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Bible Commentaries

James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary
Exodus 21

 

 

Verses 1-18

THE CIVIL CODE

The ten commandments constitute the moral law, a perfect rule of duty for all men and everywhere. But the “judgments” (Exodus 21:1) that follow are an application of those commandments to Israel in the peculiar circumstances of their history at that time and when they should inhabit Canaan. The ten commandments, let us say, represent the constitution of the United States, and the judgments the legislative enactments based thereon by Congress.

The three chapters now entered upon have certain natural divisions, corresponding, though not in exact order, with the last seven commandments of the decalogue:

LAWS OF SERVITUDE (Exodus 21:1-11)

This division refers to the duties of masters and servants, and is a natural expansion of the fifth commandment, master being substituted for parent.

It is slavery of a certain kind that is here dealt with, for it was common in those days when for centuries the rights of man had been beclouded by sin, and in the absence of a divine revelation. Heavenly reforms sometimes move slowly, and it was not God’s purpose to immediately do away with this feature of social life, but to regulate, elevate in any other way. (Compare Leviticus 25:33 and Deuteronomy 15:12.) Exodus 21:4-6. We can see the advantage of the wife and children remaining with the master in this case, since he doubtless was best able to support them. However, he had rights in the case which should not be violated. But what provision is made for a happy solution of the problem? Behold in this servant whose ear is bored an affecting type of the willing obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalms 40:6-8)!

Exodus 21:7-11. If the maid-servant should not please her master in the sense that he espouse her, in what two ways are her rights guarded (Exodus 21:8)? What acknowledged position would she have if she became the espoused of his son (Exodus 21:9)? And how are the rights of this poor maiden guarded in this case as well (v. 10-11)? We are not to suppose that this law instituted either polygamy or concubinage, but finding it in existence they were permitted until the period was ripe for its extermination (Matthew 19:1-9).

LAWS OF PERSONAL SECURITY (Exodus 21:12-32)

This section is an expansion of the sixth commandment.

Exodus 21:12-14. What distinction is made between premeditated and unpremeditated murder? See Numbers 35:9-32.

Exodus 21:23-25. This law of retaliation has been misunderstood as though it encouraged revenge, but it refers to the administration of justice at the hand of the magistrate (v. 6).

LAWS OF PROPERTY (Exodus 21:33 to Exodus 22:15)

This section is an expansion of the 8th commandment.

“Breaking up” (Exodus 22:2) should read as in the Revised Version “breaking in,” which makes the sense plain.

“Judge” all through these chapters is translated “God” in the Revised Version. Israel is a theocracy. Its supreme ruler is God. The magistrates represent and speak directly for Him. Thus will it be again in the millennium.

LAWS OF CONJUGAL FIDELITY (Exodus 22:16-31)

This is an expansion of the seventh commandment, and yet its subject matter is miscellaneous. Murphy gives a unity to the verse by supposing the relation between God and His people to be symbolized by that of husband and wife, God being the avowed guardian and representative of the stranger, the widow and the orphan.

Exodus 22:28. The word “gods” should be “God,” and it will be seen from the context that reviling rulers is regarded as reviling God (compare Romans 13:1-7).

Exodus 22:29. “Liquors” has been rendered “the trickling juice of the vine.” Some things in this section are more fully explained in later Scriptures.

LAWS OF VERACITY (Exodus 23:1-9)

This corresponds to the ninth commandment.

Exodus 23:3 means that one is not to countenance or favor a poor man in his cause just because he is poor, if the cause is unrighteous. (Compare to Leviticus 19:15.)

LAWS OF SET TIMES (Exodus 23:10-19)

This corresponds to the fourth commandment.

What was the law for the land in the seventh year (Exodus 23:11)? For what purpose was the spontaneous growth of that year to be used? How did the divine Legislator provide against an emergency of famine (Leviticus 25:20-22)?

Note the moral advantages resulting from the observance of this law: (1) a check on avarice, (2) a stimulant to brotherly kindness and compassion, (3) a demonstration of human equality, (4) a cultivation of prudence and economy, and (5) a sense of constant dependence upon God.

What are the three annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-16)? Murphy compares them with the three elements of salvation: the Passover with the atonement, Pentecost with the new birth, the ingathering with pardon and its accompanying plenitude of blessing. What obligation is attached to these festivals?

Exodus 23:19, last sentence, is difficult, although the command itself is plain. It is in connection with sacrifice (Exodus 23:18) has it therefore a symbolic meaning? Or was it to prevent the slaying and eating of the kid at too early a period? Or does the application bear simply on a barbarous and cruel action?

LAWS OF PITY (Exodus 23:20-33)

This is allied to the tenth commandment because of its reference to the service of Jehovah alone, who estimates the motive of men.

Whom have we seen to be meant by “the Angel” (Exodus 23:20)? In what way have we seen His presence hitherto displayed? On what commission is He now sent? What shows His authority? Power? Dignity (Exodus 23:21)? What are the blessings of obedience (Exodus 23:22-27)? What precaution would God take in bringing them into possession of the land (Exodus 23:28-30)? What final warning is given (Exodus 23:32-33)?

RATIFYING THE COVENANT (Exodus 24)

At the beginning of this chapter we are introduced to the two sons of Aaron, soon to be associated with him in the priesthood and to have a sad ending nevertheless. With what words do the people accept the obligations imposed upon them (Exodus 24:3)? What kind of an altar presumably did Moses build (compare Exodus 24:4 with Exodus 20:24-26)?

What provision is made for the careful transmission of the law (Exodus 24:4)? What name is given to the book thus written (Exodus 24:7)? By what solemn act is the covenant ratified (Exodus 24:8)? Compare the marginal reference.

What sublime experience was granted to these representatives of Israel on the mount (Exodus 24:10)? What this means, in the absence of further record, who can say! Why may we judge that they did not see the “face” of God (Exodus 33:20-23) or any “similitude” of Him (Deuteronomy 4:15)? What is the description of what they did see?

How was God’s mercy shown to them on this occasion (Exodus 24:11)? How is their escape from death expressed in the last clause? Is not this escape explained by the covenant relationship with God into which they had now come? Was this relationship grounded on their keeping of the law or on the blood of propitiation that had been shed and sprinkled upon the people? What did this typify (Romans 3:19-25)? Compare also Hebrews 10:16-20.

What final seal to the authority of the law is now given (Exodus 24:12)? What two individuals are seen for a second time with Moses (Exodus 24:13-14)? What grandeur on the mount is described (Exodus 24:15-17)? What new event in Moses’ experience (Exodus 24:18)? The reason for this new event shows in the next lesson.

QUESTIONS

1. What distinction is suggested between commandments and judgments?

2. What beautiful type of our Lord Jesus Christ does this lesson contain?

3. What testimony to Israel’s theocratic status?

4. How are the rights of the rich guarded as well as of the poor?

5. What witness have we here to an early written revelation?

 


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Bibliography Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Exodus 21:4". The James Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jgc/exodus-21.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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