Oxen and open pits (Ex 21:28-21:36)

“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.  If 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.  If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule.  If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slave owner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.”

Now we have a long section about the problems of oxen so that they must have been a big deal.  If an ox gores anyone to death, the ox should be stoned, but no one should eat his flesh and the owner is not liable.  It is interesting that they do not cut up the ox.  However, if the ox had a history of goring people and the owner did not do anything, its owner should be put to death.  The owner should pay for the victim’s life.  Boys and girls have the same rule, but slave’s owners get compensated thirty shekels of silver.  Make sure you take good care of your oxen or you could die.

“If someone leave a pit open, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal. 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.  The dead animal they shall also divide.  But 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.”

If someone has an open pit and an ox or donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution, giving money to its owner, but keeping the dead animal. If an ox gores another ox and dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide the proceeds.  They also divide the value of the dead animal.  However, it there was a history of goring and the owner did not do anything, then the owner of the goring ox has to restore ox for ox.  Watch your oxen and your open pits.


Fights and injuries (Ex 21:18-21:27)

“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, but 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.”

If you cause injury to another  so that they are  confined to bed, but they recover, you only have to pay for his loss of time. I guess the idea behind this is that you should help someone to recover if you have hit them.

“When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a staff and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment.  For the slave is the owner’s property.” 

Once again, the slave owner can practically do anything to his slave because he or she is their property.  Property rights trump all other rights.  However, the one exception is death.  There is no indication what the punishment is.

“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.  If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

If you hit a pregnant woman so that it causes a miscarriage, you have to pay the fine that the woman’s husband demands as approved by a judge.  If any harm follows, you end up with the famous revenge concept of a life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.  This revenge concept is clear, even though it is limited revenge.

“When a slave owner 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.  If 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.”

If a slave owner destroys either an eye or a tooth of a male or female slave then the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the loss.  Property rights outweigh human rights.  You could beat slaves, but if they lost an eye or tooth, they were to be set free.  This is an indication of how important the eye and teeth were in the revenge concept, ‘an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth.’


Homicide (Ex 21:12-21:17)

“Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death.  If 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.  But if someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, you shall take the killer from my altar for execution.  Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.  Whoever kidnaps a person, whether that person has been sold or is still held in possession, shall be put to death.  Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”

Next up on the agenda is the death penalty.  If you strike a person mortally you should be put to death.  However, if it is not premeditated, then there is a place where the killer may flee.  If someone willfully attacks and kills another by treachery, they should; be executed.  The penalty for striking or cursing a father or mother is death.  Remember that when you have a fight with your parents.  Kidnapers were also put to death even if the kidnapped person was still alive.

The laws relative to slaves (Ex 21:1-21:11)

“These are the ordinances that you shall set before them.  When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single.  If he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If 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.  But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children.   I will not go out a free person,’ then his master shall bring him before God.  He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost.  His master shall pierce his ear through with an awl.  He shall serve him for life.”

Next come the ordinances about slavery, that was commonly accepted as a way of life in the Middle East, just as it was accepted in Europe and America until a couple of hundred years ago.  You could buy slaves or sell people from your own family.  Ending slavery was a radical idea.  As for the male Hebrew slave, you had to let him go after six years with no debt, the Sabbath concept.  If he was bought in single or married, he stayed the same. However, if his master gave him a wife and they had sons or daughters, the wife and her children would belong to the master.  Nevertheless, if the slave said that he loved his master, wife, and children and did not want to be a free person, he could becomes a slave for life with a pierced ear.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall go out as the male slaves do. If 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.  If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.  If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.  If he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.”

Young girls were a slave group since marriage was seen as a form of slavery. A man could sell his daughter as a slave.  Then she was like the male slaves.  However, he could buy back his daughter, but he could not sell her to a foreign people.  The master could designate the slave girl for his son, but then he had to deal with her like a daughter.  If someone took more than one wife, they could not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.  Women were seen as a possession.  However, a first wife could leave without paying anything if they were not properly cared for.

The law about altars (Ex 20:22-20:26)

“Yahweh said to Moses.  ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites.  You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven.  You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.  You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well being, your sheep and your oxen.  In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.  But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones.  For if you use a chisel upon it you profane it.   You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’”

Having the Ten Commandments with its generic prescriptions, it now became necessary to be more specific.  Thus these laws presume a settled life style.  The first area is about the worship cultic laws.  Others will include civic and penal laws.  One can find the influence of Babylonian laws also.  These laws or codes, probably from the Elohist tradition, come from God via Moses, and are therefore important.  God is proud and is clearly in heaven, the above.  Therefore, there will be no more gods of silver or gold.  However, there can be altars of earth for sacrifices. There are restrictions about this simple altar. You cannot build a stone altar of hewn stones because a chisel would profane it.  Then there is the strange comment about no steps to the altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed.  The assumption was that no underwear was worn under the priestly garments.

The Decalogue (Ex 20:1-20:21)

“Then God spoke all these words.  ‘I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.’” 

The big dispute about the 10 Commandments begins here.  Originally these commandments may have been simple short utterances. The first three are about relationships to God, and they are fairly complex, while the next seven are about how you are to conduct yourself with your neighbor.

1)      There is some confusion about the first one, since part of this might be a preamble. Is it two or one commandment?  In other words, Yahweh is number one God because there may be others behind him.  No other gods should come before him.  However, Yahweh is the  one who saved the Israelites from Egypt

 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third  and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” 

1a) Here comes the second part of the first commandment or is it the first commandment.  In any case it is very long.  Do not make any idols. Do not worship false idols. This jealous Yahweh God becomes the basis for the monotheism of the Judaic, the Christian, and the Muslim concepts of God.  He will reward and punish in future generations.

 “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not accept anyone who misuses his name.”

2)      This is relatively simple.  The normal translation of this is not to take the name of God in vain.  You should not misuse the name of God.  Somehow this has become known as swearing.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh, your God.  You shall not do any work.  This pertains to you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day.  Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

3)      Here in the priestly tradition, there is a long section on the Sabbath that starts with a simple admonition.  The Sabbath is not so much a day of worship but a day of rest from work for the whole household, even the slaves, aliens and livestock.  Notice the reference to the Genesis chapter 1, about the creation story from the same priestly author.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you.”

4)      Now we switch from God to our fellow men.  Coming first is our parents.  You will live long if you take care of your parents.  A further admonition will make this even stronger.

 “You shall not murder.”

5)      Next up are the three simple comments. You shall not kill.  There is no indication of any nuance, but clearly Yahweh has killed the first born in Egypt and in the Red Sea disaster.  He also ordered the Levites to kill their fellow idolatrous Israelites.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

6)      There are no explanations or exceptions.  Having sex with a married person who is not your wife or husband is wrong.  Obviously the meaning of this has been extended to other sexual activities.

 “You shall not steal.”

7)      Once again there are no nuances about borrowing or anything like that.  You cannot take something that does not belong to you.

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

8)      This is not exactly lying in general, but lying against your neighbor, perhaps in some sort of legal setting.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

9)      Once again, we are faced with the problem.  Is this one commandment or two?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house is simple enough.

10)  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Clearly this is one commandment since the wife was considered part of your neighbor’s house.  Here is the ‘covet’ concept, not actually stealing, but desiring to steal the house itself, and anything in the house such as the wife, slaves, livestock, or any possession.

“When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet and the mountain  smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen.  But do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’  Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid.  God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’ Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”

After all the thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, and smoke, they were afraid.  So there it is, what a great show, strobe lights and all.  There is no mention of tablets is this passage just an oral conversation with Moses.  The fear of Yahweh has been fairly established.  The fact that people were told not to do these things is an indication that they might have been doing these things.  We never have laws against things that people are not doing.  In other words, people were worshiping false gods, using God’s name in vain, working on the Sabbath, disrespecting their parents, killing people, lying about things, having sex with someone they are not married to, stealing things, and desiring to take things from others. I will compare the wording of these 10 words and that of Deuteronomy, when I get to that book.

You can reverse these negative commandments with positive blessings.  You are blessed to be able to worship the one true God, so therefore you do not need to have false material gods in the place of the real God.  As the name of God is a holy name you do not use it in vain, thus you respect it.  The world is yours to use and not misuse so that you need a day of rest.  You keep Sunday as a day of rest and worship.  You honor your parents because the family is the basis of all society.  Life is precious so that obviously you do not kill anyone.  You respect the property of others so that you do not steal from anyone.  Truth is so important that you do not lie.  Your neighbor’s wife has dignity and worth so you do not commit adultery.  You respect the goods of others so that you do not desire or covet them.  Here we have the basis for Judeo-Christian culture, respect for God, our parents, our neighbors, their things, and all people

The theophany (Ex 19:16-19:25)

“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain.  The blast of a trumpet was so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God.  They took their stand at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because Yahweh had descended upon it in fire.  The smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently.  When the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak.  Then God would answer him in thunder.  When Yahweh descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, Yahweh summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go down and warn the people not to break through to Yahweh to look.  Otherwise many of them will perish.  Even the priests who approach Yahweh must consecrate themselves or Yahweh will break out against them.’  And Moses said to Yahweh, ‘The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai.  You yourself warned us, saying, set limits around the mountain, and keep it holy.’  Yahweh said to him, ‘Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you.  But do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to Yahweh.  Otherwise, he will break out against them.’  So Moses went down to the people and told them.”

This is an example of a theophany, an appearance of God that is very rare.  Only the holy people get to speak directly with Yahweh.  Yahweh came in a thick cloud with thunder and lightning on the mountain.  There was a loud trumpet blast.  This is a big deal as God appears in thunder and lightning.  Yahweh comes from above and rests on the mountain.  This is the classic concept that up is good and down is bad.  The good up God is powerful and speaks down to the people.   With the blasts of the trumpet louder, Moses would speak and Yahweh would respond using thunder.  Yahweh summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.  Then Yahweh told him to get Aaron and bring him up to the mountain top.  However, Moses was not to let any other people up, even the priests.


Preparation for the covenant (Ex 19:9-19:15)

“Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.’  When Moses had told the words of the people to Yahweh, Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow.  Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day Yahweh will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.  You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it.  Any who touches the mountain shall be put to death.   No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows.  Whether animal or human being, they shall not live.  When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.’  So Moses went down from the mountain to the people.  He consecrated the people.  They washed their clothes.  He said to the people, ‘Prepare for the third day.  Do not go near a woman.’”

Yahweh told Moses that he was going to come in a dense cloud.  The people could hear him but not see him.   Moses was told to consecrate the people and have them wash their clothes to prepare for the third day, when Yahweh would come down upon Mount Sinai.  They have certain limitations and restrictions.  They could not go up the mountain or to touch it.  The men could not touch women.  If they touched the mountain they would be put to death.  No hand would touch them, but they would be stoned or shot with arrows.  However, when the trumpet sounded a long blast, they could go up the mountain.  Moses conveyed this to the people.  Yahweh has very clear strict regulations about purifying themselves and if they failed to follow them, they would die.  Notice that the killing by stoning and arrows meant that you did not kill with your own hands, but used materials to kill them.


Promise of a covenant (Ex 19:3-19:8)

“Then Moses went up to God.  Yahweh called him from the mountain, saying, ‘this you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites.  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’  So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that Yahweh had commanded him.  The people all answered as one, ‘Everything that Yahweh has spoken we will do.’  Moses reported the words of the people to Yahweh.”

Yahweh called Moses to the mountain.  He told him to tell the people of Israel that they will be a special priestly kingdom with a covenant.  Then Moses then presented these words to the elders and everyone answered that they would do whatever Yahweh wanted.  Everything seems to be lining up for the covenant.


Arrival at Sinai (Ex 19:1-19:2)

“On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.   They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness.   Israel camped there in front of the mountain.”

In about 3 months or 90 days they arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai.  There they camped facing the mountain.  This is the holy mountain where all the good stuff happens.