An unusual number of inquiries searching for the meaning of the subject of Exodus 21 verses 1-32 brought visitors to the main UltimateRiddles.com site recently, and requires a closer look at the Hebrew for the English word “judgments” in Exodus 21:1. The subject is law being given to the children of Israel, and specifically the word judgments translates to English from the Hebrew word “mishpat”.
Exodus 21:1 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. (KJV)
Properly translated, mishpat (mish-PAWT) means a verdict or formal decree pronounced judicially and particularly relating to divine law. In general the subject of Exodus 21:1-32 is law relating to persons as opposed to property which are given later in Exodus 21:33 through 22:15, and is directed to the children of Israel (“them” in 21:1) through Moses.
Exodus 21:1 has God speaking to Moses with instructions to give to the children of Israel as a continuation from Exodus 20:22 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”
God spoke often with Moses, including “face to face” which was not meant literally, yet translates properly as “in His presence”. The timeframe of most of the book of Exodus is 1491-1490 B.C., as is Leviticus, so many of the laws and ordinances were given by God through Moses in a relatively short period of time.
For Christians, by type we are “Israel” of the Old Testament, and so many of the promises of God, including Jesus Christ the Messiah, are not just historical ancient references but apply to people today.