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Exodus 21:12-27

Context
Personal Injuries

21:12 1 “Whoever strikes someone 2  so that he dies 3  must surely be put to death. 4  21:13 But if he does not do it with premeditation, 5  but it happens by accident, 6  then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee. 21:14 But if a man willfully attacks his neighbor to kill him cunningly, 7  you will take him even from my altar that he may die.

21:15 “Whoever strikes 8  his father or his mother must surely be put to death.

21:16 “Whoever kidnaps someone 9  and sells him, 10  or is caught still holding him, 11  must surely be put to death.

21:17 “Whoever treats his father or his mother disgracefully 12  must surely be put to death.

21:18 “If men fight, and one strikes his neighbor with a stone or with his fist and he does not die, but must remain in bed, 13  21:19 and then 14  if he gets up and walks about 15  outside on his staff, then the one who struck him is innocent, except he must pay 16  for the injured person’s 17  loss of time 18  and see to it that he is fully healed.

21:20 “If a man strikes his male servant or his female servant with a staff so that he or she 19  dies as a result of the blow, 20  he will surely be punished. 21  21:21 However, if the injured servant 22  survives one or two days, the owner 23  will not be punished, for he has suffered the loss. 24 

21:22 “If men fight and hit a pregnant woman and her child is born prematurely, 25  but there is no serious injury, he will surely be punished in accordance with what the woman’s husband demands of him, and he will pay what the court decides. 26  21:23 But if there is serious injury, then you will give a life for a life, 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 21:25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. 27 

21:26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male servant or his female servant so that he destroys it, 28  he will let the servant 29  go free 30  as compensation for the eye. 21:27 If he knocks out the tooth of his male servant or his female servant, he will let the servant 31  go free as compensation for the tooth.

1 sn The underlying point of this section remains vital today: The people of God must treat all human life as sacred.

2 tn The construction uses a Hiphil participle in construct with the noun for “man” (or person as is understood in a law for the nation): “the one striking [of] a man.” This is a casus pendens (independent nominative absolute); it indicates the condition or action that involves further consequence (GKC 361 §116.w).

3 tn The Hebrew word וָמֵת (vamet) is a Qal perfect with vav consecutive; it means “and he dies” and not “and killed him” (which require another stem). Gesenius notes that this form after a participle is the equivalent of a sentence representing a contingent action (GKC 333 §112.n). The word shows the result of the action in the opening participle. It is therefore a case of murder or manslaughter.

4 sn See A. Phillips, “Another Look at Murder,” JJS 28 (1977): 105-26.

5 tn Heb “if he does not lie in wait” (NASB similar).

6 tn Heb “and God brought into his hand.” The death is unintended, its circumstances outside human control.

7 tn The word עָרְמָה (’ormah) is problematic. It could mean with prior intent, which would be connected with the word in Prov 8:5, 12 which means “understanding” (or “prudence” – fully aware of the way things are). It could be connected also to an Arabic word for “enemy” which would indicate this was done with malice or evil intentions (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 270). The use here seems parallel to the one in Josh 9:4, an instance involving intentionality and clever deception.

8 sn This is the same construction that was used in v. 12, but here there is no mention of the parents’ death. This attack, then, does not lead to their death – if he killed one of them then v. 12 would be the law. S. R. Driver says that the severity of the penalty was in accord with the high view of parents (Exodus, 216).

9 tn Heb “a stealer of a man,” thus “anyone stealing a man.”

10 sn The implication is that it would be an Israelite citizen who was kidnapped and sold to a foreign tribe or country (like Joseph). There was always a market for slaves. The crime would be in forcibly taking the individual away from his home and religion and putting him into bondage or death.

11 tn Literally “and he is found in his hand” (KJV and ASV both similar), being not yet sold.

12 tn The form is a Piel participle from קָלַל (qalal), meaning in Qal “be light,” in Piel “treat lightly, curse, revile, declare contemptible, treat shamefully.” (See its use in Lev 19:14; Josh 24:9; Judg 9:26-28; 1 Sam 3:13; 17:43; 2 Sam 16:5-13; Prov 30:10-11; Eccl 7:21-22; 10:20.) It is opposite of “honor” (כָּבֵד, kaved; Qal “be heavy”; Piel “honor,” as in 20:12) and of “bless.” This verse then could refer to any act contrary to the commandment to honor the parents. B. Jacob (Exodus, 640) cites parallels in Sumerian where people were severely punished for publicly disowning their parents. “21:15, 17 taken together evoke the picture of parents who, physically and verbally, are forcibly turned out of the house (cf. Prov. 19:26)” (C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:148).

13 tn Heb “falls to bed.”

14 tn “and then” has been supplied.

15 tn The verb is a Hitpael perfect with vav (ו) consecutive; it follows the sequence of the imperfect before it – “if he gets up and walks about.” This is proof of recovery.

16 tn The imperfect tense carries a nuance of obligatory imperfect because this is binding on the one who hit him.

17 tn Heb “his”; the referent (the injured person) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

18 tn The word appears to be the infinitive from the verb “to sit” with a meaning of “his sitting down”; some suggest it is from the verb “to rest” with a meaning “cease.” In either case the point in the context must mean compensation is due for the time he was down.

19 tn Heb “so that he”; the words “or she” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

20 tn Heb “under his hand.”

21 tn Heb “will be avenged” (how is not specified).

22 tn Heb “if he”; the referent (the servant struck and injured in the previous verse) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

23 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the owner of the injured servant) has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

24 tn This last clause is a free paraphrase of the Hebrew, “for he is his money” (so KJV, ASV); NASB “his property.” It seems that if the slave survives a couple of days, it is probable that the master was punishing him and not intending to kill him. If he then dies, there is no penalty other than that the owner loses the slave who is his property – he suffers the loss.

25 tn This line has occasioned a good deal of discussion. It may indicate that the child was killed, as in a miscarriage; or it may mean that there was a premature birth. The latter view is taken here because of the way the whole section is written: (1) “her children come out” reflects a birth and not the loss of children, (2) there is no serious damage, and (3) payment is to be set for any remuneration. The word אָסוֹן (’ason) is translated “serious damage.” The word was taken in Mekilta to mean “death.” U. Cassuto says the point of the phrase is that neither the woman or the children that are born die (Exodus, 275). But see among the literature on this: M. G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” JETS 20 (1977): 193-201; W. House, “Miscarriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25,” WTJ 41 (1978): 108-23; S. E. Loewenstamm, “Exodus XXI 22-25,” VT 27 (1977): 352-60.

26 tn The word בִּפְלִלִים (biflilim) means “with arbitrators.” The point then seems to be that the amount of remuneration for damages that was fixed by the husband had to be approved by the courts. S. R. Driver mentions an alternative to this unusual reading presented by Budde, reading בנפלים as “untimely birth” (Exodus, 219). See also E. A. Speiser, “The Stem PLL in Hebrew,” JBL 82 (1963): 301-6.

27 sn The text now introduces the Lex Talionis with cases that were not likely to have applied to the situation of the pregnant woman. See K. Luke, “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth,” Indian Theological Studies 16 (1979): 326-43.

28 tn The form וְשִׁחֲתָהּ (vÿshikhatah) is the Piel perfect with the vav (ל) consecutive, rendered “and destroys it.” The verb is a strong one, meaning “to ruin, completely destroy.”

29 tn Heb “him”; the referent (the male or female servant) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

30 sn Interestingly, the verb used here for “let him go” is the same verb throughout the first part of the book for “release” of the Israelites from slavery. Here, an Israelite will have to release the injured slave.

31 tn Heb “him”; the referent (the male or female servant) has been specified in the translation for clarity.



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