21:7 “If a man sells his daughter 1 as a female servant, 2 she will not go out as the male servants do. 21:8 If she does not please 3 her master, who has designated her 4 for himself, then he must let her be redeemed. 5 He has no right 6 to sell her to a foreign nation, because he has dealt deceitfully 7 with her. 21:9 If he designated her for his son, then he will deal with her according to the customary rights 8 of daughters. 21:10 If he takes another wife, 9 he must not diminish the first one’s food, 10 her clothing, or her marital rights. 11 21:11 If he does not provide her with these three things, then she will go out free, without paying money. 12
1 sn This paragraph is troubling to modern readers, but given the way that marriages were contracted and the way people lived in the ancient world, it was a good provision for people who might want to find a better life for their daughter. On the subject in general for this chapter, see W. M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women, 31-64.
2 tn The word אָמָה (’amah) refers to a female servant who would eventually become a concubine or wife; the sale price included the amount for the service as well as the bride price (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 621). The arrangement recognized her honor as an Israelite woman, one who could be a wife, even though she entered the household in service. The marriage was not automatic, as the conditions show, but her treatment was safeguarded come what may. The law was a way, then, for a poor man to provide a better life for a daughter.
3 tn Heb “and if unpleasant (רָעָה, ra’ah) in the eyes of her master.”
4 tn The verb יָעַד (ya’ad) does not mean “betroth, espouse” as some of the earlier translations had it, but “to designate.” When he bought the girl, he designated her for himself, giving her and her family certain expectations.
5 tn The verb is a Hiphil perfect with vav (ו) consecutive from פָדָה (padah, “to redeem”). Here in the apodosis the form is equivalent to an imperfect: “let someone redeem her” – perhaps her father if he can, or another. U. Cassuto says it can also mean she can redeem herself and dissolve the relationship (Exodus, 268).
6 tn Heb “he has no authority/power,” for the verb means “rule, have dominion.”
7 sn The deceit is in not making her his wife or concubine as the arrangement had stipulated.
8 tn Or “after the manner of” (KJV, ASV); NRSV “shall deal with her as with a daughter.”
9 tn “wife” has been supplied.
10 tn The translation of “food” does not quite do justice to the Hebrew word. It is “flesh.” The issue here is that the family she was to marry into is wealthy, they ate meat. She was not just to be given the basic food the ordinary people ate, but the fine foods that this family ate.
11 sn See S. Paul, “Exodus 21:10, A Threefold Maintenance Clause,” JNES 28 (1969): 48-53. Paul suggests that the third element listed is not marital rights but ointments since Sumerian and Akkadian texts list food, clothing, and oil as the necessities of life. The translation of “marital rights” is far from certain, since the word occurs only here. The point is that the woman was to be cared for with all that was required for a woman in that situation.
12 sn The lessons of slavery and service are designed to bring justice to existing customs in antiquity. The message is: Those in slavery for one reason or another should have the hope of freedom and the choice of service (vv. 2-6). For the rulings on the daughter, the message could be: Women, who were often at the mercy of their husbands or masters, must not be trapped in an unfortunate situation, but be treated well by their masters or husbands (vv. 7-11). God is preventing people who have power over others from abusing it.