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The Law concerning Slaves


These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:

2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.

7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. 9If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.

The Law concerning Violence

12 Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. 13If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee. 14But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.

15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.

16 Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.

17 Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.

18 When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery.

20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.

Laws concerning Property

28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

33 If someone leaves a pit open, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal.

35 If someone’s ox hurts the ox of another, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the price of it; and the dead animal they shall also divide. 36But if it was known that the ox was accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not restrained it, the owner shall restore ox for ox, but keep the dead animal.

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.

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