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Exodus 21 English Standard Version (ESV)

12 “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. 13 But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. 14 But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.

15 “Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death.

16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.

17 “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.

18 “When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, 19 then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.

20 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth.



  • The commandment said, “You shall not murder.” Read this passage with this in mind.  Pay attention to the specific examples showing that “You shall respect the life and well-being of others.”
  • The principle of the famous lex talionis – the law demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – is clear and simple: if someone causes another person serious injury, he is to be punished. In the biblical world feuds were an ever-present possibility. The principle of an eye for an eye was actually seen as an act of mercy, since punishment in the ancient Near East usually exceeded the crime!  It is not a law of revenge, but a basis for a judge to make judgment on acts of violence and injustice.
  • Jesus’ elaboration of this law is that, in the Kingdom of God, you are to go beyond revenge and “love your enemy, pray for those persecuting you” (Matt 5:38-42). In His life and death, Christ modeled this for us.  The law’s goal is to prevent excessive revenge, but Jesus wants to completely free us from a mentality of revenge.  This is far more than what the law requires.



How easy is it for you to live up to the standard set forth here?  What would be toughest for you to adhere to?  Name one person who has hurt you, and ask Jesus to give you His forgiveness for that person.