3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself. If he is married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. Exodus 21:3-4WEB
This passage contains a series of positive statute, directed toward Israel:
[When releasing a slave...]
- If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself.
- If he is married, then his wife shall go out with him.
- If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, then the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out by himself.
This command is part of the Civil/Judicial Law, as it moderates, transactionally, the release of slaves with their families.
This ordinance is generally understood to represent a continuing obligation for modern civil government.
Commands relating to slavery and the forgiveness of debts find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, who forgave all our trespasses, and canceled the record of our debt to God by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).
Notes on Interpretation/Application
Marriage Between two Slaves, and Release of the Slave Bride
Granting an argument to the effect that, wherever the prerogative of a woman to accept or refuse marriage is not mentioned, it is assumed that she retains that right (see Marriage), the phrasing of this law to the effect that the master "gives his manservant a wife" does not imply that the marriage is forcibly arranged by the master. Rather, the assumption is that the male and female slave chose the marriage, and the master (acting as head of household over the woman) gave her away in marriage, which is typically the duty of a father.
The fact that she does not go free with her husband does not imply that she shall never go free, but rather, (on account of her having been a slave prior to their marriage, or else it would not have been in the master's authority to give her in marriage as it says in this passage), that she must complete the terms of her slavery and gain her own freedom independently. Had she not been a slave, then she would go free with her husband as it says in verse 3. If she was sold by her father, then her terms of release are outlined in Exodus 21:7-11; and as those terms are framed as an exception to the normal rule, we can only assume that for any other woman, her terms of release are the same as a male slave.