Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Laws Concerning Violence Resulting in Death -- Exodus 21:12-14

--> “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.  If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.”
 
We begin our look at this passage by commenting that these laws, while they utilize the male pronoun and noun forms (he, him, a man, etc.), are also intended for women. There is an article entitled Why you should never say ‘he or she’.  The author, David Gelernter, a professor at Yale, writes, “When the style-smashers first announced, decades ago, that the neutral ‘he’ meant ‘male’ and excluded ‘female,’ they were lying and knew it.” It is a wonderful article, well written and most enjoyable.  I suggest you look it up at the link above.  So, we continue our study with these laws applying both to males and females.
Secondly, we note that this law concerns violence that results in death.  What God is saying here is that someone who kills another person must be put to death.  This was the origin of capital punishment that some jurisdictions still have in the West, and certainly many Islamic societies follow.
But God goes on here to distinguish between various types of murder, or so it seems.  The actual text suggests there is a difference between “a man lying in wait to kill someone” almost like a hunter hunts his prey versus a man who kills someone in the course of his life.  Most modern translations (see Verse 14 translations ) seem to reflect the second category as murder happening by accident or as murder permitted or ordained by God.  For this second type of murder, God says the person is not to be killed but rather that He would provide a place to which he may flee and be safe.
The more modern world seems to have run with this distinction a little further and translated it into the difference between intentional/planned/pre-meditated murders (which God deals with in the last verse of this passage, verse 14) vs. non-premeditated ones.  What the world has done conveniently takes God out of the equation but also establishes a whole different set of criteria with its accompanying problems to determine whether or not a murderer should receive the death penalty.  Thus, we have an outcry against it today.  God’s criterion was one and simple: if He (meaning God) allowed it, the murderer was not to be killed, but he had to hide and flee, implying some punishment may well be warranted (especially if the murder was an accident, say due to carelessness, etc.).
As indicated above, the last verse in the passage provides a special instruction with respect to those who kill someone “craftily” or via scheming and planning to do so first.  These people are even to be removed immediately from any service to, or for, God or any worship of God and be killed.  Perhaps this was what gave rise to the old church lynching activities that took place many years ago.  And certainly taking the law into our own hands is not what God intended for His children today.  But is it possible that we as a church have gone too far the other way by allowing known sin to continue in our midst; by allowing unrepentant sinners to continue to play key roles in our congregations or missions?  I remember once informing a pastor that a new congregant of his was there rather than his former church because he just left his wife and children to be with someone else.  The pastor did not even want to hear about it.  Woe to us who turn a blind eye to continuing unrepentant sin in our own families, churches, organizations.  While confronting it is often costly in many respects, I believe we need to get serious about what God wants for us, for our families, for our churches, and for the organizations we are part of – that is, the very entities we can do something about.  It is all part of getting the “Bride”, His Church, ready for the Groom’s return.
 
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