Torah Commentary | Exodus

Portion: Torah Portion No. 60
Torah: Exodus 21:1–22:24
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:1–14
Apostolic: 1Corinthians 6:9–11


By Tim Hegg

The cycle of life we so highly prize within the Torah community causes us often to reflect on the past, and to consider the future. As parents, we dedicate ourselves to the important task of preparing our children for adulthood, and particularly that, by God’s grace, they would carry the life-message of God’s greatness into their generation. The presence of the Yartzeit Board in our synagogue is a constant reminder that one generation gives way to the next. I have often remarked that one day my name will be on that board, and it will be left to my sons, daughters and grand­chil­dren to pray the kaddish as they remember me. Then it will be the responsibility of their generation to be leaders in the community and to hand the message, both in word and deed, to their generation and the next.

This highlights the supreme importance of community and the re­la­tionships that are the building blocks of community. It is only when we apply the biblical standards of righteousness that relationships will flourish as God in­tends, and we will be able to disciple the next generation to carry on the important task of sanctifying His Name in our world.

Unfortunately, in our modern society, personal feelings reign supreme in matters relating to relationships, and this phenomenon surely has its affect upon us as well. As a result, God’s standards for relationships are viewed as archaic and unworkable in our modern times. When God’s instructions conflict with our feelings, we find ways to “reinterpret” what God has said so that we can follow our feelings and believe we’re obeying God. In this way, relationships based upon personal feelings have re­placed objective, biblical standards and “feelings” have eclipsed the bed­rock of obe­dience. “What should I do” has been re­placed by “what does my heart tell me to do.” Little wonder the ears of many have grown deaf to the Torah, because the hearts of many no longer feel the need to listen to that unchangeable standard that regulates the lives of all people in all eras. Why should they? They have come to “un­der­stand” and even been encouraged from the pulpit to believe that one’s own thoughts and feelings are in many ways paramount to knowing what is right “for me.” “How can one eter­nal, standard fit the in­fi­nite variety of psy­cho­logical profiles found in humankind”? And so, unwittingly, Freud has led the Christian community into a most sub­tle relativism, not based upon the plu­ralism of philosophies (some­thing the apologist can cri­tique), but upon the uncharted waters of individualism. Each per­son, so we are told, must find his or her way to the truth, sifting life’s messages through the psyche of one’s own self-realization. This, by-and-large, has be­come the church’s answer to the so-called di­lemma of “finding one’s self,” a condition applied to teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s, but now applicable for many adults who, during “mid-life crises” are still in the business of “finding them­selves.”

In the midst of such humanistic thinking, it would be easy to “throw the baby out with the bath water,” to neglect talking about “relationships” because the term has lost its value in an era where its use is so encumbered by humanistic psychology. But to neglect the pivotal importance of relationships would be just as grave an error as to impose the humanistic psychology of the day upon the scriptural teaching about relationships. Let us never forget, the relationships which God created among humankind reflect the relationship He longs to have with His people. And this is so because the relationships which He created among humankind can reflect the relationship be­tween the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In other words, God’s will is that human relationships should reflect the relationships extant with the Godhead, for mankind was created in the image of God. Therefore, to the extent that our relationships with one another reflect the re­la­tionship enjoyed between Father, Son, and Spirit, to this extent we make known the image of God in us.

This is one reason why God spends so much time telling us how our relationships ought to be, and how they are to be regulated. In our Torah section, we have a great many laws which either regulate relationships or prescribe payment or restitution for restoring re­la­tionships. Furthermore, in some instances our parashah notes re­la­tionships which are prohibited. “Do not let a sorcerer live” pretty much makes a relationship with such a person an impossibility!

Our parashah begins with the words “these are the ordinances” (‏וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, ve’eileh hamishpatim). Mishpat, translated “ordinance,” literally means “judgment.” In other words, these are God’s assessments—His judgments in terms of how relationships within the Torah community are to be lived out. We are faced, therefore, with a clear and simple decision: will we accept God’s assessments regarding proper relationships, or will we set them aside for our own? Will we trust His way or lean upon our own understanding?

The opening paragraph deals with how a slave or servant was to be treated in terms of the economics of his or her service to the master. The way the English reads, it might appear cruel and uncaring, but we need to read more carefully. The situation is this: if a male servant or slave enters his time of service already having a wife, then at the shemittah or sabbatical year both he and his wife and their children are free to go without having to pay any redemption price for any member of the family. If, however, a male servant or slave enters his service alone, and is given a wife during the six years he serves his master, then at the sabbatical year, he does not have to pay a redemption price for his freedom, but some reimbursement for his wife and children (if they have had children) must be made to his master. The English reads: “…he shall go out alone” (21:4). However, the issue being dealt with here is one of economics, as the wider context makes clear (e.g., damages and restitution). Often in the ancient world, a person became a slave or servant in order to repay a debt for which he or she did not have the ability to pay. In Israel, however, six years was the maximum for such an arrangement—the sabbatical year marked the release of all slaves.

When our text states “he shall go out alone,” the Hebrew translated “alone” is ‏בְגַפּוֹ (vegapô), which is the preposition ב (b) followed by גף (gaf), with the third masculine singular possessive suffix וֹ (ô). The question is the meaning of âó (gaf), a word used only here. Most commentators take this word to be from âåÌó (guf), “body,” and thus meaning “in [or with] his own body,” that is, he is free to go as he came. But again, in the context, the issue is monetary. Since a slave did not earn wages, when the time of release came, he legally could only take with him what he had initially brought. So we should understand the phrase “he shall go out alone” to mean “he does not have to pay a redemption price for himself.” This meaning is confirmed by the parallel of the next verse (21:5), in which the word çÈôÀùÑÄé, chofshi, “free” is used: “I will not go out free.”

It seems obvious that if he had the means, he could pay the redemption price for his wife (money he acquired during his time of servitude) and children. Such a scenario is not entirely out of the question: other family members or friends could have come to his aid in supplying the necessary redemption price for his newly acquired family.

But even if he did not have the means to redeem his wife and children, he had the option to remain with them as an indentured slave. It appears as though the owner was not given the option of refusing such a request. He would take the man “to God” (þàÆìÎäÈàÁìÉäÄéí), meaning “to the place where God’s judgment was made known,” i.e., the recognized court (note that אֱלֹהִים, Elohim, is also used of judges in 22:8, 9) in order to establish that the slave or servant, who had the legal right to go free, had given up this right in order to remain with his wife and children.

A major question now arises in such a scenario: is the man to be counted as a purchased slave or as a freeman? Has he given up his freedom so that he remains in the status of a slave, or is his master obligated to compensate him for his work? A crux in answering this question is the word עֹלָם, ‘olam in 21:6, “…he shall serve him permanently (עֹלָם, ‘olam). If this means “for the rest of his life,” then how are the laws of the shemittah and yovel (the Sabbatical and Jubilee years) to be observed? For our text begins by noting that the slave in question is a Hebrew, and Lev 25:40–41 makes it clear that all Hebrew slaves were to return to their families at the Jubilee.

This being the case, the Sages understood our text to mean that the slave who puts his ear to the doorpost remains a slave to his master only until the Jubilee (cf. Ramban on Ex 21:6; Ibn Ezra on Lev 25:40–41; Mechilta on Ex 21:6). At that time, he and his family go free. Thus, the slave who remains with his master in order to remain with his family is working for the release of his wife and children. His labor is compensated by purchasing the redemption of his family at the Jubilee.

The matter of a Hebrew daughter sold as a maidservant (אָמָה, ’āmāh) is different than that of a male slave (21:7–11). She does not obtain release at the shemittah year since she was obtained with a view to marriage. If, after obtaining the young lady, the owner is not pleased with her in terms of being suitable as his wife, she is given the right of redemption. He has no right to sell her as a slave to someone else. If the man who initially acquired her has a son who desires to take her as his wife, then she is to be treated as a free woman (not a slave), meaning that she has the right to refuse the offer, and to obtain a dowry if she does agree to the marriage.

But 21:10 seems to talk of polygamy. It appears to describe the scenario in which the man who initially obtained the young woman as a slave took her as his wife and then later is displeased with her. As a result, he marries another woman. Then 21:10 indicates that, in regard to the slave woman whom he initially married, he must maintain “her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights.” So on a surface reading, it appears that the man is required by the Torah to maintain both women as wives.

We should first step back and consider the wider teaching of Scrip­ture. Paul teaches us clearly that the relationship between hus­band and wife is a divinely painted picture of Yeshua’s relationship with the His kehilah or “congregation” (ekklesia, Eph 5:25ff). In the same manner as Yes­hua loves His kehilah as His bride, so every hus­band is to love his wife. This type of love has, at its heart, a quality of uniqueness. To give to others what should be reserved only for a spouse is the quickest way to damage this most important re­la­tionship. Yes­hua has one bride, one peo­ple, one wife. The picture of po­lygamy just does not work to de­scribe what the Bible clearly teaches about Yes­hua and His kehilah.

What is more, the Scriptures are replete with the teaching of monogamy, from the earliest description of marriage (Gen 2:24) through the wisdom literature (“the heart of her husband trusts in her,” Prov 31:11) and even in the words of Yeshua (Mt 19:4ff) and the Apostles (Eph 5:33). All of these pictures and admonitions fall if polygamy is actually God’s plan for marriage. But what then of our portion that appears to assume the rightful existence of polygamy?

The pivotal turning point in this passage is something hidden to all but those reading the Hebrew text. For in order to accommodate the long-standing position on polygamy by the Rabbinical au­thorities, the Hebrew text, while not changed, has nonetheless been in­ter­preted to condone polygamy, and all English translations have followed without exception. This pivotal point is in 21:8, where the text has the word לֹא (lō’), “no” or “not,” but which the Masoretes wrote in the margin should be read as >ìåÉ (), “for himself.” Since the two words are pronounced exactly the same, it was an ingenious way to make the text say what it actually does not. Taking 21:8 as written it would read like this: “If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who did not designate her (àÄíÎøÈòÈä áÌÀòÅéðÅé àÂãÉðÆéäÈ àÂùÆøÎìÉà éÀòÈãÈäÌ), then he shall let her be re­deemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because he has dealt unfairly with her.” Now this entirely changes the meaning from what the English translations have. What the text now says is that the man who bought her, originally in­tending to marry her, but did not, in the end, take her as his wife—then he may designate her as wife for a son (if she is so willing), or else allow her to be redeemed, but he may not sell her to foreigners because he has failed to meet the expectations given when he first indicated to her that he desired to marry her.

But there is one more translation blunder which must be corrected, for 21:10 seems still to have polygamy in mind: “If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.” What this seems to imply is that if he de­cides not to marry her after all, does not designate her as wife for a son, and she is not redeemed by anyone, and he marries another woman, he still must treat her as a wife, for he must maintain con­ju­gal re­lations with her. The Hebrew word translated by all the English versions as “conjugal rights” or equivalent is òÈðÈúÈä (‘ānātāh), a word found only here in all of the Tanach. As a result, the meaning of the word is uncertain, and the trans­lators have given it the sense of “conjugal rights” based upon the con­text as they interpret it. But documents from other ancient Near East­ern cultures (such as those found in the Akkadian lan­guage) have similar laws, with this wording: “food, clothing, and oil” or “food, clothing, and shelter.” The Hebrew word עֹðÈה (‘onāh) could easily be cognate to the Akkadian terms used for “oil” or “shelter.” Thus, the meaning of the text would simply be that if, after purchasing the woman for a bride, then deciding not to marry her but marrying an­other, the man must maintain her welfare—he cannot simply turn her out to a life of poverty. Moreover, if he fails to deal with her properly, she is to be set free without the need to pay any redemption price.

With this understanding of the text, based squarely upon the words themselves, rather than supporting polygamy it sustains the virtue of monogamy, and furthermore shows the requirement to take the marriage relationship seriously. As husbands, the treatment of our wives is to be accepted as a sacred privilege given by God Himself. We are to care for her, respect her, and in every way edify her as a picture of how Yeshua Himself cares for, respects, and builds up His bride, the kehilah. Our love for her cannot be shared or divided, but must be sin­gu­lar, faithful, and enduring. This is one of the highest mitzvot we can fulfill, as this picture is the only one in the universe endowed with such clear brush strokes of Yeshua’s love for His bride.

Another passage within this parashah which deserves our spe­cial attention is 21:22-25, perhaps the most clear Torah teaching on the issue of abortion. Once again, we must look carefully at the text if we expect to navigate through the murky waters of the English translations.

The core terms in this passage are in v. 22, translated by the NASB as “so that she has a miscarriage.” This is a translation of åÀéÈöÀàåÌ éÀìÈãÆéäÈ, which literally means “and her child comes forth.” “Miscarriage” means “to give birth prematurely to a fetus, so that it does not live.” But there is a perfectly good word for this in the Hebrew, שׁÈכָì, shākāl (cf. 2 Ki 2:19; Mal 3:11; Gen 31:38; Jb 21:10; 2 Ki 2:21). What our text indicates is not that the child is stillborn, but simply that the trauma causes the child to be birthed prematurely. The issue of injury to the woman and to the baby are taken up separately in the following context. If the woman is injured but the baby is fine, then the restitution is de­ter­mined by the woman’s husband. If, however, there is further injury (v. 23) which, in the context, must be interpreted as injury to the baby (since injury to the woman has been dealt with in v. 22), then the child is treated as fully viable and penalty is meted out accordingly, life for life, etc.

Why is this passage put here, in these particular laws? I think the reason is clear, for these laws generally are dealing with manslaughter and negligent homicide. The laws which immediately follow de­scribe death by a bull which, known to be dangerous, is nonetheless not sufficiently restrained by its owner. This describes a situation of negligent homicide. In the same way, men who fight in the presence of a pregnant woman have neglected to take into consideration the high value of the child she carries. As such, injury to her child falls within the context of negligence, and if the child is killed as a result, then there is a clear case of negligent homicide.

What lessons we can learn from this passage? Rather than supporting abortion (as some would have us think), this text accred­its to the baby in the womb the status of a living soul. But this text, rightly understood, also gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and His view of life. Indeed, He sanctifies life—He sets it apart as valuable in all respects. It must therefore be cared for, nurtured, and protected. Not only must the life of a child within the womb of his or her mother be guarded, but the mother also must be cared for with special attention, for she is the very instrument of God to bring into His creation yet another soul, a soul created in His image, and breathing the breath of life from His very nostrils.

Abortion, then, is nothing less than spitting in the face of God. It is a hideous idolatry where mankind has put his own selfish interests and pleasures ahead of the clear commands of God. Living by feelings and not by Torah has opened the way for even “religious” peo­ple to find an excuse for snuffing out the life of the unborn. The scourge of “partial-birth abortions” should horrify us all, and launch us into action against it in every legal and God honoring way. If the life of the unborn is of no value, then surely our understanding of God has changed, and we have created Him in our image. No won­der the words of Scripture seem to have such little power in our so­ci­ety, for we have found effective ways to make them subservient to the whims of psychology. The pleasures of life have eclipsed the Giver of life, and we have cast His words behind us (Ps 50:17).

Let us resolve, then, by His grace and power, to walk in His ways and to sanctify His Name through righteous, biblical relationships. Let us resolve once again to make our marriages a living testimony of God’s love for His own, of Yeshua’s relationship with His bride. Let us covenant once again before HaShem to love life as He loves it, to guard and protect it as a supreme gift from His hand, and not to waste it or devalue it, but to agree with Him that life is sacred. Let us, in our relationships, be the canvas upon which He may paint the glory of His own person and the majesty of His salvation.

We may conclude with just a few remarks on the haftarah and Apostolic portions which accompany this parashah.

It is clear why the ancient authorities chose the Jer 34:1–14 as the haftarah for this triennial portion. At the end of the haftarah reading, the freeing of Hebrew slaves/servants in the Shemittah year is mentioned:

At the end of seven years each of you shall set free his Hebrew brother who has been sold to you and has served you six years, you shall send him out free from you; but your forefathers did not obey Me or incline their ear to Me. (Jer 34:14)

Quite often, the selection of the haftarah was done merely on the inclusion of a similar theme or similar verbiage since the haftarah function simply as a reminder or mnemonic device for the Torah portion.

We have chosen 1Cor 6:9–11 to accompany this triennial portion, for in this portion of Paul’s epistle, he speaks of the unrighteous who will not inherit the kingdom of God, and he includes some categories that are enumerated in the Torah portion.

Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Cor 6:9–10)

Note that Paul is writing of those whose lives are characterized by these sins, for he goes on to write:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Yeshua Messiah and in the Ruach of our God. (1Cor 6:11)

Here is the glorious reality of the Gospel, which is the power of God resulting in salvation to Jew and Gentile (Rom 1:16)! Lives dominated by sin, and by all manner of destructive behaviors, can be redeemed and transformed by the saving power of the Almighty. Note carefully that Paul writes “Such were some of you….” The old has been taken away and in its place a life of righteousness has been planted. This is the work of the Almighty, giving a new heart and drawing His chosen ones to Himself, to become like His Son, Yeshua.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works,
which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Eph 2:8–10



In the beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8


In the beginning God…
Acceptable Worship
List of Generations

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.