Summary: The Book of the Covenant is God’s Law applied to life. It shows us that in man’s sinful nature we try to exploit any system for our own gain. But if we would allow God’s life to live out from inside us, we would naturally love Him and love others - the h
Chapters 21 - 23 of Exodus are known as the Book of the Covenant. They are a series of laws that expand on the Ten Commandments. They are not an exhaustive list of behavior in any and all circumstances - but they gave the Israelites guidelines in how to treat each other and how to worship God.
They also give us some good guidelines to follow as well - as sometimes we get caught up in our own culture and forget just what God’s character is like - fidelity, fairness, compassion and loyalty.
Laws about hurting others
Verses 1 - 11 Slaves and the bondservant
1 - 3 Was God condoning slavery? No. It was a practice already in place which God is regulating to protect the slaves. God also did not condone divorce but regulated it to protect the woman. This might seem a little hypocritical - if God is so pure then why didn’t He outlaw slavery altogether?
Point 1: God did not want Israel to end up doing the same thing as Egypt did to them.
Point 2: The focus of the passage is not on the legality of slavery, but on the treatment of them. This would set Israel apart from any other culture - with no perpetual slavery.
Point 3: It pictures something greater - the bondslave. If a man married while a slave and wanted to keep his wife and kids, he became a permanent slave by choice.
Philippians 2:5-9 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ESV
The word ’servant’ is the Greek word for "bondslave." Jesus willingly became a bondslave forever - serving God permanently. And we are told to have that same attitude.
Verse 7 Why did female slaves not go free? My reading is that they are treated even more special - they must be married or sent away with a dowry. Women needed protection in that society - they would starve if simply sent away empty handed.
Verses 12 - 17 Manslaughter
The difference between manslaughter and murder is premeditation. God recognized the fact that sometimes in the course of things people would die - there would be negligence, but not to the point of capital murder. So God will created Cities of Refuge in the Promised Land so that proportional justice can be afforded. Otherwise, a relative, known as the Avenger of Blood would simply kill the person accused.
So what about striking parents? The word "strike" can also mean kill - and that may be what is in focus here. Kidnapping also meant the death penalty - as did cursing your parents.
Cursing probably meant some outrageous act - God is not capricious in handing out capital judgment. But we simply don’t have a lot of details.
Verses 18 - 27 Personal Injury
Verses 18 - 19 Notice how close to today’s laws these are - payment for lost time and payment for medical expenses.
Verses 20 - 21 Not really sure what to make of this. "avenged" means to punish. It appears the idea is that if there is loss it is the slave owners loss of productivity of the slave.
Verses 22 - 25 If a woman is an innocent bystander to a fight and she gets injured so that she gives birth prematurely - some scholars assume a stillbirth - but the woman is not harmed - then there is a fine. But if she is harmed then the Law of Retribution comes into play. Again, this is proportional justice.
Verses 26 - 27 The slave gets to go free and the owner suffers financial loss - but the slave is without his tooth or eye (as examples) and must now fend for himself. My thought is that this protects the slave from an abusive master.
Verses 28 - 36 Animal-caused Injury
28 - 32 Here is the concept of personal liability. This might be called criminally negligent homicide in the case of an animal that has a history of goring. There was a famous case in San Francisco not too long ago where a woman was convicted of murder when her pit bull killed someone.
Notice that the person can redeem their life with a fine.
Notice too that if a slave is killed there is just a fine. I don’t know why.
33 - 36 This is personal liability - like if someone slips and falls on the snow on your driveway. And there is a distinction made between a known and unknown hazard.