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:
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(5) And if.—Better, But if.

I love my master.—Under every system of slavery affection grows up 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” (Leviticus 25:39-40), and, again, “not to rule over them with rigour” (Leviticus 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 favour, 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.

21:1-11 The laws in this chapter relate to the fifth and sixth commandments; and though they differ from our times and customs, nor are they binding on us, yet they explain the moral law, and the rules of natural justice. The servant, in the state of servitude, was an emblem of that state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, which man is brought into by robbing God of his glory, by the transgression of his precepts. Likewise in being made free, he was an emblem of that liberty wherewith Christ, the Son of God, makes free from bondage his people, who are free indeed; and made so freely, without money and without price, of free grace.If a married man became a bondman, his rights in regard to his wife were respected: but if a single bondman accepted at the hand of his master a bondwoman as his wife, the master did not lose his claim to the woman or her children, at the expiration of the husband's term of service. Such wives, it may be presumed, were always foreign slaves. 2-6. If thou buy an Hebrew servant—Every Israelite was free-born; but slavery was permitted under certain restrictions. An 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 (Ps 40:6) for life, or at least till the Jubilee (De 15:17). No text from Poole on this verse.

And if the servant shall plainly say,.... Or, "in saying shall say" (i) shall express himself in plain and full terms, and repeat his words, and abide by them, signifying it as his last will and determined resolution:

I love my master, my wife, and my children, and I will not go out free; but continue in his servitude, having a great affection for his master, and that he might enjoy his wife and children he dearly loved; and being animated with such a principle, his servitude was a pleasure to him: and when our obedience to God springs from love to him, and to his cause and interest, which should be as dear to us as our families, it is then acceptable to God and delightful to ourselves; in Deuteronomy 15:16,

it is, because he loveth thee, and thine house, because he is well with thee; hence the Jewish writers say (k), understanding by "house" a family, if a servant has a wife and children and his master not, his ear is not to be bored; and if his master has a wife and children and he has not, his ear is not to be bored; if he loves his master and his master do not love him, or his master loves him and he do not love his master, or if he is sick, &c. his ear is not to be bored.

(i) (k) T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 22. 1. Maimon. in Misn. Kiddushin, c. 1. sect. 2.

And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:
5. plainly say] ‘Plainly’ should be omitted. It is an attempt to represent in English the idiomatic use of the Hebrew inf. abs., which emphasizes the verb to which it is attached, and is often used in the expression of a condition (G.-K. § 113o). ‘Plainly,’ however, does not give the correct emphasis.

I love my master] A slave was no doubt often well treated, and would then naturally ‘prefer slavery with comfort to freedom with destitution’ (EB. iv. 4656).

my wife, and my children] The case is supposed to be the one provided for in v. 4, in which the slave’s wife and children would not accompany him into freedom.

5, 6. The fourth case. A slave, if he was happy with his master might, if he desired to do so, remain in his master’s service for life.

Verses 5, 6. - I love my master, etc. Affection might grow up between the slave and the master, if he were well treated. The Hebrew form of slavery was altogether of a mild kind. Masters are admonished to treat their slaves "not as bond-servants, but as hired servants or sojourners," and again "not to rule over them with rigour" (Leviticus 25:39, 40, 43). Even among the heathen, slaves often bore a true affection to their masters. Or, the slave might be so attached to his wife and children as to be unwilling to separate from them, and might prefer slavery with the solace of their society to freedom without it. For such cases the provision was made, which is contained in ver. 6. On the slave declaring to his master his unwillingness to go free, the master might take him before the judges, or magistrates (literally "gods") as witnesses, and perhaps registrars of the man' s declaration, and might then reconduct him to his house, and by a significant ceremony mark him as his slave "for ever." The ceremony consisted in boring through one of his ears with an awl, and driving the awl into the door or doorpost of the house, thereby attaching him physically to the dwelling of which he became thenceforth a permanent inmate. Almost all commentators assert that some such custom was common in the East in connection with slavery, and refer to Xen. Aaab. 3:1, § 31; Plant. Poenul. 5:2, 21; Juv. Sat. 1:104; Plutarch. Vit. Cic. § 26, etc. But these passages merely show that the Orientals generally - not slaves in particular - had their ears bored for the purpose of wearing earrings, and indicate no usage at all comparable to the Hebrew practice. The Hebrew custom - probably a very ancient one - seems to have had two objects -

1. The declaring by a significant act, that the man belonged to the house; and

2. The permanent marking of him as a slave, dis-entitled to the rights of freemen, he shall serve him for ever. Josephus (Ant. Jud. 4:8, § 20) and the Jewish commentators generally maintain that the law of the jubilee release overruled this enactment; but this must be regarded as very doubtful. Exodus 21:5There were three different circumstances possible, under which emancipation might take place. The servant might have been unmarried and continued so (בּגפּו: with his body, i.e., alone, single): in that case, of course, there was no one else to set at liberty. Or he might have brought a wife with him; and in that case his wife was to be set at liberty as well. Or his master might have given him a wife in his bondage, and she might have borne him children: in that case the wife and children were to continue the property of the master. This may appear oppressive, but it was an equitable consequence of the possession of property in slaves at all. At the same time, in order to modify the harshness of such a separation of husband and wife, the option was given to the servant to remain in his master's service, provided he was willing to renounce his liberty for ever (Exodus 21:5, Exodus 21:6). This would very likely be the case as a general rule; for there were various legal arrangements, which are mentioned in other places, by which the lot of Hebrew slaves was greatly softened and placed almost on an equality with that of hired labourers (cf. Exodus 23:12; Leviticus 25:6, Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:43, Leviticus 25:53; Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 16:11). In this case the master was to take his servant האלהים אל, lit., to God, i.e., according to the correct rendering of the lxx, πρὸς τὸ κριτήριον, to the place where judgment was given in the name of God (Deuteronomy 1:17; cf. Exodus 22:7-8, and Deuteronomy 19:17), in order that he might make a declaration there that he gave up his liberty. His ear was then to be bored with an awl against the door or lintel of the house, and by this sign, which was customary in many of the nations of antiquity, to be fastened as it were to the house for ever. That this was the meaning of the piercing of the ear against the door of the house, is evident from the unusual expression in Deuteronomy 15:17, "and put (the awl) into his ear and into the door, that he may be thy servant for ever," where the ear and the door are co-ordinates. "For ever," i.e., as long as he lives. Josephus and the Rabbins would restrict the service to the time ending with the year of jubilee, but without sufficient reason, and contrary to the usage of the language, as לעלם is used in Leviticus 25:46 to denote service which did not terminate with the year of jubilee. (See the remarks on Leviticus 25:10; also my Archologie.)
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