The laws recorded in this chapter relate to the fifth and sixth
commandments; and though they are not accommodated to our constitution,
especially in point of servitude, nor are the penalties annexed binding
on us, yet they are of great use for the explanation of the moral law,
and the rules of natural justice. Here are several enlargements,
I. Upon the fifth commandment, which concerns particular relations.
1. The duty of masters towards their servants, their men-servants
and the maidservants,
2. The punishment of disobedient children that strike their parents
or curse them,
II. Upon the sixth commandment, which forbids all violence offered to
the person of a man. Here is,
1. Concerning murder,
3. Assault and battery,
4. Correcting a servant,
5. Hurting a woman with child,
6. The law of retaliation,
7. Maiming a servant,
8. An ox goring,
9. Damage by opening a pit,
10. Cattle fighting,
||B. C. 1491.|
1 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before
2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and
in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he
were married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him
sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her
master's, and he shall go out by himself.
5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my
wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall
also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master
shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him
7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall
not go out as the menservants do.
8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to
himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a
strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt
deceitfully with her.
9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with
her after the manner of daughters.
10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and
her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.
11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out
free without money.
is the general title of the laws contained in this and the two
following chapters, some of them relating to the religious worship of
God, but most of them relating to matters between man and man. Their
government being purely a Theocracy, that which in other states is to
be settled by human prudence was directed among them by a divine
appointment, so that the constitution of their government was
peculiarly adapted to make them happy. These laws are called
judgments, because they are framed in infinite wisdom and
equity, and because their magistrates were to give judgment according
to the people. In the doubtful cases that had hitherto occurred, Moses
had particularly enquired of God for them, as appeared,
but now God gave him statutes in general by which to determine
particular cases, which likewise he must apply to other like cases that
might happen, which, falling under the same reason, fell under the same
rule. He begins with the laws concerning servants, commanding mercy
and moderation towards them. The Israelites had lately been servants
themselves; and now that they had become, not only their own masters,
but masters of servants too, lest they should abuse their servants, as
they themselves had been abused and ruled with rigour by the Egyptian
task-masters, provision was made by these laws for the mild and gentle
usage of servants. Note, If those who have had power over us have been
injurious to us this will not in the least excuse us if we be in like
manner injurious to those who are under our power, but will rather
aggravate our crime, because, in that case, we may the more easily put
our souls into their soul's stead. Here is,
I. A law concerning men-servants, sold, either by themselves or their
parents, through poverty, or by the judges, for their crimes; even
those of the latter sort (if Hebrews) were to continue in slavery but
seven years at the most, in which time it was taken for granted that
they would sufficiently have smarted for their folly or offence. At the
seven years' end the servant should either go out free
or his servitude should thenceforward be his choice,
If he had a wife given him by his master, and children, he might either
leave them and go out free himself, or, if he had such a kindness for
them that he would rather tarry with them in bondage than go out at
liberty without them, he was to have his ear bored through to the
doorpost and serve till the death of his master, or the year of
1. By this law God taught,
(1.) The Hebrew servants generosity, and a noble love of liberty, for
they were the Lord's freemen; a mark of disgrace must be put upon him
who refused liberty when he might have it, though he refused it upon
considerations otherwise laudable enough. Thus Christians, being
bought with a price, and called unto liberty, must not be the
servants of men, nor of the lusts of men,
1 Corinthians 7:23.
There is a free and princely spirit that much helps to uphold a
He likewise taught,
(2.) The Hebrew masters not to trample upon their poor servants,
knowing, not only that they had been by birth upon a level with them,
but that, in a few years, they would be so again. Thus Christian
masters must look with respect on believing servants,
2. This law will be further useful to us,
(1.) To illustrate the right God has to the children of believing
parents, as such, and the place they have in his church. They are by
baptism enrolled among his servants, because they are born in his
house, for they are therefore born unto him,
David owns himself God's servant, as he was the son of his
and therefore entitled to protection,
(2.) To explain the obligation which the great Redeemer laid upon
himself to prosecute the work of our salvation, for he says
My ears hast thou opened, which seems to allude to this law. He
loved his Father, and his captive spouse, and the children that were
given him, and would not go out free from his undertaking, but engaged
to serve in it for ever,
Much more reason have we thus to engage ourselves to serve God for
ever; we have all the reason in the world to love our Master and his
work, and to have our ears bored to his door-posts, as those who desire
not to go out free from his service, but to be found more and more free
to it, and in it,
Concerning maid-servants, whom their parents, through extreme poverty,
had sold, when they were very young, to such as they hoped would marry
them when they grew up; if they did not, yet they must not sell them to
strangers, but rather study how to make them amends for the
disappointment; if they did, they must maintain them handsomely,
Thus did God provide for the comfort and reputation of the daughters of
Israel, and has taught husbands to give honour to their wives
(be their extraction ever so mean) as to the weaker vessels,
1 Peter 3:7.
12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put
13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his
hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay
him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may
15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be
surely put to death.
16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be
found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely
be put to death.
18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a
stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:
19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall
he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of
his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.
20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and
he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not
be punished: for he is his money.
I. A law concerning murder. He had lately said, Thou shalt not
kill; here he provides,
1. For the punishing of wilful murder
He that smiteth a man, whether upon a sudden passion or in
malice prepense, so that he die, the government must take care
that the murderer be put to death, according to that ancient law
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. God,
who by his providence gives and maintains life, thus by his law
protects it; so that mercy shown to a wilful murderer is real cruelty
to all mankind besides: such a one, God here says, shall be taken even
from his altar
to which he might flee for protection; and, if God will not shelter
him, let him flee to the pit, and let no man stay him.
2. For the relief of such as killed by accident, per infortunium--by
misfortune, or chance-medley, as our law expresses it, when
a man, in doing a lawful act, without intent of hurt to any, happens to
kill another, or, as it is here described, God delivers him into his
hand; for nothing comes to pass by chance; what seems to us purely
casual is ordered by the divine Providence, for wise and holy ends
secret to us. In this case God provided cities of refuge for the
protection of those whose infelicity it was, but not their fault, to
occasion the death of another,
With us, who know no avengers of blood but the magistrates, the law
itself is a sufficient sanctuary for those whose minds are innocent,
though their hands are guilty, and there needs no other.
II. Concerning rebellious children. It is here made a capital crime, to
be punished with death, for children either,
1. To strike their parents
so as either to draw blood or to make the place struck black and blue.
2. To curse their parents
if they profaned any name of God in doing it, as the rabbies say. Note,
The undutiful behaviour of children towards their parents is a very
great provocation to God our common Father; and, if men do not punish
it, he will. Those are perfectly lost to all virtue, and abandoned to
all wickedness, that have broken through the bonds of filial reverence
and duty to such a degree as in word or action to abuse their own
parents. What yoke will those bear that have shaken off this? Let
children take heed of entertaining in their minds any such thought or
passions towards their parents as savour of undutifulness and contempt;
for the righteous God searches the heart.
III. Here is a law against man-stealing
He that steals a man (that is, a person, man, woman, or child),
with design to sell him to the Gentiles (for no Israelite would buy
him), was adjudged to death by this statute, which is ratified by the
(1 Timothy 1:10),
where men-stealers are reckoned among those wicked ones against
whom laws must be made by Christian princes.
IV. Care is here taken that satisfaction be made for hurt done to a
person, though death do not ensue,
He that did the hurt must be accountable for damages, and pay, not only
for the cure, but for the loss of time, to which the Jews add that he
must likewise give some recompence both for the pain and for the
blemish, if there were any.
V. Direction is given what should be done if a servant died by his
master's correction. This servant must not be an Israelite, but a
Gentile slave, as the negroes to our planters; and it is supposed that
he smite him with a rod, and not with any thing that was likely to give
a mortal wound; yet, if he died under his hand, he should be punished
for his cruelty, at the discretion of the judges, upon consideration of
But, if he continued a day or two after the correction given, the
master was supposed to suffer enough by losing his servant,
Our law makes the death of a servant, by his master's reasonable
beating of him, but chance-medley. Yet let all masters take heed
of tyrannizing over their servants; the gospel teaches them even to
forbear and moderate threatenings
considering with holy Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up?
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her
fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be
surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon
him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for
24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his
maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's
27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his
maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's
28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox
shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the
owner of the ox shall be quit.
29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past,
and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him
in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be
stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.
30 If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give
for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.
31 Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter,
according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.
32 If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall
give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall
33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit,
and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein;
34 The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money
unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.
35 And if one man's ox hurt another's, that he die; then they
shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead
ox also they shall divide.
36 Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time
past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox
for ox; and the dead shall be his own.
I. The particular care which the law took of women with child, that no
hurt should be done them which might occasion their mis-carrying. The
law of nature obliges us to be very tender in that case, lest the tree
and fruit be destroyed together,
Women with child, who are thus taken under the special protection of
the law of God, if they live in his fear, may still believe themselves
under the special protection of the providence of God, and hope that
they shall be saved in child-bearing. On this occasion comes in that
general law of retaliation which our Saviour refers to,
An eye for an eye. Now,
1. The execution of this law is not hereby put into the hands of
private persons, as if every man might avenge himself, which would
introduce universal confusion, and make men like the fishes of the sea.
The tradition of the elders seems to have put this corrupt gloss upon
it, in opposition to which our Saviour commands us to forgive injuries,
and not to meditate revenge,
2. God often executes it in the course of his providence, making the
punishment, in many cases, to answer to the sin, as
Isa. xxxiii. 1; Hab. ii. 13; Matt. xxvi. 52.
3. Magistrates ought to have an eye to this rule in punishing
offenders, and doing right to those that are injured. Consideration
must be had of the nature, quality, and degree of the wrong done, that
reparation may be made to the party injured, and others deterred from
doing the like; either an eye shall go for an eye, or the
forfeited eye shall be redeemed by a sum of money. Note, He that does
wrong must expect one way or other to receive according to the wrong
he has done,
God sometimes brings men's violent dealings upon their own heads
and magistrates are in this the ministers of the justice, that they are
and they shall not bear the sword in vain.
II. The care God took of servants. If their masters maimed them, though
it was only striking out a tooth, that should be their discharge,
This was intended,
1. To prevent their being abused; masters would be careful not to offer
them any violence, lest they should lose their service.
2. To comfort them if they were abused; the loss of a limb should be
the gaining of their liberty, which would do something towards
balancing both the pain and disgrace they underwent. Nay,
III. Does God take care for oxen? Yes, it appears by the
following laws in this chapter that he does, for our sakes,
1 Corinthians 9:9,10.
The Israelites are here directed what to do,
1. In case of hurt done by oxen, or any other brute-creature; for the
law, doubtless, was designed to extend to all parallel cases.
(1.) As an instance of God's care of the life of man (though forfeited
a thousand times into the hands of divine justice), and in token of his
detestation of the sin of murder. If an ox killed any man, woman, or
child, the ox was to be stoned
and, because the greatest honour of the inferior creatures is to be
serviceable to man, the criminal is denied that honour: his flesh
shall not be eaten. Thus God would keep up in the minds of his
people a rooted abhorrence of the sin of murder and every thing that
(2.) To make men careful that none of their cattle might do hurt, but
that, by all means possible, mischief might be prevented. If the owner
of the beast knew that he was mischievous, he must answer for the hurt
done, and, according as the circumstances of the case proved him to be
more or less accessory, he must either be put to death or ransom
his life with a sum of money,
Some of our ancient books make this felony, by the common law of
England, and give this reason, "The owner, by suffering his beast to go
at liberty when he knew it to be mischievous, shows that he was very
willing that hurt should be done." Note, It is not enough for us not to
do mischief ourselves, but we must take care that no mischief be done
by those whom it is in our power to restrain, whether man or beast.
2. In case of hurt done to oxen, or other cattle.
(1.) If they fall into a pit, and perish there, he that opened the pit
must make good the loss,
Note, We must take heed not only of doing that which will be hurtful,
but of doing that which may be so. It is not enough not to design and
devise mischief, but we must contrive to prevent mischief, else we
become accessory to our neighbours' damage. Mischief done in malice is
the great transgression; but mischief done through negligence, and for
want of due care and consideration, is not without fault, but ought to
be reflected upon with great regret, according as the degree of the
mischief is: especially we must be careful that we do nothing to make
ourselves accessory to the sins of others, by laying an occasion of
offence in our brother's way,
(2.) If cattle fight, and one kill another, the owners shall equally
share in the loss,
Only if the beast that had done the harm was known to the owner to have
been mischievous he shall answer for the damage, because he ought
either to have killed him or kept him up,
The determinations of these cases carry with them the evidence of their
own equity, and give such rules of justice as were then, and are still,
in use, for the decision of similar controversies that arise between
man and man. But I conjecture that these cases might be specified,
rather than others (though some of them seem minute), because they were
then cases in fact actually depending before Moses; for in the
wilderness where they lay closely encamped, and had their flocks and
herds among them, such mischiefs as these last mentioned were likely
enough to occur. That which we are taught by these laws is that we
should be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly;
and that, if we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make
satisfaction, and desirous that nobody may lose by us.