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The Covenant Code. 22 [a]The Lord said to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. 23 You shall not make alongside of me gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.(A) 24 An altar of earth make for me, and sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings and communion sacrifices, your sheep and your oxen.(B) In every place where I cause my name to be invoked[b] I will come to you and bless you. 25 But if you make an altar of stone for me,(C) do not build it of cut stone, for by putting a chisel to it you profane it. 26 You shall not ascend to my altar by steps, lest your nakedness be exposed.

Chapter 21

Laws Regarding Slaves. These are the ordinances[c] you shall lay before them. (D)When you purchase a Hebrew slave,[d] he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year he shall leave as a free person without any payment. If he comes into service alone, he shall leave alone; if he comes with a wife, his wife shall leave with him. But if his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children belong to her master and the man shall leave alone. If, however, the slave declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children; I will not leave as a free person,’ his master shall bring him to God[e] and there, at the door or doorpost, he shall pierce his ear with an awl, thus keeping him as his slave forever.

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go free as male slaves do. But if she displeases her master, who had designated her[f] for himself, he shall let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall treat her according to the ordinance for daughters. 10 If he takes another wife, he shall not withhold her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. 11 If he does not do these three things for her, she may leave without cost, without any payment.

Personal Injury. 12 [g]Whoever strikes someone a mortal blow must be put to death.(E) 13 However, regarding the one who did not hunt another down, but God caused death to happen by his hand, I will set apart for you a place to which that one may flee. 14 But when someone kills a neighbor after maliciously scheming to do so, you must take him even from my altar and put him to death. 15 Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.[h]

16 A kidnapper, whether he sells the person or the person is found in his possession, shall be put to death.(F)

17 Whoever curses[i] father or mother shall be put to death.(G)

18 When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, not mortally, but enough to put him in bed, 19 the one who struck the blow shall be acquitted, provided the other can get up and walk around with the help of his staff. Still, he must compensate him for his recovery time and make provision for his complete healing.

20 When someone strikes his male or female slave with a rod so that the slave dies under his hand, the act shall certainly be avenged. 21 If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

22 [j]When men have a fight and hurt a pregnant woman, so that she suffers a miscarriage, but no further injury, the guilty one shall be fined as much as the woman’s husband demands of him, and he shall pay in the presence of the judges. 23 (H)But if injury ensues, you shall give 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 someone strikes his male or female slave in the eye and destroys the use of the eye, he shall let the slave go free in compensation for the eye. 27 If he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let the slave go free in compensation for the tooth.

28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned; its meat may not be eaten. The owner of the ox, however, shall be free of blame. 29 But if an ox was previously in the habit of goring people and its owner, though warned, would not watch it; should it then kill a man or a woman, not only must the ox be stoned, but its owner also must be put to death. 30 If, however, a fine is imposed on him, he must pay in ransom[k] for his life whatever amount is imposed on him. 31 This ordinance applies if it is a boy or a girl that the ox gores. 32 But if it is a male or a female slave that it gores, he must pay the owner of the slave thirty shekels of silver, and the ox must be stoned.

Property Damage. 33 When someone uncovers or digs a cistern and does not cover it over again, should an ox or a donkey fall into it, 34 the owner of the cistern must make good by restoring the value of the animal to its owner, but the dead animal he may keep.

35 When one man’s ox hurts another’s ox and it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide this money as well as the dead animal equally between them. 36 But if it was known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner would not watch it, he must make full restitution, an ox for an ox; but the dead animal he may keep.

37 When someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for the one ox, and four sheep for the one sheep.(I)

Chapter 22

[If a thief is caught[l] in the act of housebreaking and beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt involved. But if after sunrise he is thus beaten, there is bloodguilt.] He must make full restitution. If he has nothing, he shall be sold to pay for his theft. If what he stole is found alive in his possession, be it an ox, a donkey or a sheep, he shall make twofold restitution.

When someone causes a field or a vineyard to be grazed over, by sending his cattle to graze in another’s field, he must make restitution with the best produce of his own field or vineyard. If a fire breaks out, catches on to thorn bushes, and consumes shocked grain, standing grain, or the field itself, the one who started the fire must make full restitution.

Trusts and Loans. When someone gives money or articles to another for safekeeping and they are stolen from the latter’s house, the thief, if caught, must make twofold restitution. If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall be brought to God,[m] to swear that he himself did not lay hands on his neighbor’s property. In every case of dishonest appropriation, whether it be about an ox, or a donkey, or a sheep, or a garment, or anything else that has disappeared, where another claims that the thing is his, the claim of both parties shall be brought before God; the one whom God convicts must make twofold restitution to the other.

When someone gives an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any other animal to another for safekeeping, if it dies, or is maimed or snatched away, without anyone witnessing the fact, 10 there shall be an oath before the Lord between the two of them that the guardian did not lay hands on his neighbor’s property; the owner must accept the oath, and no restitution is to be made. 11 But if the guardian has actually stolen from it, then he must make restitution to the owner. 12 If it has been killed by a wild beast, let him bring it as evidence; he need not make restitution for the mangled animal.(J)

13 When someone borrows an animal from a neighbor, if it is maimed or dies while the owner is not present, that one must make restitution. 14 But if the owner is present, that one need not make restitution. If it was hired, this was covered by the price of its hire.

Social Laws. 15 (K)When a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall make her his wife by paying the bride price. 16 If her father refuses to give her to him, he must still pay him the bride price for virgins.[n]

17 You shall not let a woman who practices sorcery live.(L)

18 Anyone who lies with an animal shall be put to death.(M)

19 Whoever sacrifices to any god, except to the Lord alone, shall be put under the ban.(N)

20 You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.(O) 21 You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. 22 If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry. 23 My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.

24 (P)If you lend money to my people, the poor among you, you must not be like a money lender; you must not demand interest from them. 25 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; 26 for this is his only covering; it is the cloak for his body. What will he sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will listen; for I am compassionate.(Q)

27 You shall not despise God,[o] nor curse a leader of your people.(R)

28 You shall not delay the offering of your harvest and your press. You shall give me the firstborn of your sons. 29 You must do the same with your oxen and your sheep; for seven days the firstling may stay with its mother, but on the eighth day you must give it to me.(S)

30 You shall be a people sacred to me. Flesh torn to pieces in the field you shall not eat; you must throw it to the dogs.(T)

Chapter 23

You shall not repeat a false report. Do not join your hand with the wicked to be a witness supporting violence.(U) You shall not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When testifying in a lawsuit, you shall not follow the crowd in perverting justice. You shall not favor the poor in a lawsuit.(V)

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you must see to it that it is returned.(W) When you notice the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you should not desert him; you must help him with it.

You shall not pervert justice for the needy among you in a lawsuit. You shall keep away from anything dishonest. The innocent and the just you shall not put to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and distorts the words of the just.(X) You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.(Y)

Religious Laws. 10 (Z)For six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce. 11 But the seventh year you shall let the land lie untilled and fallow, that the poor of your people may eat of it and their leftovers the wild animals may eat. So also shall you do in regard to your vineyard and your olive grove.

12 For six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you must rest,(AA) that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and that the son of your maidservant and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13 Give heed to all that I have told you.

You shall not mention the name of any other god; it shall not be heard from your lips.

14 (AB)Three times a year you shall celebrate a pilgrim feast to me.[p] 15 You shall keep the feast of Unleavened Bread. As I have commanded you, you must eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for it was then that you came out of Egypt. No one shall appear before me[q] empty-handed. 16 You shall also keep the feast of the grain harvest with the first fruits of the crop that you sow in the field; and finally, the feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you collect your produce from the fields. 17 Three times a year shall all your men appear before the Lord God.

18 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened;(AC) nor shall the fat of my feast be kept overnight till the next day. 19 The choicest first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord, your God.

You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.[r]

Reward of Fidelity. 20 See, I am sending an angel(AD) before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Be attentive to him and obey him. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority is within him.[s] 22 If you obey him and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.

23 My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out. 24 Therefore, you shall not bow down to their gods and serve them, nor shall you act as they do; rather, you must demolish them and smash their sacred stones.[t](AE) 25 You shall serve the Lord, your God; then he will bless your food and drink, and I will remove sickness from your midst; 26 no woman in your land will be barren or miscarry; and I will give you a full span of life.

27 I will have the terror of me precede you, so that I will throw into panic every nation you reach.(AF) I will make all your enemies turn from you in flight, 28 and ahead of you I will send hornets[u] to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them all out before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have grown numerous enough to take possession of the land. 31 (AG)I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines,[v] and from the wilderness to the Euphrates; all who dwell in this land I will hand over to you and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall not make a covenant with them or their gods. 33 They must not live in your land. For if you serve their gods, this will become a snare to you.(AH)


  1. 20:22–23:33 This collection consists of the civil and religious laws, both apodictic (absolute) and casuistic (conditional), which were given to the people through the mediation of Moses. They will be written down by Moses in 24:4.
  2. 20:24 Where I cause my name to be invoked: i.e., at the sacred site where God wishes to be worshiped. Dt 12 will demand the centralization of all sacrificial worship in one place chosen by God.
  3. 21:1 Ordinances: judicial precedents to be used in settling questions of law and custom. More than half of the civil and religious laws in this collection (20:22–23:33), designated in 24:7 as “the book of the covenant,” have parallels in the cuneiform laws of the ancient Near East. It is clear that Israel participated in a common legal culture with its neighbors.
  4. 21:2 Slave: an Israelite could become a slave of another Israelite as a means of paying a debt, or an Israelite could be born into slavery due to a parent’s status as a slave. Here a time limit is prescribed for such slavery; other stipulations (vv. 20–21, 26–27) tried to reduce the evils of slavery, but slavery itself is not condemned in the Old Testament.
  5. 21:6 To God: the ritual of the piercing of the slave’s ear, which signified a lifetime commitment to the master, probably took place at the door of the household, where God as protector of the household was called upon as a witness. Another possible location for the ritual would have been the door of the sanctuary, where God or judges would have witnessed the slave’s promise of lifetime obedience to his master.
  6. 21:8 Designated her: intended her as a wife of second rank.
  7. 21:12–14 Unintentional homicide is to be punished differently from premeditated, deliberate murder. One who kills unintentionally can seek asylum by grasping the horns of the altar at the local sanctuary. In later Israelite history, when worship was centralized in Jerusalem, cities throughout the realm were designated as places of refuge. Apparently the leaders of the local community were to determine whether or not the homicide was intentional.
  8. 21:15 The verb used most often signifies a violent, sometimes deadly, attack. The severe penalty assigned is intended to safeguard the integrity of the family.
  9. 21:17 Curses: not merely an angrily uttered expletive at one’s parents, but a solemn juridical formula of justifiable retribution which was considered to be legally binding and guaranteed by God.
  10. 21:22–25 This law of talion is applied here in the specific case of a pregnant woman who, as an innocent bystander, is injured by two fighting men. The law of talion is not held up as a general principle to be applied throughout the book of the covenant. (But see note on Lv 24:19–20.) Here this principle of rigorous accountability aimed to prevent injury to a woman about to give birth by apparently requiring the assailant to have his own wife injured as she was about to bring new life into his family. However, it is debatable whether talion was ever understood or applied literally in Israel. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges his audience to find a deeper form of justice than the supposed equilibrium offered by talion (Mt 5:38–40).
  11. 21:30 Ransom: the amount of money or material goods required to restore the relationship between the relatives of the victim and the negligent owner of the goring ox.
  12. 22:1–2 If a thief is caught: this seems to be a fragment of what was once a longer law on housebreaking, which has been inserted here into the middle of a law on stealing animals. At night the householder would be justified in killing a burglar outright, but not so in the daytime, when the burglar could more easily be caught alive. He must make full restitution: this stood originally immediately after 21:37.
  13. 22:7 Brought to God: either within the household or at the sanctuary, the owner of the house is required to take an oath before God.
  14. 22:16 The bride price for virgins: fifty shekels according to Dt 22:29.
  15. 22:27 Despise God: a turning away from God’s authority and so failing to honor God (cf. 1 Sm 2:30).
  16. 23:14 These three feasts—Passover/Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths (Tabernacles or Succoth/Sukkoth)—are also listed in 34:18–26; Lv 23; Dt 16.
  17. 23:15 Appear before me: the original expression was “see my face”; so also in several other places, as 23:17; 34:23–24; Dt 16:16; 31:11.
  18. 23:19 Boil a young goat in its mother’s milk: this command, repeated in 34:26 and Dt 14:21, is difficult to understand. It may originate from a taboo that forbade killing the young that were still nursing from the mother, or that forbade the mixing of life and death: the slaughtered young goat with the milk that previously had nourished its life. The Jewish dietary custom of keeping meat and dairy products separate is based on this command.
  19. 23:21 My authority is within him: lit., “My name is within him.”
  20. 23:24 Sacred stones: objects that symbolized the presence of Canaanite deities. In general, standing stones served as memorials for deities, persons, or significant events such as military victories or covenant-making. See 24:4.
  21. 23:28 Hornets: the Hebrew sir’ah is a disputed term, but according to ancient interpreters it refers to hornets that were unleashed against the enemy to sting them and cause panic (cf. Dt 7:20; Jos 24:12; Wis 12:8). Others associate the word with plagues or troublesome afflictions.
  22. 23:31 The sea of the Philistines: the Mediterranean. Only in the time of David and Solomon did the territory of Israel come near to reaching such distant borders.

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