Verses 12-21 (Exodus 21:12-21)
Here is, I. A law concerning murder. He had lately said, Thou shalt not kill; here he provides, 1. For the punishing of wilful murder (Exod. 21:12): He that smiteth a man, whether upon a sudden passion or in malice prepense, so that he die, the government must take care that the murderer be put to death, according to that ancient law (Gen. 9:6), Whoso sheddeth man?s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. God, who by his providence gives and maintains life, thus by his law protects it; so that mercy shown to a wilful murderer is real cruelty to all mankind besides: such a one, God here says, shall be taken even from his altar (Exod. 21:14), to which he might flee for protection; and, if God will not shelter him, let him flee to the pit, and let no man stay him. 2. For the relief of such as killed by accident, per infortunium?by misfortune, or chance-medley, as our law expresses it, when a man, in doing a lawful act, without intent of hurt to any, happens to kill another, or, as it is here described, God delivers him into his hand; for nothing comes to pass by chance; what seems to us purely casual is ordered by the divine Providence, for wise and holy ends secret to us. In this case God provided cities of refuge for the protection of those whose infelicity it was, but not their fault, to occasion the death of another, Exod. 21:13. With us, who know no avengers of blood but the magistrates, the law itself is a sufficient sanctuary for those whose minds are innocent, though their hands are guilty, and there needs no other.
II. Concerning rebellious children. It is here made a capital crime, to be punished with death, for children either, 1. To strike their parents (Exod. 21:15) so as either to draw blood or to make the place struck black and blue. Or, 2. To curse their parents (Exod. 21:17), if they profaned any name of God in doing it, as the rabbies say. Note, The undutiful behaviour of children towards their parents is a very great provocation to God our common Father; and, if men do not punish it, he will. Those are perfectly lost to all virtue, and abandoned to all wickedness, that have broken through the bonds of filial reverence and duty to such a degree as in word or action to abuse their own parents. What yoke will those bear that have shaken off this? Let children take heed of entertaining in their minds any such thought or passions towards their parents as savour of undutifulness and contempt; for the righteous God searches the heart.
III. Here is a law against man-stealing (Exod. 21:16): He that steals a man (that is, a person, man, woman, or child), with design to sell him to the Gentiles (for no Israelite would buy him), was adjudged to death by this statute, which is ratified by the apostle (1 Tim. 1:10), where men-stealers are reckoned among those wicked ones against whom laws must be made by Christian princes.
IV. Care is here taken that satisfaction be made for hurt done to a person, though death do not ensue, Exod. 21:18, 19. He that did the hurt must be accountable for damages, and pay, not only for the cure, but for the loss of time, to which the Jews add that he must likewise give some recompence both for the pain and for the blemish, if there were any.
V. Direction is given what should be done if a servant died by his master?s correction. This servant must not be an Israelite, but a Gentile slave, as the negroes to our planters; and it is supposed that he smite him with a rod, and not with any thing that was likely to give a mortal wound; yet, if he died under his hand, he should be punished for his cruelty, at the discretion of the judges, upon consideration of circumstances, Exod. 21:20. But, if he continued a day or two after the correction given, the master was supposed to suffer enough by losing his servant, Exod. 21:21. Our law makes the death of a servant, by his master?s reasonable beating of him, but chance-medley. Yet let all masters take heed of tyrannizing over their servants; the gospel teaches them even to forbear and moderate threatenings (Eph. 6:9), considering with holy Job, What shall I do, when God riseth up? Job 31:13-15.