Exodus 21 : Laws on servants and injuries

February 10, 2024 ·

Hebrew servants are to be set free after six years of service unless they choose to remain servants for life. Female servants are not automatically set free; however, they are granted freedom if they are not properly cared for.

Kidnapping and intentional murder are punishable by death. Unintentional killing may be atoned for by a period of refuge. In cases of injury, the punishment must be commensurate with the crime committed. Bulls known to be violent must be contained; failure to do so, resulting in harm, leads to the bull being killed and the owner punished.

Key verse:
24. eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot

My thoughts:
The laws regarding servants aim to protect the oppressed and vulnerable, ensuring that no servant is forced into perpetual servitude. This contrasts with the practices of nearby cultures, where laws often shield the wealthy and powerful from consequences. The treatment of female servants reflects the patriarchal nature of Israelite society and is a God-instructed state law for Israel, not the ultimate fulfillment of God’s vision for humanity, which is realized through Jesus.

The principles governing injuries and homicide align with contemporary moral understandings. The “eye for eye” rule establishes a foundation for equitable justice across social divides. However, it does not fully address personal grievances, a gap that Jesus later addresses by teaching forgiveness and turning the other cheek (Matt 5:39). These laws recognize intention and negligence as factors in determining appropriate punishment, similar to modern legal systems.

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