The Goring Ox

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The Biblical Covenant Code Verses in Exodus Chapter 21

The biblical covenant code verses in Exodus Chapter 21 deal with the "Laws of Persons," which include intentional and unintentional murder, slavery, battery and assault, unjust harm and death, and kidnapping. According to the goring ox rules, Israelites are told what to do if they are injured by an ox or another vicious animal. God, for example, demonstrates his concern for human life by abhorring the act of murder. He explains that if an ox was to kill a man, a woman, or a child, then it was to be put to death. It states, "If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely{t} stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. (t) If the beast be punished, much more shall the murderer" (Exodus 21:28). God recognizes that all the inferior creatures should be serviceable to man, and as such, he denies the killing ox an honor of being eaten.

The Need to Keep Cattle from Harming Others

The scriptures also intend to inform man that they should be careful to keep their cattle from harming other people. The chapter shows that if the owner of a creature was aware of the mischief of his animal, he is expected to answer for the harm caused. If the law proved him to be more or less accessory of the incident, the man would pay a ransom or may be put to death. The bible states, "But if it is a [habitually] goring bull since yesterday and the day before yesterday, and its owner had been warned, but he did not guard it, and it puts to death a man or a woman, the bull shall be stoned, and also its owner shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:29). In this case, it is evident that man is put in charge of other beasts under their care; they must ensure no mischief is done by those whom are under their power to restrain.

Release of a Male Debt Slave

In the same chapter God provides laws concerning servants; these were to be considered judgments since the magistrates at the time were to judge the sinner based upon the people of Israel. God commanded mercy and moderation upon the slaves; the people had been servants themselves, and now they had the opportunity of being masters. God had to guide them on how to treat the servants lest they become abusive like their previous masters (Egyptians). In regards to the male slaves, who had been sold by their parents, or poverty, or by their judges, were to work in slavery up to seven years, from which they were to be let out for free, or his continued servitude would be by his choice. The scripture quotes, "Should you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work [for] six years, and in the seventh [year], he shall go out to freedom without charge" (Exodus 21:2). By this law, God taught the Hebrew servants to be generous and kind to their masters since they were Freemen of God. He also taught the Hebrew masters not to abuse their servants.

Release of a Female Debt Slave

The chapter further instructs the male slave that if he had been given a wife by his master, whom he bore children with, he shall leave all of them and go out alone after his slavery term. However, the male servant is also given an option of keeping his family; if he feels that he loves his wife and children, and that he cannot leave them back, then he is at will to serve his master forever. The chapter states, "his master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever" (Chapter 21:6). The male slave was to be taken to the judge in order to state his willingness to continue working as a slave. The master would then be permitted to enslave the Hebrew servant longer than the seven years permitted.

The laws were very protective of the female Hebrew slaves. The chapter states that if one sold a female servant to a master, she was to be retained even after the sixth or seventh year. Under no circumstance did the law permit the owner of the girl to sell her elsewhere; she was either to be betrothed by him or his son. And if he would change his mind, she would still get the benefits suitable for her status of being a wife, with her freedom granted. The scripture states, "If she is displeasing to her master, who did not designate her [for himself], then he shall enable her to be redeemed; he shall not rule over her to sell her to another person, when he betrays her" (Exodus 21:8). It is clearly stated that the slave master did not have any right to sell the female slave to any other person even if the parents were unable to redeem her.

The Sale of a Daughter

The sale of a daughter (female slave) was encouraged for the purpose of marriage. The man who bought her was to treat her as a wife and had no right to share her with another person. In the case where the daughter was married off to the buyer's son, the buyer would treat her in manner like he would do to his own daughters. He would give her dowry, food, duty of marriage, and raiment.

Work Cited

The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2004.

April 13, 2023

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