This chapter begins what the covenantal theologian calls civil law. They are laws for the people, living with one another; nonetheless, they are moral because they are related in spirit to the Ten Commandments. As said in chapter 20, the Ten Commandments, when used properly brings the knowledge of sin and make all who hear the law accountable to God. These laws, however, are civil laws for the sons of Israel living in a theocracy.
When reading these I do not believe that they would be a better way of life; however, we should note that they are much much better than the way other nations were living at the time. C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity that we should not judge Christianity when comparing the worst Christian’s behavior with the best unbelievers behavior, for this is not comparing apples to apples. What would that person have been like if they did not know the Lord Jesus Christ and what would this moral unbeliever be like if he did know the Lord? I think that this is the way that we should evaluate these civil laws.
The first set of laws (vv 1-11) have to do with slavery. Slavery was a fact of life during this time period and it was often the means of survival for many a person. If a person was starving, they would sell themselves to a land owner for food and clothing. However, if a Hebrew sold himself to another Hebrew he could only be held for six years but when he departs his master, nothing that belonged to the master could be taken away. This included a wife given to the slave and the children that she bore. I find this harsh but what were the other nations doing at the time? I it is also strange to me for a man to sell his daughter. Remember, we are not comparing apples to apples. The law was put into place to insure that the one who pays for the girl treats her kindly.
The second half of this chapter (vv 12-36) have to do with personal injuries. Murder was absolutely forbidden, so there needed to be civil law to deal with it and a way out of punishment for accidental death. While some of these laws may seem strange in the 21st century, they do show that human life was considered precious; therefore, anyone who takes a human life by malice of for thought was to be put to death. It is appalling to me that a man could injure a slave and not be punished but I am judging the situation many many centuries removed, while living in a different culture, at a different time, and a different economic situation. However, it should be noted that even the life of a slave was considered precious. Even animals were to be protected and the owner of an injured animal was to be compensated.