Laws Concerning Servants, Violence, & Animal Control
After the people became terrified by God speaking audibly to them from Mt. Sinai, Moses "drew near the thick darkness where God was" to speak with the LORD privately (Exo. 20:21). God then gave instructions for Moses to pass on regarding altars and offerings, after He had reiterated the importance of not making any idols. Sadly, despite being very clear about this, the people apparently disobeyed this commandment first (cf. Exo. 32).

Starting with Exodus 21 we have several chapters containing various laws (not suggestions) that were given by God through Moses to the people. Although these laws may seem disjointed, they were likely intended as an extension and application of the Ten Commandments to everyday life. We will not comment on all of the included laws though we will summarize certain sections and comment upon some specific laws of interest. Many of these laws seem very logical (even in the twenty-first century) though there are some that we might not understand God's rationale behind. God did not explain why each law was given, though the reason behind some laws was provided.

"Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: 'If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing'" (Exo. 21:1,2). When one had debts or other problems that forced him to sell himself as a servant, the period of servitude was not intended to be mandated for life. The laws go on to explain that each servant should leave with the same status in which he entered servitude. For example, if he was a single man when he became a slave, he should leave as a single man, etc. However, if a servant desired to remain with his master forever (for whatever reason), his ear would be pierced with an awl as a symbol of that commitment (cf. 21:5,6).

The laws concerning violence make a clear distinction between accidental killing and murder, though there were serious consequences even for accidental killing (which would be detailed later). "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. 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. 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" (Exo. 21:12-14).

Any cursing or violence against one's parents was punishable by death (cf. 21:15,17). Such was not to be tolerated and it surely was not in harmony with the fifth commandment (cf. 20:12).

Slaves were definitely viewed as property and could be punished via beatings. However, they were not to be beaten to death (cf. 21:20,21).

Laws were also in place for when a pregnant woman was injured by men fighting and then went on to give birth prematurely. Clearly, this shows the value of unborn human life, and it is at this point where the general law of retaliation is set forth - "But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe" (Exo. 21:23-25). This was a general basis for judgment but it was not designed for private retaliation. Rather, it was for the public administration of justice under the given limit for the offense.

The chapter closes with some laws about animal control. "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. 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" (21:28,29). God expected people to be responsible for their property and possessions.