Life of Moses: The Civil Law of God

Peter Barnes: Exodus 21-23

(5 May 2019)


The moral law of God is summarised in the Ten Commandments (Ex.20), while the ceremonial law is recorded later (Ex.25-31, 35-40). The Westminster Confession, XIX.4 refers to what it calls judicial laws given to Israel, which are not binding now ‘further than the general equity thereof may require.’

1. Dealing with slavery.

– 21:1-6. Alec Motyer says that Old Testament slavery was more like indentured servanthood.

– slavery or servanthood in the Old Testament was almost always to do with financial troubles or stealing; it normally only lasted for six years; it could not come about because of kidnapping (Ex.21:16). Note Gen.37:25-28 & Deut.15:12-15.

2. Dealing with life.

– murder attracts the death penalty – 21:12; Gen.9:6. There is room for exceptions e.g. Cain in Gen.4 and David in 2 Sam.11.

– manslaughter, however, is not murder – Ex.21:13-14; see Num.35.

– we are to take due care for our neighbour – Ex.21:28-36.

3. Dealing with property.

– 21:33-22:15. If a man stole something or was negligent, the punishment was restitution plus compensation.

4. What motivates us?

– Empathy – 22:21-24; 23:9.

– Justice – 21:23-25. Unlike Matt.5:38-42, Moses is dealing with civil law, where the punishment is to fit the crime. We are obliged to help strangers, widows and orphans (22:21-24), and even enemies (23:4-5)