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Read Exodus 21

“These are the laws you are to set before them:

Hebrew Servants

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Personal Injuries

12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.

28 “If a bull gores a man or woman to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull is to be stoned and its owner also is to be put to death. 30 However, if payment is demanded, the owner may redeem his life by the payment of whatever is demanded.31 This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter. 32 If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull is to be stoned to death.

33 “If anyone uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the one who opened the pit must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.

35 “If anyone’s bull injures someone else’s bull and it dies, the two parties are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. 36 However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and take the dead animal in exchange.

Go Deeper

If you were a servant, can you imagine being allowed to go free, but instead you choose to stay? That just doesn’t even seem possible in our minds. Freedom is one of the ideals on which we place a large value. We want to do what we want, spend what we want, and go where we want. Why would we choose servitude over freedom? The only reason you would is if you had a tremendously generous, gracious, and protective master. This is the story in the beginning of this chapter. God is outlining what must be done if a servant chooses to stay with his or her master.  

This is an interesting beginning to the chapter because the Israelites are in a very important time in their history. They have just received freedom from Egypt and now have the ability to do whatever they want. It’s an inflection point for the people of God. Will they choose to stay under God’s leadership, or will they put themselves in charge? The rules written in this chapter are God’s attempt to remind His people that He is a good master who wants to protect them. Each one of these laws is about guarding the value of life. These men and women can go out on their own, but their Good Shepherd has told them over and over again how much He values them.

This point in Israel’s history is somewhat similar to John 6. Jesus had just given a hard teaching, and many of His followers turned back and left Him. They thought they were better off on their own. Jesus then asked His twelve disciples, “‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” Just as the Israelites and Simon Peter made the decision to stick with their masters, so should we. His laws are always made with our flourishing in mind.

  1. Why do you think they had to make so many different rules about murder?

  2. How does this chapter compare to Jesus’ teaching on “an eye for an eye” in Matthew 5?

  3. What causes you to drift from following God’s commands or believing they are what is best for you?

Did You Know?

There were other sets of laws from different governments and kingdoms in existence prior to God giving this new set of instructions to Moses. These Mosaic laws were meant to provide a framework and set of instructions for God’s people to follow in addition to the laws of the land.

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5 thoughts on “Exodus 21”

  1. The thread of recompense runs throughout Exodus 21. Recompense means to make amends for loss or harm suffered. For the believer it is tied to God’s justice, his protection for life and his deep love for his children. It is impossible for us to recompense God for the way we have rebelled and disobeyed Him, our debt is too great. He sent JESUS, the only one who could. It doesn’t stop here, we are called to release others from their debt or wrongs committed against us. “Free” people, free people!

  2. Frankly, I really struggle with this chapter. I appreciate the perspective shared in Ella’s comments and Nate’s Listen To This segment. It’s helpful to study this chapter and it’s purpose through a different lens than my own. I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle, but I believe that’s OK. God has never minded my doubts and questions to Him before. We always grow closer through my struggles. Although there have been times I’ve come out a bit bruised, lol!

    1. Eileen, I so get this! I struggle with several verses all over the Bible, but I always come back to the whole counsel of Scripture and God’s consistent character. He is both truth and grace. He is justice and mercy. Our minds, or at least mine, can’t comprehend it all. I love that He gives us one another to ask our questions and point each other back to Truth. Thanks for sharing what you’re learning.

  3. Tink and Vanessa, I totally agree with what you said. In reading this chapter I questioned a lot of the verses but I thank God the Holy Spirit enabled me to resolve them quickly. I appreciate the process of questioning and struggle because I learn rather than simply accepting his word. I discovered Nate’s commentary thanks to Tink, for some reason I always missed it when scrolling which is encouraging because I feel I understand God in being a fierce protector which adds to my view and understanding of him :). I have learnt much about pursuit today – from this and other sources – so I encourage you to pursue God because we will be satisfied in him and only him and you will enjoy who he is!

  4. 1 -I can not for sure say why, but i do have a guess though. With all these principles it lead you to wonder if, in ancient Israel, people were routinely killed and murder doesn’t it!? Anyways I think there so many rules and principles about killing and murder because of the great value God puts on human life’s. Humans are made in God’s image and treasurer’s them. so murdering one is a great offense to God. And to prevent that, and all that a loss of a human would bring, God set extra rules.

    2 – that is a hard question. But I would say that the Ex. one focuses on settling disputes and preventing future sins, and that the Mat. one focuses on showing love and God’s nature to others. Ex. talks mostly about it in the courtroom and legal rights. While Mat. talks of it in personal terms that you should not try to reverse everything another does to you, and that you should not always pay evil with evil, or fire with fire but evil with good, fire with water.

    3 – The thing with disobedience with me is that it goes kind of unknown. I don’t doubt that his rules and laws are what’s best for me, but to keep them in real life is where it goes wrong. So if I were to say what; I would say that I’m too much in the moment and too little in God, and that I’m still learning and busy with treasuring his will up in my heart.

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