Exodus Chapter 21  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Exodus 21
Exo 21:1(top)
Exo 21:2(top)
Exo 21:3(top)
Exo 21:4(top)
Exo 21:5

“plainly says.” The Hebrew is emphatic and is the figure of speech polyptoton; it repeats the word “says.” In the Schocken Bible this is translated as “says, yes, says.”

Exo 21:6

“the judges.” The Hebrew is Elohim, which can be God, a representative or representatives of God such as judges, or even pagan gods. In this case, the logical choice seems to be the local judges, because although during the period of the wilderness wanderings it would be easy for someone to go to the Tent of Meeting where God was, this regulation was also intended to be in force once Israel got settled in the Promised Land when it would not be convenient for a slave and master to travel to Jerusalem for this ceremony. Also, although the “door” or “doorpost” is not specifically indicated here, the most logical choice is that it is the door or doorpost of the master’s house because the slave was asking to be connected to the master’s household forever.

Exo 21:7

“she is not to go out as the male servants do.” Men who were sold into slavery were released after seven years. However, women who were sold into slavery were not released. It was the cultural norm that the master or someone in the master’s family would marry the girl (Exod. 21:8), and she would become a permanent part of that family.

Exo 21:8

“then he must let her be redeemed.” If the master married a girl who was sold into slavery, but she did not please him, then the master was to let her birth family buy her back. He could not sell an Israelite girl to a non-Israelite, a foreigner. However, what usually happened was the master would simply take another wife along with the unloved wife (concubine), but since wives cost money and time, he might simply sell the unloved woman back to her family.

Exo 21:9(top)
Exo 21:10

“clothing.” In this context, “clothing” also included housing whenever possible. Truly poor people often had to sleep outdoors in their clothing (Exod. 22:25-26), which then were both their clothing and their shelter. In this context of a man providing for his unwanted wife, he could not just give her clothing but not shelter if he could afford it—that would never be God’s heart in providing for the woman—so “clothing” here includes clothing and a sheltered place to sleep at night.

“marital rights.” The Hebrew word is `onah (#05772 עוֹנָה) and it occurs only here in the Old Testament, which has generated some scholarly debate about its meaning. However, from ancient times it has been understood to mean the sexual intercourse that occurs in marriage and was considered a wife’s right, and there is no solid lexical or logical reason to doubt that conclusion. Sexual intercourse with her husband was the only way a woman could have children, and children were absolutely necessary for a blessed life in the biblical world. The only reliable plan for old age and for protection in the biblical world was to have a large family (Ps. 127:4-5). This was so much the case that a barren woman was considered cursed.

Children were extremely important to women in the biblical world and the ancient world in general. Abraham’s wife Sarah was so upset about being barren she told Abraham to have intercourse with her slave girl so she could have children through her (Gen. 16:2). When Jacob’s wife Rachel was barren she expressed her feelings to Jacob and said, “Give me children or I will die” (Gen. 30:1). When Naomi’s husband and two sons died, she told the people not to call her Naomi (“Pleasant”) but to call her “Mara” (“Bitter”). When Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren before giving birth to Samuel, she refused to eat, wept, was bitter in her soul about it, and her husband’s second wife provoked her about it (1 Sam. 1:2-10). Part of the blessings pronounced upon Israel if they would obey God and His law was that no one would be barren (Deut. 7:14). One of the great reasons for praising God was that He makes barren women become “the joyful mother of children” (Ps. 113:9). As we see in Exodus 21:11, if a husband refused to have sexual intercourse with a wife, God allowed her to leave him.

Exo 21:11

“she may go free, without paying any money.” Exodus 21:10-11 is very important for a proper understanding of marriage, marriage duties, and divorce. It is often taught in Christian circles that the only reason for divorce is adultery, and that opinion is based on verses such as Matthew 19:3-9. But there has been a lot of work done on the cultural debate about marriage at the time of Christ, and many competent scholars have shown that the debate about divorce was between competing rabbinic schools and involved a disagreement over the reasons that a man could divorce a woman (Matt. 19:3). Jesus addressed that to a point, but also said that he had not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18).

Jesus never addressed all the conditions under which a woman could leave a man, and there is no reason to assume that he changed the Mosaic Law of Exodus 21:10-11 on that point. Many Christians today feel trapped in their marriage because even though their spouse is mentally or physically abusive, or does not provide for them, or their marriage is loveless and sexless, because the spouse has not committed adultery the abused one does not feel free to leave. Marriage is a covenant made in good faith that both partners will fulfill their proper roles, and if that does not happen the covenant is broken, just as Israel broke their covenant with God. Adultery is not the lone “key” to a door leading out of marriage, as we see here in Exodus. God gave divorce as a way out of an abusive marriage because humans sometimes sin horribly against each other.

Was divorce God’s intention for unhappy marriages? Certainly not. God desires change and reconciliation, which is why He pleaded over and over with Israel to change her ways. Furthermore, there is no verse in the Bible that says a couple has to divorce. Many seemingly unredeemable marriages are saved by counseling, forbearance, and forgiveness. But God eventually divorced Israel because of her sin, hardheartedness, and worship of other gods (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8), and Jesus was certainly not condemning his heavenly father for that. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), but hardness of heart gets involved between people (Matt. 19:8), and there are times when divorce can be a viable choice, just as it was for God Himself.

It should be said that although God allowed for a woman to leave a man for abuse and non-support, in actual practice it apparently must have been very uncommon for a woman to be able to leave. As often happens with biblical law, God’s law is righteous but people do not obey it. Women in the biblical world often had little or no control over their lives. Thankfully, that has changed in many parts of the modern world.

Exo 21:12(top)
Exo 21:13(top)
Exo 21:14(top)
Exo 21:15(top)
Exo 21:16(top)
Exo 21:17

“Curses his father or his mother.” This is stated again in Leviticus 20:9.

Exo 21:18(top)
Exo 21:19(top)
Exo 21:20

“with a staff” Many men, perhaps even most men, carried a walking stick or staff. A man who lost his temper could easily strike a servant with it.

Exo 21:21(top)
Exo 21:22(top)
Exo 21:23(top)
Exo 21:24(top)
Exo 21:25(top)
Exo 21:26(top)
Exo 21:27(top)
Exo 21:28(top)
Exo 21:29(top)
Exo 21:30(top)
Exo 21:31(top)
Exo 21:32(top)
Exo 21:33(top)
Exo 21:34(top)
Exo 21:35(top)
Exo 21:36(top)

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