This is the first chapter of what is called “the Book of the Covenant” (Exo. 24:7), which is contained in Exo. 20:22 – 23:33. It contains statutes (not “commandments”) designed to govern life in Israelite society. It is comprised of 42 “judgments” (Exo. 21:1 – 23:12) and, as was stated in the summary of Exo. 20:22 – 26, it ends just like it begins—with a prohibition against idolatry (Exo. 23:13).

Chapter 21 can be outlined as follows:
• Title (21:1)
• Judgments Concerning Hebrew Servants (21:2 – 11)
• Judgments Concerning Capital Offenses (21:12 – 17)
• Judgments Concerning Physical Injury (21:18 – 27)
• Judgments Concerning Injury Through Neglect (21:28 – 36)

Exodus 21:1

So begins a section known as the Book of the Covenant. It contains 42 judgments.

Exodus 21:2-11

The first section of the Book of the Covenant concerns how male and female servants (or slaves) were to be treated.

Exodus 21:12-17

Violent acts perpetuated against another person require capital punishment. The persons in view here are free and not servants.

Exodus 21:18-27

Here are the judgements for violence between free people, violence done to servants, violence done to a pregnant woman which causes the loss of her baby, and bodily injury to a servant.

Exodus 21:28-36

This passage is concerned with other things that could cause injury to a person and their livelihood. A violent ox, the loss of livestock by negligence, or one ox killing another.