Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Judgments, or laws directing the civil conduct of the Israelites. (Menochius)
Ver. 2. Servant, or slave. A man might sell himself and his children. But if they were females, under age, God prescribes how they are to be treated, ver. 7. — Six years: in case he were bought immediately after the expiration of the Sabbatic law: none could be detained for a longer period. If a person lost his liberty in the fourth year after the general release, he would recover it in the space of two or three years at latest. (Haydock) (Bonfrere)
Ver. 3. Raiment. Hebrew Gaph may signify also the body. “If he come (with his body) alone, let him so depart,” Septuagint. (Calmet)
Ver. 6. To the gods: Elohim. That is, to the judges, or magistrates, authorized by God. (Challoner) — In a matter of such consequence, great deliberation was requisite. — Posts, of his own house. This ceremony tended to punish the slave for neglecting his liberty, and shewed, that he should not pass the threshold any more without his master’s leave. — For ever; till the year of Jubilee, when all the Hebrews were to be set free, Leviticus xxv. 40. (Menochius)
Ver. 7. Go out, to work in the fields, according to Grotius; or rather, to enjoy her liberty. A father who sold his daughter, always expected that she should be the wife of the purchaser, or of his son. If this did not take place, she was free after six years, or before, if her master died. Constantine sanctioned the power of the Romans to sell their children. The Phrygians and Thebans had the like custom. (Calmet)
Ver. 9. Daughters. When she is old enough to be married, he shall give her a dowry like his own daughter, or like a free woman. (Haydock)
Ver. 10. Marriage. This seems to insinuate that she was divorced: but the best commentators suppose, that the introduction of the second wife was not to infringe the rights of the first. Hebrew, “he shall not diminish her food, raiment, and dwelling,” but treat her as his wife. The Athenians required husbands to visit their wives thrice a month. — Price, &c. A sufficient dowry, or the rights of marriage; “her company,” (omilian.) Septuagint.
Ver. 12. With a will. The Hebrew and Septuagint do not express this, but the context shews it to be necessary. — Death, by the sword, as people soliciting idolatry to others were also. Eighteen crimes were punished with lapidation, ten with fire, or melting lead poured down their throats, and six with strangling. The royal tribunals always commanded the criminal’s head to be struck off. (Calmet) — When the punishment is not defined, stoning must be understood; (Rabbins and Selden, Syned ii. 13.) at least when it is said, his blood be upon him. But when it is only determined that he shall die, Grotius understands he must be strangled, with towels put round the malefactor’s neck, while he stands up to the knees in a dunghill; (Drusius) as he does also when he is to be killed with melted lead. Murder was punished by the ancient Greeks with exile. (Plato, &c.) “At that time it was deemed unlawful to inflict a capital punishment upon any, who, however criminal, were still men.” (Lartant 2.) But as these crimes became more frequent, God enacts this law of retaliation, blood for blood, Genesis ix. 6. Ten paces from the place of execution, the criminal Hebrew had to confess his sin. (Maimonides) (Calmet)
Ver. 13. God. When a person was slain undesignedly, the Providence of God was to be adored in silence, as nothing happens without his permission. (Haydock) See Numbers xxv. 6.
Ver. 14. Altar, if he should flee thither for safety. No asylum was allowed to such murderers. Thus Joab was slain by Solomon, 3 Kings ii. 31. (Menochius)
Ver. 15. Striketh, even though death should not ensue. But some require a grevious wound, and that the son should be twice admonished, Deuteronomy xxi. 18. Parricide seemed a crime so shocking and unnatural, that neither Moses nor Solon made any express law against it.
Ver. 17. Curseth, or speaking injuriously. The Athenians put such in prison.
Ver. 19. Staff, as people in health do, or even as a convalescent. In the mean time the other person was confined, and subjected to the law of retaliation, if the sick man lost either limb or life, ver. 24. (Calmet)
Ver. 21. Money, which purchased the slave. Hence, as he will be punished in some degree, and it is not absolutely certain that the slave died of his wounds, his master shall not be put to death. “They are slaves, (says Seneca, ep. 47,) but they are our fellow-slaves.” We have one common origin, and one master over us all, Job xxxi. 13. (Haydock) — Many nations tolerated the murder of slaves by their masters. But this was contrary to reason and humanity, (Calmet) and condemned by many of the Roman laws. (Christen.)
Ver. 22. But live herself. So Josephus also reads, Antiquities iv. 8. But Philo and the Septuagint have, “of a child unformed;” and ver. 23, “But if the child be formed, (exeikonismenon, animated and organized) he shall give soul for soul;” as if all were referred to the child, which the Vulgate explains of the mother. To destroy the life of either was punished with death. “She who first taught the art of expelling the tender fœtus, deserved to perish by her own malice.” (Ovid) (Calmet) — The precise time when the soul begins to animate the body is so very uncertain, that, after conception, the person who should cause a miscarriage wilfully, would expose himself to incur the guilt of murder. Josephus, contra Apion ii., shews how the Jews abhorred such wickedness. The Romans punished it with death. (Haydock) — Homicidii festinatio est prohibere nasci. (Tertullian, apol.) Onkelos says, that “if the mother should not die of the stroke, the offender was to satisfy the husband by paying a fine, to be awarded by the husband, or by the judges: but in case the mother died, he should render life for life:” (Calmet) in which decision he agrees with the Vulgate. (Haydock) — The Hebrew is ambiguous, “If death ensue not.” (Calmet)
Ver. 24. Eye. “This law tended to restrain, not to encourage, fury and revenge.” (St. Augustine, contra Faust. xix. 25.) Some explain it, as if a sum of money could only be required, equivalent to the ransom of an eye, in case a person should be under a necessity of losing or of redeeming it. (Muis; Jonathan) — Retaliation was not left to the injured party’s discretion. The judge was to decide. Christ enjoins what is more perfect, ordering us to turn the left cheek, when we have received a blow on the right. The canon law inflicts the punishment of retaliation upon the calumniator. (Calmet)
Ver. 28. Stoned, that he may do no more harm, and that the owner may be punished at least by this loss. (Haydock) — Sentence was passed by the 23 judges. By the Roman law, the animal which struck a man was forfeited to him (Calmet); and its master had to make good all damages. ( Justinian iv. 9.)
Ver. 32. Bond-man, &c., of any of those uncircumcised nations, (Jonathan) whom it was lawful to put to death; and hence their life was esteemed of less value. (Haydock) — Sicles. Septuagint, “didrachmas.” This was the price of a slave, for which our Saviour was sold: that of a free-man was double. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Laws relating to justice.
1 These are the judgments which thou shalt set before them.
2 *If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years shall he serve thee; in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
3 With what raiment he came in, with the like let him go out: if having a wife, his wife also shall go out with him.
4 But if his master gave him a wife, and she hath borne sons and daughters; the woman and her children shall be her master’s: but he himself shall go out with his raiment.
5 And if the servant shall say: I love my master and my wife and children, I will not go out free:
6 His master shall bring him to the gods, and he shall be set to the door and the posts, and he shall bore his ear through with an awl: and he shall be his servant for ever.
7 If any man sell his daughter to be a servant, she shall not go out as bond-women are wont to go out.
8 If she displease the eyes of her master to whom she was delivered, he shall let her go: but he shall have no power to sell her to a foreign nation, if he despise her.
9 But if he have betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
10 And if he take another wife for him, he shall provide her a marriage, and raiment, neither shall he refuse the price of her chastity.
11 If he do not these three things, she shall go out free without money.
12 *He that striketh a man with a will to kill him, shall be put to death.
13 But he that did not lie in wait for him, but God delivered him into his hands: *I will appoint thee a place to which he must flee.
14 If a man kill his neighbour on set purpose, and by lying in wait for him: thou shalt take him away from my altar that he may die.
15 He that striketh his father or mother, shall be put to death.
16 He that shall steal a man, and sell him, being convicted of the guilt, shall be put to death.
17 *He that curseth his father or mother, shall die the death.
18 If men quarrel, and the one strike his neighbour 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, he that struck him shall be quit, yet so that he make restitution for his work, and for his expenses upon the physicians.
20 He that striketh his bond-man or bond-woman, with a rod, and they die under his hands, shall be guilty of the crime.
21 But if the party remain alive a day or two, he shall not be subject to the punishment, because it is his money.
22 If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award.
23 But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life,
24 *Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 If any man strike the eye of his man-servant or maid-servant, and leave them but one eye, he shall let them go free for the eye which he put out.
27 Also if he strike out a tooth of his man-servant or maid-servant, he shall in like manner make them free.
28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, and they die, he shall be stoned: and his flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall be quit.
29 But if the ox was wont to push with his horn yesterday, and the day before, and they warned his master, and he did not shut him up, and he shall kill a man or a woman: then the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.
30 And if they set a price upon him, he shall give for his life whatsoever is laid upon him.
31 If he have gored a son, or a daughter, he shall fall under the like sentence.
32 If he assault a bond-man or a bond-woman, he shall give thirty sicles of silver to their master, and the ox shall be stoned.
33 If a man open a pit, and dig one, and cover it not, and an ox or an ass fall into it,
34 The owner of the pit shall pay the price of the beasts: and that which is dead shall be his own.
35 If one man’s ox gore another man’s ox, and he die: they shall sell the live ox, and shall divide the price, and the carcass of that which died they shall part between them:
36 But if he knew that his ox was wont to push yesterday, and the day before, and his master did not keep him in; he shall pay ox for ox, and shall take the whole carcass.
2: Deuteronomy xv. 12.; Jeremias xxxiv. 14.
12: Leviticus xxiv. 17.
13: Deuteronomy xix. 2.
17: Leviticus xx. 9.; Proverbs xx. 20.; Matthew xv. 4.; Mark vii. 10.
24: Leviticus. xxiv. 20.; Deuteronomy xix. 21.; Matthew v. 38.