Exodus 21: The Mark of Servitude

In Exodus 20, we learned about the Ten Commandments. Aren’t you thankful that you live in the New Testament and have the privilege to know God’s grace through Christ Jesus? Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the law was a shadow of the good things to come. God knew giving a law to the people wouldn’t bring about true righteousness; but, it was another step toward the revealing of His Son.

In Exodus 21, 22, and 23 we’re going to learn about judgments. God is just. Isaiah 30:18 reminds us of this very thing: “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.” Even though we see horrible things happening around us each day, there will come a day when the world (that includes you, too) is judged in righteousness by Jesus (Acts 17:31). So, don’t be discouraged when you feel like this person or that person “got away with it.”

“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. 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. 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.

-          Interestingly enough, the first topic regarding judgment is the relationship between a master and his servant (Jews were not allowed to enslave their own people; slaves usually were prisoners of war or from other nations). The quality of our life (spiritually speaking) is directly related to the quality of our relationship with Christ. When there is a war within ourselves or we have difficulty relating to others, we can trace the line back to our relationship with Christ. Christ is our loving Master and He desires to correct His servants.

-          Notice the ceremony in verse six. When a slave chooses to be bound to his master, the master pierces the servant’s ear. At that time, the servant received the mark of permanent servitude. The ear was pierced as a reminder that the servant had a duty to hear and obey his master’s orders. David writes in Psalm 40:6, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.” We know that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), so let our ears be pierced with His word, open to His teaching, and quick to respond to His call!

-          One thought on the idea of the bondslave (a servant who willingly commits his life to his master): they bore a physical mark, so that all who saw them would know that he was a bondslave. What “mark” do you carry? I don’t mean a physical mark, but when people you see frequently, or even in passing, can they recognize you are a bondslave to Christ? 

7 “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.

-          These few verses have one, over-arching theme: accountability. If a man takes a wife and then decides either he doesn’t like her or wants to take another wife, then it was the father-in-law’s duty to ensure his son’s wife had clothing, food, and marital rights. The father was responsible to hold the son accountable for his duties as a husband. For dads and moms alike – even when our children marry, we still need to hold our children accountable in their spousal relationships! 

While the first 11 verses dealt with relationships, the remainder of the chapter lends itself to personal injuries and how to judge those accordingly.

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

-          God provided a city of refuge where those who committed a crime of death could reside until the ruling was given. We have all committed a crime punishable by death (sin) – not one of us is righteous (Romans 6:23, Romans 3:10). Isn’t it comforting to know that we have a refuge? A place we can run and be safe. If we desire to escape that death, we must run to God, who is our refuge (Psalm 91:2, Psalm 18:2, 2 Samuel 22:3).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

-          Wiersbe shines some understanding on the ins and outs of these verses: “In an age when the legal system was developing, this law made sure that the punishment meted out by the judges was equal to the seriousness and severity of the crime, not more and not less. If the guilty aggressor blinded his enemy’s eye, then his own eye was blinded. Nothing could be fairer. If you broke your enemy’s finger and the court ordered you to be blinded, that wouldn’t be fair at all, because the sentence must fit the crime. The only time this principle was not enforced was when a master injured a slave, and the slave’s compensation was his or her freedom.”

-          Jesus says Matthew 5:38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Jesus is quoting part of Exodus 21:24 here. He isn’t speaking against the legal system, but speaking against retaliating. It is right and just for someone to receive fair punishment, but, as believers we have the privilege of waiving our “legal rights” to the glory of God and not demand compensation (Wiersbe).

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

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.

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.

-          Again, more definition is built around the legal system by providing scenarios and how those rulings should work. It’s amazing how there was a very simple legal system during this time, yet, a very complex one now. Leave it to man to over-complicate things! Just look at the Ten Commandments and how the scribes and Pharisees turned that Law into a list of regulations. The commandment of honoring the Sabbath turned into 39 forbidden acts. Suddenly the Sabbath went from a blessing, to a burden. The same can be true for our own lives. Oftentimes, we over-complicate God or His Word. Yes, He is infinitely greater, wiser, and holier than we are – but that does not make Him difficult to understand. It just means we must commit to know Him better each day and then watch Him reveal His truth along the way. Amen.