Exodus 21 – 23
- Laws on Slaves (21:1-11)
- Laws on Homicide (21:12-17)
- Laws on Bodily Injuries (21:18-32)
- Laws on Property Damage (21:33 – 22:15)
- Laws on Society (22:16-31)
- Laws on Justice and Duty (23:1-9)
- Laws on Sacred Seasons (23:10-19)
- Epilogue: The Angel and The Land (23:20-33)
Laws on Slaves (21:1-11)
Slaves in Israel. We can see from the laws governing slaves that God’s desire was for His people to be free. There is much more on the issue in Lev. 25, where we read that “For they are my bondmen, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: they shall not be sold as men sell bondmen” (Lev. 25:42). God would not have any one of His people forced into unpaid slavery as the Gentile nations around were doing, and as Israel painfully remembered the Egyptians doing to them. Yet there were situations that might arise in which a Hebrew would be sold as a slave. “And if thy brother grow poor beside thee, and be sold unto thee, thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: as a hired servant, as a sojourner, shall he be with thee; until the year of jubilee shall he serve thee” (Lev. 25:39-40). Slavery in Israel was paid servitude. Hebrew servants were always to be paid, and when the year of Jubilee came, they would all be set free. Why? Because the people and land belonged to Jehovah. Servitude to any earthly master would only be temporary. Exodus 21 gives additional details about the treatment of slaves, both male and female. Hebrew masters could be more generous, but not less.
Male Slaves (vv.1-6)
Love’s stream too deeply flowed,
In love Himself He gave,
To pay the debt we owed.
Obedience to His Father’s will,
And love to Him did all fulfill.
Female Slaves (vv.7-11)
Laws on Homicide (21:12-17)
¶ 12 He that striketh a man, so that he die, shall certainly be put to death. 13 But if he have not lain in wait, and God have delivered him into his hand, I will appoint thee a place to which he shall flee.14 But if a man act wantonly toward his neighbour, and slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. vv.12-14 Murder and Manslaughter. The first kind of homicide that is taken up is murder. Someone who violently takes the life of another is a murderer, and under God’s law, murderers were to be punished with death. This is the same principle that God gave to Noah when He gave the dispensation of government; “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen. 9:6). Murder is perhaps the most serious sin that man can commit against his fellow man. It is quite something to realize that this is what Israel (by wicked or Gentile hands, Acts 2:23) did to the Lord Jesus. What is taken up generally in v.12 is then broken down into two classes in vv.13-14. The important distinction is between accidental homicide and premeditated intentional killing. We call the intentional slaying of v.13 “manslaughter”. It is interesting that the Lord doesn’t say it would be wrong for manslaughter to be avenged, because a life was still taken, and it would not be unrighteous to pay for that life with another. But what He does say, in mercy to the manslayer, is that He would provide a place for him to flee, later called the “cities of refuge” (Num. 35:6-8; Deut. 19:1-13; Jos. 20:1-9 ). In v.14 the point is made clear that, if there was intent in the homicide, there was to be no exceptions to the penalty for murder. Even if the man who is guilty would flee to the altar of God, and lay hold of the horns of that altar and beg for his life, no mercy could be shown. We read of that very thing with Joab (1 Kings 2:28). The law was inflexible.
Application to Israel. The nation of Israel is guilty of the death of their Messiah as an intentional homicide, inasmuch as they called for His crucifixion, uttering the solemn vow, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). In the law we find that a woman’s vow could be annulled by her father or husband if he heard it on the day she said it (Num.30:5, 8, 12). The Lord Jesus did just that for Israel! In grace, after being lifted up on the cross, Jesus “made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12) when He cried “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.4 He changed the sin of the crucifixion to a sin of ignorance, and thus provided the basis for God to give an extension of grace to Israel after the cross, which we read of in Acts 1-7. For example, Peter preached, “And now, brethren, I know that ye did it in ignorance… Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come , etc.” (Acts 3:17-21). God had opened an offer of forgiveness to Israel, provisional on their receiving the witness of the Spirit. Some did receive that witness, and fled to Christ for refuge (Heb. 6:18), Himself becoming a city of refuge for the “manslayer”. However, the nation at large rejected that provisional offer, and Stephen speaks to those who rejected it according to their responsibility as murderers, as we see in Acts 7:52; “the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers”. Nevertheless, though Israel is certainly guilty (as a nation, not individually), the prayer “Father, forgive them…” still has efficacy with God on Israel’s behalf. Through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, Christ has opened a path for Israel’s future restoration. But when they are restored, Israel will have to acknowledge that sin, repent of it nationally (Zech. 12:10), and acknowledge the price that had to be paid for their restoration; i.e. the very life that they took – as far as responsibility is concerned “taken”, though in actuality it was “laid down” of Himself – has become the basis of the expiation of that very sin (Deut. 21:1-9).
Laws on Bodily Injuries (21:18-32)
Laws on Property Damage (21:33 – 22:15)
Laws on Society (22:16-31)
The judgments that follow to the end of this chapter concern various classes and elements in Israeli society. There were certain limits that had to be observed, especially regarding the underprivileged and dispossessed. There were certain kinds of iniquity that were not to be tolerated whatsoever. There was respect for authority that needed to be maintained. All of this was for the glory of Jehovah and for the earthly blessing of Israel. While the particular details are not the same for us in Christianity under grace, we too can have a happy, healthy culture in the assembly if we walk within the guidelines of scripture. Not that we obey the Word of God out of a sense of legal obligation or for acceptance, but rather because we love Him know that He desires our blessing.
Protection of Virgins (vv.16-17)
Three Kinds of Iniquity (vv.18-20)
Compassion Toward the Needy (vv.21-27)
Giving Honor (vv.28-31)
Laws on Justice and Duty (23:1-9)
The next section of judgments deals with uprightness in judicial matters and also in society. It is ax expansion of the ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16; Deut. 5:20). Corruption is the root of decline in society, and these judgments warn against it. Honesty and uprightness are vital in our individual lives and in the assembly as well, which means there is a very practical application of these things for us as Christians. All of these judgments center around one axiom: we should do the right thing! Do the right thing when others are not, do the right thing when our affections or our own personal bias are telling us otherwise, do the right thing even if it means a personal inconvenience or loss. The importance of this is compounded for those in a place of leadership. David could say, “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). See also Deut. 1:16-17.
Unbiased Judgment (vv.1-3)
Conscientious Duty (vv.4-5)
Fair Judgment (vv.6-9)
Laws on Sacred Seasons (23:10-19)
- First was the “feast of unleavened bread”, which took place in the first month of the Jewish year (spring), called “Abib” formerly, and “Nisan” after the Babylonian captivity. The feast of unleavened bread began immediately after Passover, and often when it is spoken of generally it includes the Passover (Luke 22:1). The Passover speaks of the death of Christ to shelter the believer from the judgment of God, and the seven days of unleavened bread speaks of the holy walk of the believer in response to that sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7-8). Actually, three spring-time feasts were celebrated within the span of about a week; the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of First-Fruits.6
- Second was the “feast of harvest”, also known as the Feast of Weeks, which took place in the summer, the day after seven Sabbaths from the Feast of First-Fruits (fifty days). This feast coincided with wheat harvest, a crop sown reaped in summer. The people would offer two wave loaves to the Lord as the first-fruits of their wheat harvest, which would continue to be gathered throughout the summer. The Feast of Weeks represents the assembly in its testimonial character.
- Third was the “feast of in-gathering” also called the Feast of Tabernacles, which took place at “the end of the year” (fall) when the main crops were harvested; e.g. corn and grapes (Deut. 16:13). The Feast of Tabernacles speaks of the rest that Israel will enjoy in the Millennium under the reign of the Messiah, after the tribulation judgments are over and the nation has been restored. As in the spring, so with the fall there were three feasts celebrated together: the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
- First, “the blood of my sacrifice” was never to be offered with leavened bread. The blood of a sacrifice represents the life of Christ laid down in death. Leaven speaks of sin. It was a holy life, untainted by sin, offered up before the eye of God.
- Second, “the fat of my feast” was not to be left all night, but was to be offered to the Lord immediately. The fat speaks of inward energies of Christ, fully devoted to the will of God.
- Third, “first of the first-fruits” belonged to the Lord, and was to be brought into the house of Jehovah and offered to Him. The first-fruits speaks of the life of Christ here in this world which was for the glory of God.
- Fourth, “the mother’s milk” was not to be used to boil her own kid. We might wonder as why this prohibition is included with the other three, because the other three clearly speak of Christ in the most elevated way. The mother goat’s milk was given for the natural nourishment and blessing of her young, not to aid in its destruction! Even though the mother goat would have no comprehension of what was being done, it was still morally wrong to use the milk for that purpose. That a mother’s milk could be taken for man’s use is granted. That a kid could be taken for man’s use is granted. But to heartlessly boil the kid in its own mother’s milk was a moral outrage. Motherhood is sacred to God (see also Deut. 22:6-7). There are things, even in nature, that are perfectly acceptable in isolation, but given certain circumstances or relationships ought never to be. We might apply this to ourselves: the believer ought to have a moral sensitivity that sets him apart from people of this world.
Epilogue: The Angel and The Land (23:20-33)
- Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. Hebrews 1o.
- Here the ears "dug" express His incarnation, as "opened" (Isa. 50) His daily dependence, and "bored" (Ex. 21) His devotedness in death and forever. - Kelly, W. Notes on Psalms.
- I highly recommend the following address: Address by Chuck Hendricks, The Digged, Opened, Pierced Ear, Toledo 1987
- Israel’s vow to keep the law (Ex. 24:7) was not instantly annulled however, and therefore Jesus had to bear the iniquity of it (Num. 30:15; Isa. 53:11).
- Josephus shows us that the traditional interpretation of Jewish lawyers was aligned with the former position, that that injury leading to miscarriage was a crime only to be fined (v.22), but the death of the mother was the capital offense (v.23). “He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, let him pay a fine in money… as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb…but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death.” – Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.33. Abortion advocates would use this position to justify killing the unborn, as if it were somehow a lesser offense. But that does not bear on the meaning of the verse.
- The Feast of First-Fruits as mentioned in Lev. 23:9-14 is different from what we have in v.16. The Feast of First-Fruits aligned with the week of unleavened bread, and coincided with barley harvest; a winter crop sown in autumn and reaped in spring. The people would offer a sheaf of barley to the Lord as the first-fruits of their harvest. The first-fruits speaks of Christ in resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23).