15:12 If your fellow Hebrew 1 – whether male or female 2 – is sold to you and serves you for six years, then in the seventh year you must let that servant 3 go free. 4 15:13 If you set them free, you must not send them away empty-handed. 15:14 You must supply them generously 5 from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress – as the Lord your God has blessed you, you must give to them. 15:15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore, I am commanding you to do this thing today. 15:16 However, if the servant 6 says to you, “I do not want to leave 7 you,” because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, 15:17 you shall take an awl and pierce a hole through his ear to the door. 8 Then he will become your servant permanently (this applies to your female servant as well). 15:18 You should not consider it difficult to let him go free, for he will have served you for six years, twice 9 the time of a hired worker; the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.
1 sn Elsewhere in the OT, the Israelites are called “Hebrews” (עִבְרִי, ’ivriy) by outsiders, rarely by themselves (cf. Gen 14:13; 39:14, 17; 41:12; Exod 1:15, 16, 19; 2:6, 7, 11, 13; 1 Sam 4:6; Jonah 1:9). Thus, here and in the parallel passage in Exod 21:2-6 the term עִבְרִי may designate non-Israelites, specifically a people well-known throughout the ancient Near East as ’apiru or habiru. They lived a rather vagabond lifestyle, frequently hiring themselves out as laborers or mercenary soldiers. While accounting nicely for the surprising use of the term here in an Israelite law code, the suggestion has against it the unlikelihood that a set of laws would address such a marginal people so specifically (as opposed to simply calling them aliens or the like). More likely עִבְרִי is chosen as a term to remind Israel that when they were “Hebrews,” that is, when they were in Egypt, they were slaves. Now that they are free they must not keep their fellow Israelites in economic bondage. See v. 15.
2 tn Heb “your brother, a Hebrew (male) or Hebrew (female).”
3 tn Heb “him.” The singular pronoun occurs throughout the passage.
4 tn The Hebrew text includes “from you.”
5 tn The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates with “generously.”
7 tn Heb “go out from.” The imperfect verbal form indicates the desire of the subject here.
8 sn When the bondslave’s ear was drilled through to the door, the door in question was that of the master’s house. In effect, the bondslave is declaring his undying and lifelong loyalty to his creditor. The scar (or even hole) in the earlobe would testify to the community that the slave had surrendered independence and personal rights. This may be what Paul had in mind when he said “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17).
9 tn The Hebrew term מִשְׁנֶה (mishneh, “twice”) could mean “equivalent to” (cf. NRSV) or, more likely, “double” (cf. NAB, NIV, NLT). The idea is that a hired worker would put in only so many hours per day whereas a bondslave was available around the clock.