Hosea Chapter 8
Verses 1-2: Hosea prophesied that when Assyria came like an “eagle” to attack Israel, the people would say, “My God, we know thee,” despite having so divided their loyalties among other gods (4:1, 6).
Hosea 8:1 “[Set] the trumpet to thy mouth. [He shall come] as an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law.”
“As an eagle”: Literally a “vulture,” Assyria was ready to descend quickly upon Israel to devour her (Deut. 28:49).
“Trespassed against my law” (see note on 6:7).
The trumpet, in this case, would be the trumpet blowing to tell of impending doom. It would proclaim war in the land. It is Hosea who is to blow the trumpet to proclaim punishment upon these people. This is frightening to our generation, because the same apostasy, that was going on then, prevails in our society today. The people were unfaithful to God and His teachings.
Even though they had been separated out as God’s people and were the keepers of His law, they left God and started worshipping demon spirits. They committed spiritual adultery with their worship of false gods. The eagle is a mighty bird that strikes swiftly.
Hosea 8:2 “Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee.”
“We know thee”: Israel’s syncretistic worship wherein she practiced idolatry while crying out to God.
They should have known Him, because they were entrusted with His law. They should have also known, that He would not tolerate the worship of false gods. They have brought this upon themselves through their unfaithfulness. Now, they cry out to God, as if He should help them. Their flimsy excuse for Him helping them is that they knew Him. I would prefer to say, they knew of Him. It reminds me very much of the following.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Hosea 8:3 “Israel hath cast off [the thing that is] good: the enemy shall pursue him.”
Jehovah’s reply to Israel’s hollow repentance. The word “cast off” means a scornful loathing of what is rotting or obscene. “The thing that is good” is the name of God, which is the salvation of Israel (Aben Ezra).
“The enemy shall pursue him”: Who is before compared to an eagle, which flies swiftly, and pursues its prey with eagerness and fierceness. Shalmaneser is meant, who should invade the land, come up to Samaria, besiege and take it. Nothing should stop him, nor should Israel escape from him, since they had cast off the Lord, and everything that was good. The Targum is, “the house of Israel has erred from my worship, for the sake of which I brought good things upon them; henceforward the enemy shall pursue them”.
They rejected the One true God and all the goodness that goes with Him. Now God has rejected them.
Verses 4-7: “Thy calf, O Samaria:” The heart of the idolatrous worship was Samaria, and the specific form was that of a calf.
“They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind:” They have sown the wind (Hebrew “ruach”), but will reap a hurricane (Hebrew “supah”). They will be swept away in the judgment of God, and any benefits that they desired would fall to the hands of the strangers to whom God would deliver them.
Verses 4-6: “The calf of Samaria” (Israel’s idols), would be “broken to pieces” for the people’s failure to trust and worship God alone. Even in their choice of “kings”, they did not acknowledge God.
Hosea 8:4 “They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew [it] not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.”
God Himself foretold to Jeroboam by Ahijah the prophet, that He would “rend the kingdom out of the hands of Solomon, and give ten tribes” to him, “and” would “take” him, “and” he “should reign according to all that” his soul desired and” should “be king over Israel” (1 Kings 11:31; 1 Kings 11:37). And after the ten tribes had made Jeroboam king, God said by Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam and the two tribes, “Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel; return every man to his house, for this thing is from Me” (1 Kings 12:22-24).
“Not by me”: Not with My sanction (1 Kings 11:31; 12:20). Israel set up Jeroboam and his successors, whereas God had appointed the house of David as the rightful kings of the whole nation.
And I knew it not”: He that will not approve any one evil, when his omniscience discerns all, is pleased to say he knew not what he did not approve.
“They made them idols”: Heathen like, they have made them gods, and set up idolatry, so have perverted all in church and state settled by me.
“That they may be cut off”: As if they were resolved to cut themselves off from being a people. By this they thought to establish themselves, but it will be quite contrary, these sins will be their ruin.
Israel was to be under the direction of God in their civil matters, as well as their religious matters. They have rebelled against God and done what was right in their own sight. They have even used the silver and gold, that God had blessed them with, to make false gods (idols), with. The worship of false gods is what has cut them off from God. They have been an unfaithful wife to God.
Hosea 8:5 “Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast [thee] off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long [will it be] ere they attain to innocency?”
Calf … hath cast thee off”: Calf worship was the national religion of the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:25-33; Exodus Chapter 32).
This is speaking of the calf they set up in the temple as a symbol of God. This is just plainly saying that their worship of idols had gotten them cut off from God. They must repent and turn back to God.
Hosea 8:6 “For from Israel [was] it also: the workman made it; therefore it [is] not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces.”
“From Israel was it”: That is, the calf originated with them, not from Me. “It also,” as well as their “kings set up” by them, “but not by Me” (Hosea 8:4).
“The workman”: The founder, silversmith, or goldsmith, “made it”, and fashioned the calf.
“Therefore it is not God”: You are drunken fools to think it is a god: if the making it will not convince you it is no god, yet I hope the destroying it will prove, whatever it was made for, or whatever thought to be, yet it was not, nor could it ever be, a god.
“But the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces”: But when the idol is broken into pieces, Samaria shall see it was but a calf, and confess their folly in worshipping it. However, the destruction of it will be a perpetual witness of Samaria’s sin, and God’s just displeasure in its ruin.
We have mentioned over and over in these lessons, that things you can see with your natural eye that have been made with human hands are not God. The Creator of it all is God, not His creation. God is Spirit.
John 4:24 “God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.”
He is the Great I Am. He is the self-existing One. The idol of the calf shall be destroyed.
Verses 7-14: These images illustrate Israel’s neglect of God and futile reliance on idols and “fortified cities.” Because of sinful sowing, they would reap the “whirlwind” of an Assyrian attack (Prov. 22:8).
Hosea 8:7 “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.”
“Sown the wind … reap the whirlwind”: This indicates the escalating uselessness of all their false religion.
When a man sows seed into the wind, it scatters and is not productive. We know that whatever we sow, that shall we reap. The Word of God is many times spoken of as seed. The problem with what they have done is that it will bring no good results. Their production from their lives does not bring good things, but bad.
Hosea 8:8 “Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein [is] no pleasure.”
Not only their substance, but their persons also; the whole nation of them and their whole estate, civil and ecclesiastic. It notes the utter destruction of them by the Assyrians, so that nothing of them and theirs remained. Just as anyone is swallowed up and devoured by a breast of prey; the present is put for the future, because of the certainty of it.
“Now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure”: When Shalmaneser took Samaria, and with it swallowed up the whole kingdom of Israel, he carried captive the inhabitants of it, and placed them among the nations, in “Halah, Habor, by the river Gozan”, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6).
Where they lived poor, mean, and abject, and were treated with the utmost neglect and contempt. No more regarded than a broken useless vessel, or than a vessel of dishonor, that is made and used for the ease of nature, for which no more regard is had than for that service. Thus idolaters, who dishonor God by their idolatries, shall, sooner or later, be brought to disgrace and dishonor themselves.
This speaks of what most people think are the lost 10 tribes. They do not go back into the land as a whole, but are scattered in the Gentile nations around them. God does not completely shut the door to them however. They become part of the Gentile world.
Hosea 8:9 “For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers.”
“They are gone up to Assyria”: As the context notes, this is not a reference to the captivity, but to the alliance she made with Assyria. “Like a wild donkey,” Israel has stubbornly pursued foreign assistance rather than depending on the Lord.
A wild ass is of a very independent nature. They have gone up on their own to Assyria, God did not send them. They were doing what was right in their own sight. God did not want them seeking help from the worldly nations around them. That is just what they did, and found themselves alienated from God because of it.
The “hiring of lovers” shows that God looks on this as if they have committed spiritual adultery. They are His wife, and yet they have left Him and played the harlot with these heathen nations.
Hosea 8:10 ‘Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them, and they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes.”
“Yea, though”: Or, Yea, because; they think this is the way to prevent their calamities, but it shall appear this was the ready way to bring their calamities upon them. And forasmuch as they have hired the aid of the nations to secure them against their God and his judgments.
“Gather them”: Bring Israel together by a secret and unfailing train. I will, saith God, assemble and herd them together, that they may be taken and destroyed together. Others say, God will gather the nations together against Israel.
“They shall sorrow a little”: For a while before their final captivity they shall complain and be grieved.
“For the burden of the king of princes”: The tribute laid on them by the king and princes, i.e. of Israel. But better as we read it, the king of Assyria, the great king who boasted of his princes.
We see from this, the Lord will allow all of this to happen, because they have broken His commandments. It is God that gathers them for their punishment. The kings and princes suffer with the people. They are all guilty. There will come a time when Jesus comes to the earth, that they are offered salvation through Him.
Verses 11-14: “Ephraim hath made many altars to sin:” Throughout Israel many sacrificial altars were built for the purpose of idolatrous rituals. Israel became addicted to its sin in spite of the clear and written revelation that God had given through Moses.
Hosea 8:11 “Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin.”
Multiplication of altars was condemned in the law (Deut. 12:5). The narrative (in Joshua chapter 22), shows that unity of altar and sanctuary was essential to the unity of the nation. The last clause should be rendered, he had altars for sinning. The worship of God was degraded into the sensuous approaching Baal-worship. In the first clause sin equals transgression, in the last transgression plus guilt and peril.
It appears; the tribe of Ephraim led the way in the worship of false gods. Since he has built altars to false gods, all the altars he builds will be considered evil.
Hosea 8:12 “I have written to him the great things of my law, [but] they were counted as a strange thing.”
Israel has been duly warned; she is without excuse (compare 6:7; 8:1).
God had chosen the whole house of Israel to reveal His Word to. They were married to God on the way to the Promised Land. They made covenant with God to keep His commandment, and receive His blessings in return. They knew the law, and the consequences of not keeping that law. Their idolatry was with full knowledge. They disregarded the law of God and His commandments, and began to worship false gods.
Hosea 8:13 “They sacrifice flesh [for] the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat [it; but] the LORD accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt.”
“Shall return to Egypt”: Recalling the place of Israel’s former bondage, Hosea reminds them that Assyria will be their future “Egypt” (compare 9:3; 11:5; Deut. 28:68). A few Judean refugees actually did go to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). Isaiah used “Sodom” in a similar representative fashion (Isa 1:9-10).
We mentioned in another lesson, that they were still going through the motion of worshipping God. They still sacrificed to God. Their sacrifices were unacceptable to God, because they were unfaithful to Him. Their hearts were not with God. Christians, be careful why you go to church. Do not go because you are obligated to go. You would be committing the same sin they are committing here. We must go to church because we love God and want to fellowship with Him.
The return to Egypt here, is symbolic of turning them back to the condition He found them in in Egypt. They were lost with no Redeemer. God sent Moses to bring them out of bondage from Egypt, now God is sending them back into bondage.
Hosea 8:14 “For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof.”
The word here used for temple is used sixty times for Jehovah’s temple. The building of these temple-palaces was a distinct sin against the unity of the Godhead.
“Judah hath multiplied fenced cities”: Referred to by Sennacherib, in the inscription relating to the campaign of (701 B.C.). “Forty-six of his (Hezekiah’s), strong cities, fortresses . . . I besieged, I captured.” These were erected by Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chron. 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4). With the allusions to Israel’s temples (palaces; compare Amos 3:11; Amos 3:15).
“But I will send a fire upon his cities”: In the letter, the words relate to Judah; but in substance, the whole relates to both. Both had forgotten God; both had offended Him. In the doom of others, each sinner may read his own. Of the cities of Judah, Isaiah says, “your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire (Isaiah 1:7). And in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah,” (some twelve years probably after the death of Hosea), “Sennacherib came up against all the cities of Judah and took them” (2 Kings 18:13).
And of Jerusalem it is related, that Nebuchadnezzar “burnt the house of the Lord, and the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man’s house he burnt with fire” (2 Kings 25:8-9). Man set them on fire; God brought it to pass. And, in order to teach us that He doeth all things, giving all good, overruling all evil, saith that He was the doer of it.
We see now, that the making of these idols to worship was just an outward expression of the rebellion that was in their hearts.
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
God loved them and wanted them to love Him too. God had not abandoned them, they had abandoned God. God had loved Israel and provided a way for them to be His. They have now walked away from Him to worship false gods. The punishment that comes is of their own making. Reluctantly God sends the fire of punishment to devour them.
Hosea Chapter 8 Questions
1. What does God tell Hosea to do in verse 1?
2. Why is he to do this?
3. What would the trumpet proclaim?
4. What had they left the worship of God and began doing?
5. Why should they have known God better?
6. Did they know Him, or know of Him?
7. They rejected the _______ _______ _____.
8. Israel was to be under the direction of God in their ______ matters, as well as in their __________ matters.
9. What terrible thing had they done with their silver and gold?
10. What calf is verse 5 speaking of?
11. What makes us know definitely that an idol is not God?
12. God looks on this unfaithfulness to Him as ____________ ___________.
13. Because ___________ hath made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin?
14. Who had God revealed His Word to?
15. When had they become the wife of God?
16. Why were their sacrifices to God unacceptable?
17. Why should Christians go to church?
18. God sent _________ to free them from bondage in Egypt.
19. God had not ____________ them.
20. ___________, God sends the fire of punishment to devour them.
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Exodus Chapter 21
Verses 1-35: The Ten Commandments were given without a preceding cause, making them unique in the law codes of the ancient Near East. Most laws, like the ones in this chapter and following, were established in answer to specific cases. People were to be treated justly (especially slaves and victims), personal property was to be protected, and moral and ceremonial principles were to be observed (Lev. 25:39-43; Deut. 15:12-18).
Exodus 21:1 “Now these [are] the judgments which thou shalt set before them.”
“Judgment”: A combination of casuistic (case-law), and apodictic (direct command), precepts laid down, as a detailed enlargement of the Decalogue. The framework for judging and resolving civil disputes in Israel. Such a combination continued to confirm the uniqueness of Israel’s law among the different ancient Near Eastern law-codes. Later in a special ceremony, God entitled these precepts the Book of the Covenant (24:7).
God here was going to explain in detail to Moses how each problem that occurred would be handled and Moses would tell the people.
Verses 2-11: The law of the slave guaranteed freedom after a specified period of 6 years unless the slave himself elected permanent servitude. But this would be service in a context not of abuse but of love (verse 5). Any permanent, involuntary servitude for a Hebrew slave to a Hebrew master was obviously undesirable for Israelite society and was unknown in Israel (Lev. 25:39-55). Provision was also made to ensure the proper treatment of female slaves, who could not deliberately be left destitute by wrongful action on the part of their master.
Exodus 21:2 “If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.”
Every Israelite was free-born; but slavery was permitted under certain restrictions. A Hebrew might be made a slave through poverty, debt, or crime. But at the end of six years he was entitled to freedom, and his wife, if she had voluntarily shared his state of bondage, also obtained release.
Should he, however, have married a female slave, she and the children, after the husband’s liberation, remained the master’s property. And if, through attachment to his family, the Hebrew chose to forfeit his privilege and abide as he was, a formal process was gone through in a public court, and a brand of servitude stamped on his ear (Psalm 40:6) for life. Or at least till the Jubilee (Deut. 15:17).
Exodus 21:3 “If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him.”
The privilege of the married Hebrew slave was to attach also to his wife, if he was married when he became a slave. It further, no doubt, attached to his children.
Slavery was a way of life. A Hebrew became a slave because he could not pay his bills, or perhaps because he had committed a crime. It seems that if a man were married who went into slavery, his wife was enslaved with him. Here again we see the six days of work and then the sabbath of rest in practice. The difference was that each day was one year long. Whether you or I believe in slavery or not, is not the issue here. This was the custom so God gave them fair rules to go by.
Exodus 21:4 “If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.”
If however, the Hebrew slave, being previously unmarried, had been allowed by his master to take to wife one of his female slaves, then, when the husband claimed his freedom the wife could not claim hers. Both she and her children remained in the slave condition.
The case here was that the woman was a slave also, so she and the children belonged to the master.
Exodus 21:5 “And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:”
Under every system of slavery, affection grows between the slaves and a master who is indulgent to them. At Rome, it was common for slaves to endure the severest torture rather than betray or accuse their owners. If a man has no rights, he is thankful for small mercies, and responds with warm feeling to those who treat him kindly. As the Hebrew form of slavery was of a mild type, masters being admonished to treat their slaves “not as bondservants, but as hired servants” (Lev. 25:39-40), and, again, “not to rule over them with rigor” (Lev. 25:46), there would naturally be frequent cases where the slave would not wish to “go out.”
He might actually “love his master;” or he might value the security from want which attaches to the slave condition. Or he might be unwilling to break up the family which, by his master’s favor, he had been allowed to create. For such cases, some provision was necessary. It was made by the law here formulated (Exodus 21:5-6), which allowed the Hebrew slave, if he liked, to forfeit all claim to freedom, and take upon him permanently the condition of a bondman.
Exodus 21:6 “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.”
A formal act was necessary. The State must sanction the passing of a citizen into the slave condition, and so the “judges” were called in. The change was to be made by a significant ceremony. In order to mark that henceforth the volunteer bondman became attached to the household, he was to be physically attached to the house by having an awl forced through his ear, and then driven into the door or door-post. Hence “opening the ear” became a synonym for assigning a man to the slave condition in perpetuity (Psalm 40:6). The word used for “judges” is ha-Elohim, “the gods,” or “the exalted ones,” which has the same sense (in Exodus 22:8-9).
You see, the owner was obligated to set the slave free at the end of the six years. The slave was not obligated to go, unless he wanted to. He could decide to stay with his master and his family. This was the only chance he had to go. If he decided to stay, his ear was bored through to show that he was never to leave. It was the servant’s decision, not the owner’s.
Exodus 21:7 “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”
A man might, in accordance with existing custom, sell his daughter to another man with a view to her becoming an inferior wife, or concubine. In this case, she was not “to go out,” like the bondman. That is, she was not to be dismissed at the end of the sixth year. But women who were bound in any other way, would appear to have been under the same conditions as bondmen (see Deut. 15:17).
This sale of a daughter was very much like a marriage to the man who purchased her. Her sale was more of a permanent nature, because usually this sale had to do with the man marrying her.
Exodus 21:8 “If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her”.
The reading is to be preferred which gives the opposite sense, “who hath not betrothed her;” and the meaning is, “If the man, after purchasing the woman to be his wife, finds that he does not like her, and refuses to go through the ceremony of betrothal.”
“Then shall he let her be redeemed”: Either by herself or her friends, or any other person that will redeem her. To sell her to a strange nation he shall have no power. This was prohibited, because a heathen would keep her for a perpetual servant, which the Israelites might not do.
“Seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her”: In breaking his promise of marriage made to her, or in disappointing the hopes he had encouraged her to entertain of it.
The sale of a daughter was for her marriage. The man who bought her was obligated to support her as a wife, the rest of her life. He had no right to sell her to strangers. Her family could get her back if the husband-to-be was displeased with her. The father did not have to refund the money paid for her.
Exodus 21:9 “And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.”
Not caring to betroth and marry her himself, as being more suitable in age for his son than for himself.
“He shall deal with her after the manner of daughters; as if she was his daughter, and give her a dowry. Or the son shall treat her after the manner the daughters of Israel are treated when married. By giving her food, raiment, and the duty of marriage; so Jarchi. Or after the manner of the daughters of Israel that are virgins, and who are not sold, as Aben Ezra.
If he purchased her for a wife for one of his sons, he was not to sleep with her. She was his daughter because she was to marry his son.
Exodus 21:10 “If he take him another [wife]; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.”
The father takes another wife for his son, or the son takes another wife to himself after he has betrothed and married his father’s maidservant.
“Her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. Neither deny it her in whole, nor lessen it in part, but give her the full due of each. What is meant by the two former words is easy, and admits of no difficulty, the latter is differently interpreted. Some take it to signify no other than an “habitation”, that as he was to provide food and raiment for her, so a house to dwell in.
But the generality of interpreters, Jewish and Christian, understand it as we do, of the conjugal duty, the use of the marriage bed, or what the apostle calls due benevolence (1 Cor. 7:3). The word is thought to have the signification of a fixed time for it. And the Misnic doctors are very particular in assigning the set times of it for different persons. And in those countries where there were, and where there still are, plurality of wives, each had, and have their turns (see Gen. 30:15).
This was just a nice way of saying, even if he stopped loving her and found another; he had to support her for the rest of her life. She had the rights of wife until she died.
Exodus 21:11 “And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.”
I.e., one of these three things: (1) Espouse her himself; (2) marry her to his son; or (3) transfer her, on the terms on which he received her, to another Hebrew.
This was just saying if she desired to leave, and she had not been a wife to him or his sons, she could leave without having to pay any money for her freedom.
We suddenly jump from slavery to punishment for various violent acts.
Verses 12-17: The case laws in the Mosaic Law distinguished between two kinds of killing: premeditated murder and involuntary manslaughter, or accidental death. Following the great Flood, God said premeditated murder should be punished by death (Gen. 9:6), but the person who accidentally killed someone could seek refuge at the tabernacle “altar” during the wilderness years or in the cities of refuge after Israel was in the land (Num. 35:6-34; Deut. 19:1-13; Joshua 20-1-9). Mistreatment of one’s “father or … mother” was worthy of death as well (Lev. 20:9; Matt. 15:4).
The laws relating to personal injury (verses 15-36) from an ox or an ass were preceded by the most serious of injuries, homicide. The death penalty was prescribed for intentional homicide only (see 20:13), whereas for unintentional homicide the penalty was banishment to an appointed place, which later God revealed were the cities of refuge (Num. 35:6-24; Deut. 19:1-13). No degree of sanctuary applied to one guilty of premeditated murder. Death by accident at the hand of another is something unplanned by man but which God let happen. The law did afford sanctuary but away from home and vengeful relatives, often for life, because there the one guilty of involuntary manslaughter remained until the death of the High-Priest (Num. 35:25, 28).
Exodus 21:12 “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”
Homicide had been broadly and generally forbidden in the sixth commandment. But something more was necessary. Laws are for the most part inoperative unless they are enforced by penalties; and for every case of homicide the same penalty would not be fitting. Accordingly, we have here first, the assignment of the death penalty for homicide of the first degree, i.e., murder. And secondly, the provision of a refuge for homicide of the second degree, i.e., manslaughter, or death by misadventure.
The death penalty for murder had already received Divine sanction in the injunctions given to Noah (Genesis 9:6). Tradition, backed up by conscience, had made it an almost universal law. The Sinaitic legislation adopted the law into the national code, and lent it additional force by the proviso, which we know to have been carried out in practice (1 Kings 2:28-34), that the murderer was even to be torn from God’s altar, if he took refuge there.
We see the act of premeditated murder was to be punishable by death.
Exodus 21:13 “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.”
For the life of another to take it away; or does not do it willingly, as the Septuagint version, does not seek after it, nor design it.
“But God delivers him into his hand”: It being suffered and ordered by the providence of God, without whose knowledge and will nothing comes to pass, even what may seem to be a contingent thing, or matter of chance, to us. Or it is so brought about in providence, that one man falls into the hands of another, and his life is taken away by him, though not purposely and maliciously. Because, as Aben Ezra expresses it, for another sin which he has committed, and for which he must die in this way. Though not intended by the person the more immediate cause of his death.
“Then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee”: and there be safe both from the avenger of blood, and the civil magistrate. Which place, while Israel were in the wilderness, was the camp of the Levites, according to Jarchi, or the altar, as follows. But when they were come to Canaan’s land, there were cities of refuge appointed for such persons, that killed a man unawares, to flee to. And where they were safe from private vengeance, and falling a sacrifice to public justice.
Here, we see accidental slaying was not to be punished by death. God would have a place of refuge for this person to go to for safety.
Exodus 21:14 “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.”
I.e. do this proudly, boldly, purposely, and maliciously; for so the word signifies.
From mine altar, which not only in the wilderness, but afterward, seems to have been esteemed a place of refuge (1 Kings 1:50), as it also was among the heathens. But God so abhors murder, that He will rather venture the pollution of His own altar than the escape of the murderer (see 2 Kings 11:15).
This was again, premeditated murder. It was just saying that God would not protect him. He could not run to the church for safety. He deserved to die.
Verses 15-17: Disrespect for parents seen in physical and verbal abuse of them by their children was so serious it was designated a capital offense. Commandment 5 was a serious matter! Other ancient law-codes, e.g., the Code of Hammurabi, also respected parental authority and prescribed severe consequences, although not the death penalty.
Exodus 21:15 “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.”
“Smiteth” has many meanings. It means to beat, strike, slaughter, or murder. I don’t believe this meant slap or something like that. I believe it meant to hit with criminal intent.
Exodus 21:16 “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.”
So as is before mentioned (Exodus 21:12), so as they die. And to smite sometimes signifies to kill (as Genesis 4:15; 2 Kings 14:5), compared with (2 Chron. 25:3). And this may be here added by way of distinction. That killing of another man which is punished with death, must be done presumptuously; but the killing of parents, though not done presumptuously, is a capital crime.
Or the mere smiting of them, to wit; willfully and dangerously. Nor will any think this law too severe that considers that this is an act full of horrid impiety against God, who hath so expressly and emphatically commanded children to honor their parents; of highest and most unnatural ingratitude, and utterly destructive to human society.
We see here the crime of kidnapping. God left no doubt in any of these crimes, what the punishment should be. Our society has gotten to where the criminal’s rights are more important than the rights of the victim. We must get back to Bible laws that work.
Exodus 21:17 “And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”
Though he does not smite them with his hand, or with any instrument in it, yet if he smites them with his tongue, reviles and reproaches them, speaks evil of them, wishes dreadful imprecations upon them, curses them by the name explained. As the Targum of Jonathan calls it, by the name Jehovah, wishing the Lord would curse them, or that his curse might light upon them (see Proverbs 20:20).
“Shall surely be put to death”: Or be killed with casting stones on him, as the Targum of Jonathan. Or with stoning; so Jarchi, who observes: that wherever it is said, “his blood be upon him”, it is meant of stoning. As it is of the man that curses his father or his mother (Lev. 20:9).
Which was after this manner, the place of stoning was two cubits high, to which the malefactor with his hands bound was brought. From whence one of the witnesses against him cast him down headlong, of which, if he did not die. Then they took up stones and cast on him, and if he died not through them, then all Israel came and stoned him. That is, the multitude upon the spot. This verse in the Septuagint version follows (Exodus 21:15), with which it agrees, both respecting the same persons.
Matt. 15:4; Mark 7:10.
Sins committed with the tongue seem to be very serious with God. Cursing God or your parents, was punishable by death.
Exodus 21:18 “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with [his] fist, and he die not, but keepeth [his] bed:”
Quarrel and fight, and wrestle with and box one another.
“And one smite another with a stone”: Which lying near him he might take up, and in his passion throw it at his antagonist:
“Or with his fist”: With his double fist, as we express it, with his hand closed, that it might come with the greater force, and give the greater blow.
“And he die not, but keepeth his bed”: Does not die with the blow of the stone or fist, yet receives so much damage by it that he is obliged to take to his bed. Or, as the Targum of Jerusalem paraphrases it, is cast on the bed sick. Or, as the Targum of Jonathan, falls into a disease, as a fever, or the like, through the force of the blow, so that he is confined to his room and to his bed.
Exodus 21:19 “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.”
Meaning if one man injured another in a quarrel so as to oblige him to keep his bed, he was free from the liability to a criminal charge (such as might be based upon Exodus 21:12): but he was required to compensate the latter for the loss of his time, and for the cost of his healing.
This was just an example of what they should have to pay if they had caused bodily injury to anyone. These explanations of the amount of punishment for each crime were actually what the criminal justice system here in the United States was based on. There really should be no question about sentencing someone, because the punishment for each crime was explicitly set by the Lord Himself.
Exodus 21:20-21 “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.” “Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he [is] his money.”
Punishment of slaves was considered the right of the owner (Prov. 10:13; 13:24), but did not allow for violence. Judges were to decide the appropriate punishment if the slave died (verse 20). If the slave lived a few days it was evidence that the owner had no intent to kill, and the loss of the slave was punishment enough (verse 21).
This was not the same as someone missing money, because they were disabled. Here the man who committed the crime was the one that suffered the loss, because the servant could not work. Nevertheless no one has the right to injure anyone else, so the one who committed the crime would be punished, but not as severely as he would be if this was not his slave.
Verses 23-24 (see Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21). The principle of retaliation, or lex taliones, applied if injury did occur to either mother or child. The punishment matched, but did not exceed, the damage done to the victim. The welfare of a pregnant woman was protected by this law so that unintentional maltreatment constituted culpable negligence. Significantly for the abortion debate, the fetus was considered a person; thus, someone was held accountable for its death or injury.
Exodus 21:22-23 “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].” “And if [any] mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,”
Compensation was mandatory for accidentally causing a premature birth, even if no injury resulted to either mother or child. Judges were brought into the legal process so that damages awarded were fair and were not calculated out of vengeance.
“And yet no mischief follow … and if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life”: Verse 22 has been mistakenly interpreted as referring to a miscarriage. The text literally reads, “so that her children go [or come] out.” The plural for child is used, making it clear that a human being is in view, and the plural is generic to cover the contingency of multiple births of either sex. The Hebrew verb shakal would be appropriate to indicate a miscarriage (23:26; Hosea 9:14). Thus the fetus in the law code is pictured as a human being and feticide is indeed murder (Psalm 139:13, 16; Job 10:18).
An unborn child has the same value before God as any other human being. And if that unborn one is killed through the premeditated action of another, God considers that equivalent to taking the life of the mother.
This was when a fight occurred and caused the woman to miscarry, but was not followed by rape. Then it would not be punishable by death, but would be punishable by an amount the husband named and the judge approved.
Exodus 21:24 “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,”
“Life for Life (verse 23) … eye for eye … foot for foot” served as guidelines for judges, not as permission for individuals seeking revenge in personal relationships. This law restricted the exacting of punishment, it must fit the crime (Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21), thereby preventing the cruel and barbaric punishments that characterized many ancient cultures. Jesus used this principle as a starting point in teaching His followers not to retaliate (Matt. 5:38-48).
Exodus 21:25 “Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
Eye for eye. The law which authorized retaliation (a principle acted upon by all primitive people), was a civil one. It was given to regulate the procedure of the public magistrate in determining the amount of compensation in every case of injury, but did not encourage feelings of private revenge. The later Jews, however, mistook it for a moral precept, and were corrected by our Lord (Matt 5:38-42).
Any terrible injury to her would be paid for in equal manner.
Exodus 21:26-27 “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.” “And if he smite out his manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.”
A beating without death immediately ensuing was construed as a disciplinary matter not a homicidal one. Any permanent personal injury brought freedom and loss of a master’s investment. The master’s power over the slave was thus limited, which made this law unprecedented in the ancient world.
The owner must suffer loss for the crime he had committed. Setting the slave free costs the owner.
Exodus 21:28 “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.”
Injuries to the person might arise either from man or from animals. Protection from both was needed. The law given to Noah (Genesis 9:5), had already lain down that whenever a beast killed a man, the animal’s life was to be forfeited. This law was now re-enacted, but with a further and very important proviso. If the animal had an owner, and the owner had reason to know that it was dangerous, then not only the beast, but the owner also was to be held guilty. He was to be liable to a process for murder (Exodus 21:29). But, with the consent of the aggrieved family, might pay a sum of money as compensation instead (Exodus 21:30). In the case of a slave, the sum was fixed at what was regarded as the standard price of a slave (Leviticus 25:44-46; 27:3), viz., thirty silver shekels.
If the owner was not aware that the animal was a killer, he would not be held responsible for the accident. He must lose something for the crime, so he loses the animal. He could not save the meat. The animal was to be killed.
Exodus 21:29 “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.”
What if an ox gores a man or a woman that they die? For the purpose of sanctifying human blood, and representing all injuries affecting life in a serious light, an animal that occasioned death was to be killed or suffer punishment proportioned to the degree of damage it had caused. Punishments are still inflicted on this principle in Persia and other countries of the East. And among a rude people greater effect is thus produced in inspiring caution, and making them keep noxious animals under restraint, than a penalty imposed on the owners.
“The ox shall be stoned”: As is provided for the preceding law.
“And his owner shall be put to death”: Since he was accessory to the death of the person killed, not keeping in his beast, when he had sufficient notice of his vicious temper. The Targum of Jonathan, and other Jewish writers, interpret this of death sent upon him from heaven. Or death by the immediate hand of God, as sudden death, or death by some disease inflicted, or before a man is fifty years of age. But there is no doubt to be made but this intends death by the civil magistrate, according to the original law (Genesis 9:6).
We see here, negligent homicide. The owner should have killed the animal the first time he heard that it was dangerous and not taken a chance on someone’s life. His negligence had caused this person’s death. The punishment was death for him and the animal.
Exodus 21:30 “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.”
Animal owners were held responsible for death or injuries caused by their animals. Since the owner was guilty of negligence and not of an intentional crime, he was able to make payment to escape the death penalty. Again, judges are brought into the process to ensure that no vengeful decisions are made.
This was not the option of the owner of the animal, but the option lay with the family of the deceased. If they were willing to settle for a cash payment instead of killing him, he was to pay it and not protest.
Exodus 21:31 “Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.”
This is observed, because only a man or woman is made mention (in Exodus 21:29), of persons grown up. And lest it should be thought that only adult persons were intended, this is added, to show that the same regard is had to little ones as to grown persons, should they suffer by an ox in like manner as men and women may. The Targum of Jonathan restrains this to a son or daughter of an Israelite; but the life of everyone, of whatsoever nation, is equally provided for, and guarded against by the original law of God.
“According to this judgment shall it be done unto him”: To the owner of the ox that has gored a child, male or female; that is, he shall be put to death, if he has been warned of the practice of his ox for three days past, and has took no care to keep him in. Or he shall pay the ransom of his life, as it has been laid by the court, with the consent of the relations of the children.
In this, there was no male or female. The punishment is the same.
Exodus 21:32 “If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.”
“Shekels”: A shekel weighs .4 ounces; 30 shekels would weight 12 ounces. Christ was betrayed for the price of a slave (Zech. 11:12-13; Matt. 26:14-15).
The price of a slave was thirty pieces of silver. The master had lost his property, so he was the one to receive money to offset his loss.
Exodus 21:33 “And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein;”
That has been dug in time past and filled up again, or take the covering from it, and leave it uncovered.
“Or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it”: A new one, in the street, as the Targum of Jonathan. Or in a public place, as Jarchi and Aben Ezra. Otherwise a man might dig one for water, in his own fields, in enclosed places, where there was no danger of cattle coming thither, and falling therein.
“And an ox or an ass fall therein”: Or any other beast, as Jarchi observes. For these are mentioned only as instances, and are put for all others. Maimonides says, “if a man digs a pit in a public place, and an ox or ass fall into it and die, though the pit is full of shorn wool, and the like, the owner of the pit is bound to pay the whole damage. And this pit (he says), must be ten hands deep; if it is less than that, and an ox, or any other beast or fowl fall into it and die, he is free.
Exodus 21:34 “The owner of the pit shall make [it] good, [and] give money unto the owner of them; and the dead [beast] shall be his.”
Having paid the full value of the live animal, the owner of the well was entitled to make what he could by the carcass.
This was just saying that the animal’s owner should be reimbursed for his loss, because of the carelessness of the one who dug the pit. The digger had to pay for his carelessness.
Exodus 21:35 “And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead [ox] also they shall divide.”
Not equally, for so the owner of the mischievous ox might be the gainer by the mischief, his ox being much worse than that which was killed. But in such proportions as the judges shall think fit, considering the worth of the cattle, and the circumstances of the action.
There was no way to determine fault here. They divided the money and ox, so no one loses.
Exodus 21:36 “Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.”
If it is a plain case, and a thing well known in the neighborhood, and there are witnesses enough to testify it, that it has yesterday, and for two or three days running, pushed with his horns men and cattle, as they have come in his way (see Exodus 21:29).
“And his owner hath not kept him in”: Took no care to prevent his doing mischief by putting him into a barn or out house, or into an enclosure, where he could do no damage to any.
“He shall surely pay ox for ox. That is, he shall give as good an ox to him, whose ox has been killed by his, as that was, or pay him the full worth and value of it”.
“And the dead shall be his own”: Shall not be divided as in the preceding case, but shall be the proprietor’s wholly, that is, the sufferer’s. Because the owner of the vicious ox took no care of him, though it was well known he was mischievous, for which negligence he was punished this way.
The owner, who was negligent, would have to get the man whose ox was killed another ox. But the negligent man would get the dead ox.
Exodus Chapter 21 Questions
- How many years should a Hebrew servant serve, before he was set free?
- What should he pay for his freedom at that time?
- If he brought a wife with him, what happened to her when he was freed?
- For what two reasons was a Hebrew made a slave?
- If the master gave him a wife, after he came and she had children, what happened to her and the children, if he left?
- What happened, if the servant didn’t want to go?
- What was the sale of a daughter like?
- How did her servitude differ from the man’s?
- Could he just sell her to anyone?
- If he had bought her for his son, how should he treat her?
- If he got another wife, what obligations did he have to the purchased female?
- How could she receive freedom without money?
- What punishment was for a man, who killed another not accidently?
- What happened to one who accidently killed someone?
- Premeditated murder would be punished by what?
- If a man killed his father, what was the punishment?
- What would the punishment for kidnapping be?
- What was the punishment for cursing mother and father?
- If you crippled a man, what was the punishment?
- What department of government in the United States was set up by these laws in Exodus?
- If a woman was caused to miscarry, what punishment was in line for the person causing it?
- If she was raped or damaged, what would be the punishment for the one who caused it?
- If a man put his servant’s eye out, what would the punishment be to the master?
- What was the punishment if an ox gored a man, and the owner knew he was a bad animal?
- Was the penalty the same if a man or woman was killed?
- What was the price of a slave?
- If a man opened a pit, and did not close it, and an ox fell in it, what must the man pay?
- If an animal killed another animal in a fair fight, how did they settle it?
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