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Exodus 21

Exodus 21:12-14, 18-32

12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.

12. Qui percusserit virum ad mortem, morte moriatur.

13. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.

13. At qui non insidiatus fuerit ei, sed tradiderit illum Deus in manus ejus, tunc dabo locum ad quem fugiet.

14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

14. Sin vero insultando se extulerit quispiam in proximum suum, ut occidat eum malitiose, ab altari meo tolles eum ut moriatur.

18. And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed;

18. Quod si rixati fuerint aliqui, et percusserit alter proximum suum lapide vel pugno, nec mortuus fuerit, sed jacuerit in lecto:

19. If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

19. Si surrexerit, et ambulaverit foris super baculum suum, tunc innocens erit qui percussit, tantum cessationem ejus pensabit: et medendo medicandum curabit

20. And if a man smite his servant or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

20. Quum percusserit quispiam servum suum vel ancillam suam baculo, et mortuus fuerit sub manu ejus, vindicando vindicabitur.

21. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

21. Veruntamen si per diem vel duos dies steterit, non vindicabitur, quia pecunia ejus est.

22. If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart. from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine

22. Quum autem rixati fuerint viri, et percusserint mulierem praegnantem ut egrediatur foetus ejus, nec tamen sequatur mors, puniendo punietur quemadmodum imposuerit ei maritus mulieris, et solvet apud judices.

23. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

23. Quod si mors fuerit, tunc dabis animam pro anima,

24. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

24. Oculum pro oculo, dentem pro dente, manum pro manu, pedem pro pede,

25. Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

25. Adustionem pro adustione, vulnus pro vulnere, livorem pro livore.

26. And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake.

26. Quum autem percusserit quispiam oculum servi sui, vel oculum ancillae suae, et corruperit eum, liberum dimittet eum pro oculo ejus.

27. And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maid-servant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.

27. Quod si dentem servi sui, vel dentem ancillae suae excusserit: liberum dimittet eum pro dente ejus.

28. If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

28. Si cornu petierit bos virum aut mulierem ut moriatur, lapidando lapidabitur bos, neque comedetur caro ejus: dominus autem bovis erit innocens.

29. But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

29. Quod si bos cornupeta fuerit ab heri et nudiustertius, et contestatio facta fuerit domino ejus, nec custodierit eum, occidendo autem occiderit virum vel mulierem, bos lapidabitur, et dominus quoque ejus morietur.

30. If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give, for the ransom of his life, whatsoever is laid upon him.

30. Si pretium redemptionis impositum fuerit ei, tunc dabit redemptionem animae suae quantum impositum fuerit ei.

31. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.

31. Sive filium cornu petierit, sive filiam, secundum judicium hoc fiet ei.

32. If the ox shall push a manservant, or maid-servant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall he stoned.

32. Si servum bos cornu petierit, vel ancillam, argenti triginta siclos dabit domino ejus, et bos the lapidabitur.


12. He that smiteth a man, so that he die. This passage, as I have said, more clearly explains the details, and first makes a distinction between voluntary and accidental homicide; for, if a stone or an axe (Deuteronomy 19:5.) may have slipped from a man unintentionally, and struck anybody, He would not have it accounted a capital crime. And for this purpose the cities of refuge were given, of which brief mention is here made, and whose rights will be presently more fully spoken of, and where also the mode of distinguishing between design and ignorance will be laid down. But it must be remarked, that Moses declares that accidental homicide, as it is commonly called, does not happen by chance or accident, but according to the will of God, as if He himself led out the person, who is killed, to death. By whatever kind of death, therefore, men are taken away, it is certain that we live or die only at His pleasure; and surely, if not even a sparrow can fall to the ground except by His will, (Matthew 10:29,) it would be very absurd that men created in His image should be abandoned to the blind impulses of fortune. Wherefore it must be concluded, as Scripture elsewhere teaches, that the term of each man’s life is appointed, 2929     No reference is here given, but it is probably to Job 14:5, — “Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” with which another passage corresponds,

“Thou turnest man to destruction, and savest,
Return, ye children of men.” (Psalm 90:3.)

It is true, indeed, that whatever has no apparent cause or necessity seems to us to be fortuitous; and thus, whatever, according to nature, might happen otherwise we call accidents, (contingentia;) yet in the meantime it must be remembered, that what might else incline either way is governed by God’s secret counsel, so that nothing is done without His arrangement and decree. In this way we do not suppose a fate 3030     “Une necessite fatale.” — Fr. such as the Stoics invented; for it is a different tiling to say that things which of themselves incline to various and doubtful events, are directed by the hand of God whithersoever He will, and to say that necessity governs them in accordance with the perpetual complication of causes, 3131     “Une necessite confuse selon des causes entortillees;” a confused necessity according to complicated causes. — Fr. and that this happens with God’s connivance; nay, nothing can be more opposite than that God should be drawn and carried away by a fatal motive power, or that He tempers all things as He sees fit.

There is no reason to follow the Jews here in philosophizing more deeply, that none are delivered to death but those in whom God finds cause for it. It is indeed certain, that with God there always exists the best reason for His acts; but it is wrong to elicit from thence that those who by tits guidance meet with death must be guilty of some offense. Nor even if God should take away an innocent man, would it bc lawful to murmur against Him; as if His justice were naught, because it is concealed from us, and indeed incomprehensible.

14. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor. He expresses the same thing in different ways; for although there is a wide difference between slaying a man presumptuously 3232     “Superbire, et insidiari longe differunt.” — Lat. “Ruer sup quelqu’un par fierte et malice, et laguetter.” — Fr. and with guile, yet Moses applies them both to a willful murder; for by guile he means a wicked disposition to injure, and by the word presumptuous he designates a violent assault, when a man in hate wantonly falls upon another. And surely truculence, and violence, and all cruelty is presumptuous, (superba;) for unless a man despised his brother, he would not assail him as an enemy.

Lest by overlooking murders they should defile the land, God commands that murderers should be torn away even from His altar, whereby He signifies that they are as unworthy of divine as of human aid. For, although the sanctity of the altar might afford an asylum for the protection of those who had transgressed through imprudence, or. error, yet it would have been wrong that impunity for crimes should have been derived from hence; because the sanctuary would have been thus converted into a den of thieves, and religion would have been subjected to gross profanation. Wherefore, although criminals embracing the altar should implore God’s aid, the Law commands them to be torn away from thence to punishment, because it would have been disgraceful to abuse God’s sacred name as affording license for sin. Hence it appears how great was the folly of old in supposing that churches were honored when they were made asylums for the encouragement of evil deeds. This, indeed, was derived from the ordinary custom of the heathen; but it was a foolish imitation thus to mix up God with idols in a spurious worship; although in this respect the Gentiles served their idols more purely and virtuously than the Christians 3333     “Ceux qui se glorifioyent du titre de Chrestiente;“ those who prided themselves in the name of Christians. — Fr. served God; for they refused the right of asylum to the sacrilegious and impure, so that the temple of the Samothracians was no secure hiding-place even to Perseus, 3434     See Livy, lib. 45:5. The words quoted are from an address of a certain L. Atilius to the popular assembly of Samothracia. the king of Macedon. Livy records the following words, as having been spoken by a heathen, — “Since, at the commencement of all our sacrifices, those whose hands are not pure are enjoined to retire, will ye suffer your sanctuaries to be contaminated by the blood-stained person of a robber?” Let us, then, be ashamed of polluting our temples under the pretext of reverence for them.

18. And if men strive together. The punishment here enacted for wounds and blows is so slight, that it might have served as a provocative to the mischievousness of the ill-disposed. Since the Law of the Twelve Tables only inflicted a fine of twenty-five asses upon a man who had beaten another unjustly, there was a certain Lucius Veratius, 3535     Aul. Gellius. Noct. Attic., 20:1. who, in mere wanton sport, did not hesitate to box the ears of any one he met, and then to command one of his slaves to pay the amount of the fine, so that it was at length thought better that the law should fall into desuetude, than to suffer it to be thus ridiculously abused. The same thing might easily happen among the Jews, since a person, who had so beaten his neighbor as that he should lie in bed, only had to pay what the unhappy man had expended on his cure. For who would not willingly enjoy the pleasure of knocking down his enemies on this condition, of providing for their subsistence whilst they lay in bed? But we must remember the declaration of Christ, that on account of the perverse nature of the Jews, many things were allowed them “because of the hardness of their hearts,” (Matthew 19:8, and Mark 10:5,) amongst which this indulgent provision is to be reckoned. Still God seems to have dealt more leniently with the man who had struck the blow, that He might also chastise the other, who, though of inferior strength, had rashly engaged in the conflict; for both were to be alike punished for the violence unjustly inflicted. Equal lenity seems, therefore, to have been shown to both, since compensation is only made to the person struck for his private loss. 3636     “Ainsi il semble bien que tous deux ont este supportez quant au delict public, quand il n’y a que le dommage particulier qui soit recompense;” thus it plainly appears that both were set free, as regarded the public offense, since it was only the private injury for which compensation was made. — Fr. But the fact, that God did not carry out the political laws to their perfection, shows that by this leniency He wished to reprove the people’s perverseness, which could not even bear to obey so mild a law. Whenever, therefore, God seems to pardon too easily: and with too much clemency, let us recollect that He designedly deviated from the more perfect rule, because He, had to do with an intractable people.

20. And if a man smite his servant. Although in civil matters there was a wide distinction between slaves and free-men, still, that God may show how dear and precious men’s lives are to Him, He has no respect to persons with regard to murder; but avenges the death of a slave and a free-man in the same way, if he should die immediately of his wound. Indeed, it was a proof of gross barbarism amongst the Romans and other nations, to give to masters the power of life and death; for men are bound together by a more sacred tie, than that it should be permitted to a master to kill with impunity his wretched slave; nor are some men so set over others, as that they should exercise tyranny, or robbery, neither does reason permit that any private individual should usurp to himself the power of the sword. But, although unjust cruelty was not prohibited, as it should have been, by the laws of Rome, yet they 3737     “Les gens prudens;” their wise men. — Fr. confessed that slaves should be used like hired servants. The exception, which immediately follows, does not seem very consistent, for, if the slave should die after some time, the penalty of murder is remitted; whereas it would often be preferable to die at once of a single wound, than to perish by a lingering illness; and it might happen that the slave should be so bruised and maimed by blows, as to die some time afterwards. In this ease, the cruelty of the master would be surely greater than if he had committed the murder under the impulse of burning anger: wherefore the enactment appears to be a very unjust one. But it must be remarked, that the murder of those slaves, who had been obliged to take to their bed from their wounds, was not unpunished. Whence we gather, that it was not allowable for cruel and truculent masters to wound their slaves severely; and this is what the words expressly imply, for the smiter is only exempted from punishment when he shall have so restrained himself as that the marks of his cruelty should not appear. For that the slaves should “stand for one or two days,” 3838     A. V., “continue for a day or two.” Ainsworth, in loco: “Heb., stand, which the Greek translateth live.” is equivalent to saying, that they were perfect and sound in all their members; but if a wound had been inflicted, or there was any mutilation, the smiter was guilty of murder. None, therefore, is absolved but he who only meant to chastise his slave; and where no injury appears, it is probable that there was no intention to kill him. Whilst, then, this law prohibits bloodthirsty assaults, it by no means gives greater license to murder. The reason, which is added, must be restricted to the private loss; because a murderer would never be absolved on the pretext that he had purchased his slave with money, since the life of a man cannot be so estimated.

22. If men strive, and hurt a woman. This passage at first sight is ambiguous, for if the word death 3939     It will be seen that the word אסון in the text is translated by C., mors; in A V., mischief. “The Chaldee expounds it, (says Ainsworth,) no death; but it implieth less also than death, as the words following manifest. The Greek refers it to the child; translating, if it be not figured, (ἐξεικονισμένον,) i e., have not the shape and proportion.” only applies to the pregnant woman, it would not have been a capital crime to put an end to the foetus, which would be a great absurdity; for the foetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, (homo,) and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light. On these grounds I am led to conclude, without hesitation, that the words, “if death should follow,” must be applied to the foetus as well as to the mother. Besides, it would be by no means reasonable that a father should sell for a set sum the life of his son or daughter. Wherefore this, in my opinion, is the meaning of the law, that it would be a crime punishable with death, not only when the mother died from the effects of the abortion, but also if the infant should be killed; whether it should die from the wound abortively, or soon after its birth. But, since it could not fail but that premature confinement would weaken both the mother and her offspring, the husband is allowed to demand before the judges a money-payment, at their discretion, in compensation for his loss; for although God’s command is only that the money should be paid before the judges, 4040     The word determine is added by our translators. Ainsworth’s literal rendering is, “and he shall give by the judges.” still He thus appoints them to settle the amount as arbitrators, if the husband should chance to be too exorbitant. We plainly perceive, by the repetition of the lex talionis, that a just proportion is to be observed, and that the amount of punishment is to be equally regulated, whether as to a tooth, or an eye, or life itself, so that the compensation should correspond with the injury done; and therefore (what is first said of the life 4141     Added from Fr. ) is correctly applied also to the several parts, so that he who has plucked out his brother’s eye, or cut off his hand, or broken his leg, should lose his own eye, or hand, or leg. In fine, for the purpose of preventing all violence, a compensation is to be paid in proportion to the injury. But although God commands punishment to be inflicted on the guilty, still, if a man be injured, he ought not to seek for vengeance; for God does not contradict Himself, who so often exhorts His children not only to endure injuries patiently, but even to overcome evil with good. The murderer is to be punished, or he who has maimed a member of his brother; but it is not therefore lawful, if you have unjustly suffered violence, to indulge in wrath or hatred, so as to render evil for evil. Since this error was rife among the Jews, our Lord refutes it, and teaches that the punishment, which is publicly awarded to the wrong-doer, is not subservient to every man’s private passion, so that he who is offended should make haste to retaliate. (Matthew 5:38.) Nor indeed are these words addressed to them in order to inflame or excite the desire of vengeance, but all violence is restrained by the fear of punishment.

26. And if a man smite the eye. Since, in the sight of God, there is neither slave nor free-man, it is clear that he sins as greatly who smites a slave, as if he had struck a free-man. Still, a distinction is made as regards the civil law and human justice, especially if any one have inflicted a wound on his own slave. For here a tooth for a tooth, or an eye for an eye, is not required, but the superiority, which he has improperly abused, is taken from the master; and in compensation for the injury, liberty, which is almost half their life, is given to the male or female slave. Thus, in consideration that it was his slave, t. he master is treated more leniently, when the severity of the punishment is thus mitigated; whilst, in compensation for his dislocation or fracture, the slave receives what is more advantageous to him, viz., that, being set free, he should not be exposed to another’s cruelty.

28. If an ox gore a man. Moses now descends even to the brute animals, so that, if they injured any one, by their punishment men may be more and more deterred from shedding blood. If, therefore, a goring ox have killed a man, he commands that it should be stoned, and that its carcass should be thrown away as abominable. Though censorious persons mock at this law, as if it were childish to punish a wretched animal, in which there is no criminality, their insolence requires but a brief refutation. For, since oxen were created for man’s good, so we need not wonder that their death, as well as their life, should be made to contribute to the public advantage. If, then, an ox that had killed a, man should be kept, men would undoubtedly grow hardened in cruelty by beholding it; and to eat its flesh, would be almost the same thing as eating the flesh of man. The cruelty of men, therefore, could not better be restrained, so that they should hold the murder of each other in abhorrence, than by thus avenging a man’s death. In the second place, God proceeds further, condemning the master of the ox himself to death, if he had been previously admonished to beware; for such a warning takes away the pretext of ignorance; nor should the punishment seem to be severe for gross neglect, because to give free outlet to dangerous beasts is equivalent to compassing men’s death. He who knowingly and willfully exposes the life of his brother to peril, is justly accounted his murderer. The exception which is finally added, at first sight contains a kind of contradiction, because it was forbidden by the Law to compound with a murderer for money. But inasmuch as a delinquency (delictum) differs from a crime, although it was unlawful to covenant with murderers for the remission of their punishment, still the judges were permitted on their hearing of the case, to mitigate it, if a man were excused by his unconsciousness or inadvertency. This, then, is a special exception, which permits the judges to distinguish between the nature of offenses; viz., that, if they discovered a man not to be worthy of death, they should still punish his negligence by a pecuniary fine.

31. Whether he have gored a son. I know not whether they are correct who refer this to age, as if any young persons of either sex were meant by the words son and daughter; but I do not reject this opinion. Still Moses seems to extend the law, as if, in case a butting ox had killed its owner’s son, the father himself should be subject to the punishment, for not having taken more care of his children. It might, however, be doubted, whether it would be just to condemn to death a father already weighed down by the loss of his child; still it affords a useful example, that parents should not escape with impunity, if their sons or daughters should die by their fault.

32. If the ox shall push a man-servant. It is not unreasonable that the punishment for the death of a slave should now be set at less than for that of a free-man. As regarded the crime of voluntary murder, there was no distinction between slaves and masters; but in a case of mischance (delicto) the severity might in some degree be mitigated; especially when the stoning of the ox sufficiently availed for bringing murder into detestation. God, therefore, showed admirable moderation in condemning the negligence of the master to be punished by the payment of thirty shekels; whilst He proposed the ox as an example, and reminded all by its death, how very precious in His sight is human blood.

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