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Because the man is not directly responsible for causing the death of his ox's victim (Exo. 21:28-32), he is given the possibility of ransoming his life. The text does not indicate that he has the right to ransom himself; indeed, the phrase "if a ransom is laid upon him" indicates that it is up to the family of the slain man whether they want the owner killed or not. Nor are we told, as in Exo. 21:22, that "he shall pay as the judges shall determine." Possibly that is understood in the later verse, but more likely the man is obliged to pay a ransom consisting of whatever the slain man's family cares to demand. While this might not seem "fair," it surely is a strong incentive to keep one's beast penned up! Since the alternative is death, no amount of money would be too great for a man to spare his own life. So, the man who does not keep his vicious animal restrained faces the possibility of death or total impoverishment and self-sale into slavery.
- James Jordan, The Law of the Covenant 125 (1984), at http://www.garynorth.com/freebooks/ HTML, DjVu.