Reading through the Bible together
The civil laws found in the next four chapters were based on the spirit of the moral law, but dealt with specific social customs that were practiced in that culture and time. It should be understood that Israel had just come out of Egypt and God took them from where they were and expected them to change and conform to his ideals overnight. In many cases these laws can be compared to other laws of the ancient Near East and are found to be more humane.
The archaeological discovery in 1902 of a stone documenting over 300 laws governing Babylonia during the reign of Hammurabi shows some similarities with this chapter. Ex 21:16 as well as the Hammurabi code indicate that the slave trade was considered a grave offense punishable by death. In Ex 21:23 where human life is lost then a man must pay for that murder with his own life. The Babylonian law indicates that a man may substitute his daughter in his stead. But this injustice was not permitted in the Mosaic law. Ex 21:26 is an example where the Babylonian law speaks as if injuries were inflicted on the master of the servant rather than the servant himself. But the Hebrew law uniquely does not consider a servant the unconditional property of his master. In general the laws in Exodus focus more on the rights of individual human beings and the sanctity of life. While many laws in the Hammurabi code are different, there may be some indication that both laws go back to a common source. God desired fairness and justice to be exercised among His people. How are we treating those around us?
Southern Adventist University