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Law of the Land

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Law of the Land - Exodus 21

June 7, 2009

Introduction:  Our study of the Ten Commandments is complete.  The last two passages in Exodus 20 taught us of our need for the superior mediation of Christ and of our need to hear God from Heaven.  The next section of this book begins in chapter 21 and extends out to the beginning of chapter 24.  It is often deemed the Book of the Covenant. 

God à Moses

Exodus 21:1 (NKJV)
1“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them.”

Moses à Israel

Exodus 24:3 (NKJV)
3So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments.

This section of Exodus applies in a very specific way the Ten Commandments to the lives of the children of Israel.  The TC are straightforward and easy to apply generally to our lives today.  While we do not live under the Law, studying these commands help us to apply the universal benefit of them.  It is much harder to read Exodus 21-24 with the same profit because we have to derive the benefit from this section through the application of principles found in the passage. 

Laws regulating slavery and violence were absolutely beneficial and practical to Israel.  They would have found this section extremely helpful because it benefited them in the life they were living.  It’s where the rubber meets the road.  We must see here that God cares about the life we’re living right now.  While these specific regulations no longer apply to the church; they teach us much about our unchanging God. 

Transition:  We will break chapter 21 into two sections dealing with the Law of the Land:  1) Laws Regulating Slavery (1-11); 2) Laws Concerning Violence (12-36)…

Laws Regulating Slavery (21.1-11)

Exodus 20:2 (NKJV)
2“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

Israel came out of Egypt as redeemed slaves.  While the Bible neither condemns nor condones slavery per se; it assumes that it will continue.  The laws concerning slavery are given to Israel.  Followed closely, abuse would have been averted and eventually the practice of slavery would have disappeared altogether. 

Our American concept of slavery is greatly influenced by our history - especially as it relates to the Civil War.  However, there are three distinct differences between the American concept and what Israel thought of when it came to servitude…

1.       Voluntary - the Israelite slave volunteered for servitude; the poor looked at slavery as a way to meet needs and pay off debts.  That involuntary slavery was forbidden is seen clearly in v. 16 of this chapter:

Exodus 21:16 (NKJV)
16“He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.

The Bible forbids taking people from their homes and selling them.  Stealing a person breaks the 8th Commandment and is sin against God.  American slave traders took African people from their homes and sold them. 

Israelite slaves (better ‘servants’) were hired hands or indentured laborers (serving a master as an apprentice for a specific period of time).  Servants in Israel lived with their masters and worked hard for a place to live, food to eat, and an honest wage.  The second difference is found in v. 2…

Exodus 21:2 (NKJV)
2If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.

2.       Temporary - the servant in Israel did not serve perpetually; the laws concerning the Sabbath principle were in effect.  During the 7th year the slave was set free and provided for as seen in Deuteronomy…

Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (NKJV)
12“If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

The third difference is that servanthood in Israel was…

3.       Mutually Beneficial

Servanthood benefited the servant and the master.  Americans think of slavery and think of horrific abuse that benefitted only the master.  We have to exercise care in making sure we understand how Israel would have understood the concept of servanthood.

The Israelite slave had a training ground upon which he might gain responsibility, pay off debt, and become a self-sufficient and productive member of society.  Ryken states that the Hebrew servant “was bound for freedom” (701).  His was a temporary position for his good.

Exodus 21:3 (NKJV)
3If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.

·         The sanctity of marriage and family is upheld for the Hebrew servant.  American slavery often ripped apart marriages and families.

·         What if the servant married a female servant of the master and had children? 

Exodus 21:4-6 (NKJV)
4If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

·         Verse 3 states that the servant came into slavery by himself, he went out by himself.  If he went in married, he would go out married. 

·         If the servant got married and had children as a slave, he would go out alone.  Why?  God was seeking to protect the family of this servant.  Had he gained responsibility?  If not, he would soon bring his family back into bondage.  If he had, he would be able to purchase their freedom soon enough. 

Application:  The closest relationship we have along this line is the Employer - Employee relationship. 

·         Employers should not abuse or use employees, but rather they should build up, support, and make successful the employees working for them. 

·         Employees should learn how to manage money and other resources (even people) so that they might gain tools to become employers themselves.  They should live lives not of entitlement but of perseverance and character. 

Exodus 21:7 (NKJV)
7“And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.

·         Now we are faced with two difficult questions:

o   Why did God allow daughters to be sold into slavery by their fathers?

o   Why didn’t the daughters have the same opportunity for freedom as their male counterparts?

Poor fathers sold their daughters into slavery to rich families in the hope that these daughters would become permanent members of the rich households - this happened through marriage to the rich man’s son. 

Daughters were not to be set free because without the protection of the household or family, they were extremely vulnerable to abuse in this social context.  God uses the next few verses to afford protection for these daughters.  There are three lines of protection…

Exodus 21:8 (NKJV)
8If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.

Protection #1 - Verse 8 indicates that the family had the right to redeem the daughter from the master if she did not please him.  The master has dealt deceitfully with her; she is ransomed back to her family not sold to a foreign people.

Exodus 21:9 (NKJV)
9And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.

Protection #2 - Verse 9 talks about what happens when things work out.  If the daughter pleases the master, she becomes the master’s daughter and has all the rights and privileges of being a full family member.  Upon marrying the master’s son, she has freedom.

Exodus 21:10-11 (NKJV)
10If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. 11And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.

Protection #3 -  Verses 10-11 assures that food, clothing, and marriage rights are continually extended to her. 

Application:  The best application of these principles is found in marriage.  Wives have basic needs of security that husbands must meet.  Physical needs such as food and shelter, but also those needs deemed marriage rights - intimacy (not just sex; but loving, tender relationship).

Laws Concerning Violence (21.12-36)

What did you think about the murder of the abortionist doctor, George Tiller?  Did he deserve this type of ‘death penalty’?  Do you want justice for murdered infants?  What should be done to abortionist doctors today?  Why should it be done?

I believe our thinking on these matters can become settled when we read about the laws concerning violence in the last section of Exodus 21.  We can divide this section into three:  1) laws concerning capital crimes (21.12-17); 2) laws concerning personal injury (21.18-27); 3) laws concerning criminal negligence (21.28-36).

These violent crimes move from greater to lesser - God responds to sin appropriately - with justice tempered by mercy.

Capital Crimes (21.12-17)

Exodus 21:12 (NKJV)
12“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 20:13 (NKJV)
13“You shall not murder.

·         Murder demands the death penalty in Exo 21.12 but the 6th commands states that one should not murder in Exo 20.13.  If God commands us not to murder, how can the death penalty be right?

o   The death penalty is not murder - different Hebrew words.

o   The death penalty preserves the value and sanctity of life.

o   The death penalty applies to every dispensation in human history.

Genesis 9:5b-6 (NKJV)
5…From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6“Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

o   The death penalty is implemented only when guilt is certain.

·         What happens if someone were to kill another unintentionally (self-defense; or a fight getting out of hand - crimes of passion)?  What happens to those who strike their parents?  What happens to those who kidnap others? 

Exodus 21:13-17 (NKJV)
13However, 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. 14“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. 15“And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. 16“He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. 17“And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.


·         Cities of Refuge were established (Num 35.6-15; Deut 19.1-13)

·         Cities did not protect the deliberate murderer (see 1 Kings 2.28-34)

Striking Parents

·         Strike (v. 15)  = violent assault

·         Breaking 5th commandment (Ex 20.12)

·         Curses (v. 17) = continual rejection of parental authority not a single act of rebellion

·         Encompasses the need to care for aging parents (Corban)


·         This is slave trade (e.g., Joseph in Gen 37.28).

·         Includes kidnapping anyone at any level of society.

Personal Injury (21.18-27)

Exodus 21:18-19 (NKJV)
18“If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed, 19if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed.

·         Principle of Restitution - when you injure someone, compensation must follow; the victim of the injury must be provided for (worker’s comp; pay medical bills; not exorbitant).

·         Principle of Retribution - it comes out the pocket of the one who causes the injury; violent behavior never brings resolution to any situation.

Exodus 21:20-21 (NKJV)
20“And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. 21Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.

Exodus 21:26-27 (NKJV)
26“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. 27And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.

·         What if the master causes the injury of a servant? 

o   The Bible assumes the master’s ability to beat the servant with a rod; it much the same way a father chastens a son with rod - to correct and not injure; I think it is near impossible for American culture to grasp this

o   No compensation is necessary.  Why?  Because the slave lived with the master; his expenses were already paid by the master.  Medical care would be provided because it was in the master’s best interest if the slave recuperated quickly.

o   Remaining alive a day or two seems to imply that the master did not directly cause the death of the slave; the loss of the slave was sufficient punishment (his property) - difficult phrase.

Exodus 21:22 (NKJV)
22“If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

·         What if the innocent by-stander is hurt? 

o   Two of the most vulnerable people in society are pregnant mothers and unborn infants.

o   Appropriate justice was meted out on the offender (death penalty if necessary; fine at a minimum).

o   When does this occur today?

§  Drunk drivers killing families

§  Angry fathers striking and killing their children

§  “I didn’t mean it” doesn’t wash - things need to be made right

§  Abortion - not just a fetus but a person; abortionists deserve the death penalty; the slave is not a piece of property and the fetus is not just cells and tissue

This morning, we covered the first 27 verses of this chapter.  Verses 1-11 dealt with laws regulating slavery in Israel.  Verses 12-27 addressed laws concerning violence - capital crimes and crimes that caused personal injury.  This evening, we look at the final category…

Criminal Negligence (21.28-36)

·         If precautions are not taken, the unpredictability of animals may lead to injury or even death.

·         Sometimes, animals attack without prior incident and without warning (e.g., monkey that ripped the face off a woman a while back).

Exodus 21:28 (NKJV)
28“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.

·         This scenario leads to the animal’s death - life for life; but the owner was acquitted.  Evidently, the owner could not have known that this would happen. 

·         There are times when people know that their animals are vicious and menacing.  Many raise them to be so (e.g., some pit bulls).  What happens if an animal attacks and injures or kills a person and the owner knew of a violent history with his animal?

Exodus 21:29-32 (NKJV)
29But 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. 30If there is imposed on him a sum of money, then he shall pay to redeem his life, whatever is imposed on him. 31Whether it has gored a son or gored a daughter, according to this judgment it shall be done to him. 32If the ox gores a male or female servant, he shall give to their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

·         Here the owner is liable because he knew better. 

·         We are responsible for injuries we could have prevented as well as injuries we actually cause.

·         Legal liability at home and the workplace is a derived biblical principle.  We must keep people safe.

·         If a person is killed in this scenario, then the owner of the ox was put to death.  However, if the victim’s family imposed a sum of money upon him, he could pay it to redeem his life. 

·         The families of victims ought to be compensated by the negligent offender.  The compensation should be just.

·         It did not matter whether the victim was a son, daughter, or slave; compensation was due the families.  All are made in the image of God.

·         In the case of the slave, the owner was also given an additional 30 shekels of silver.  This was the average cost of a slave.  This price for a slave ought to sound familiar:

Matthew 26:15 (NKJV)
15Judas said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.

1.       Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2.       Jesus paid a price far beyond human comprehension by dying on the cross for our sins.  He shed His blood - the precious price of eternal redemption.

Exodus 21:33-36 (NKJV)
33“And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it, 34the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his. 35“If one man’s ox hurts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the money from it; and the dead ox they shall also divide. 36Or if it was known that the ox tended to thrust in time past, and its owner has not kept it confined, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall be his own.

·         We are responsible for what we do and what we fail to do - sin comes in the form of omission and commission.

·         If you dig a pit and fail to cover it after your work, an animal may fall into it.  The man who dug the pit is held accountable.  The pit digger must compensate the owner of the dead animal.  The dead animal, however, is his.

·         You say, “It was never my intention that the animal would get hurt!”  Intention doesn’t matter.  The animal was hurt due to your negligence.

·         We need wise, discerning courts to apply these principles today.  Many make false claims about the negligence of others.  When this happens, the judge should see through the veneer of the claim and throw it out. 

·         Yet negligence does occur, and when it does, people should be compensated. 

Abraham poses the following question in Genesis 18.25:  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”  The answer is rhetorical; He will.  God rules with pure justice; the punishment always fits the crime.  This brings us back to the verse we skipped over this morning:

Exodus 21:23-25 (NKJV)
23But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Jesus referred to these verses in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV)
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

·         Jesus filled out the Law of Moses; He neither abrogated it or contradicted it.

Matthew 5:17 (NKJV)
17“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

Exodus 21:23-25 tempered those seeking vengeance for death and injury.  Leaders in Israel acted as judges.  Private citizens did not have the right to carry out vengeance (i.e., George Tiller).  Verses 23-25 kept penalties from being too severe.  People who are hurt often want those who caused the hurt to suffer more than they did - part of human nature.

But God is just and wants His people to be just. 

·         Life for life clearly refers to the death penalty.

·         What about eye for eye and so forth?

o   Actually, the phrase is not translated “Take eye for eye” but rather could mean “Give eye for eye” - in the maximum carriage of justice, this might be literally fulfilled.  Most of the time, financial compensation for the victim is what is talked about here.  The victim lost an eye; the offender must compensate the victim’s loss of sight; “Give eye for eye.”

o   Eye for eye is not a law of retaliation, but rather a law of compensation.

o   Jewish leaders at the time of Christ challenged this idea of a law of compensation; they wanted literal eye for eye and tooth for tooth.  Jesus was countering the religious leaders’ idea of “If you hurt me, the Bible gives me the right to hurt you.” 

o   Jesus said, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”  Jesus sought for restoration of relationships.  We need to make things right when we hurt someone not get what we believe is coming to us when they hurt us. 

o   When we are in the wrong, we should make it right.  When someone does us wrong, we ought to be merciful not exact our pound of flesh.  This is why we observe the Lord’s Supper - it is to remember that Jesus exposed His back to the smiters. 

Isaiah 50:6 (NKJV)
6I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.

Instead of a cry for vengeance, Jesus prayed…

Luke 23:34 (NKJV)
34“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

·         We need to remember that Jesus asks us to do what He did.  He showed mercy and so should we.  If God had given us what we deserved, we’d be in eternal Hell fire.

·         As we ponder the death of Christ and obey the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, we need to ask ourselves if we are embittered against others.  Do we want our pound of flesh?  Do we want an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and so forth?  If this is the case, we know nothing of the death of Christ and what it means.

1.       The church at Corinth came together for this ordinance with divisions among them. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NKJV)
23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. 27Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

2.       Practicing this ordinance in an unworthy manner means that the offender is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11.27).  Being guilty of Christ’s body and blood means being guilty of treating them in an unworthy manner, of profaning them.

1 Corinthians 11:28 (NKJV)
28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

3.       We need self-examination this evening (1 Cor 11.28).  Are we partaking of the elements in a worthy manner or an unworthy manner?  If we judge ourselves and take care of things, then the Lord will not have to judge us (1 Cor 11.31).

1 Corinthians 11:31 (NKJV)
31For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

a.       None of us are really ever worthy to participate in this ordinance this evening.

b.      If you think you are worthy, you’re not!

c.       We are only worthy because Christ has redeemed us. 

d.      The Lord’s Supper should be the impetus to personal revival.

1 Corinthians 11:32 (NKJV)
32But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

·         God’s chastening spares us from the world’s condemnation - a premature death because of the folly of our sin and disapproval at the judgment seat of Christ…

1 Corinthians 3:15 (NKJV)
15If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

1 Corinthians 5:5 (NKJV)
5deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

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