross for us.
Why did Jesus become a bondservant?
Out of love. Remember why you become a “bondservant”?

:5 "But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,'


Be God’s willing servant

(or … get your ear pierced)
Being a “bondservant” is not a glamorous thing. When you show up at your high school reunion and they ask you what you do for a living, responding “I’m a bondservant” is probably not something that is going to impress your friends.
Our desire isn’t to impress our friends.  It’s to serve our Master.
We serve out of love.  We serve Him because He first loved us.  He first served us.