Thursday, November 27, 2014

God Knew We Would Be Fighting Physically -- Exodus 21:18-19

“And if men have a quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but remains in bed; if he gets up and walks around outside on his staff, then he who struck him shall go unpunished; he shall only pay for his loss of time, and shall take care of him until he is completely healed.”
I find it interesting that God knew His creation so well.  He knew we would fight physically as well as in many other ways.  It is a result of our sinful natures.  We could be filled with His Holy Spirit or we could allow our sinful nature to rule us through the influence of Satan, God’s enemy.  When my own nature and the Devil are in control, my natural inclination is to fight, or to fight back.  Fortunately, in my own life, it has only escalated to physical combat just a handful of times, and thankfully almost every one of them while I was still becoming an adult.  I have, however, witnessed, the physical fighting of other adults and it is not a pretty picture.  We do not have to watch too much of the evening news or read too many pages of our newspapers to see that men (and women) are fighting physically and hard enough that people get seriously hurt, or even die.
Our text refers to “men” but as we have indicated previously, often the message is intended for both genders.  And while verse 18 refers to striking someone with a stone or a fist, we would be foolish not to apply it to any form of undesirable physical contact or impact.  Two modern-day areas of law to consider in relation with this text come to my mind.  One is the area of automobile accidents.  The other is the area of non-consensual sexual activity.  But hold those thoughts for the moment.
The next thing we notice here is that the text seems to suggest a distinction between punishment and payment for one’s violation of the laws under consideration. We read that if the victim survives, the attacker shall go “unpunished” but shall still have to pay for certain things.  Clearly, God’s preference is that we do not fight one another.  Laws are put in place to deal with those individuals that contravene what is that preferred or desired behavior of He Who created us.  Neither God nor man creates laws for things that we do for actions or behavior preferred or desired by the maker of the law.  For example, we do not have a law that says, “Be it decreed that a person who loves his/her wife or parents or children, must . . .” and then describe the remedy for such action.
So clearly laws almost always are put in place for doing something that is in contravention of the desired or preferred action in the eyes and mind of the lawmaker.  And in this case, God is saying, “Do not strike another person.  But if you do, here is how you must be dealt with.”  Then He explains that if the victim dies, the striker is to be put to death (see references earlier in Exodus chapter 21).  But here God is saying, “If the victim survives, you will not be punished (assumedly by death) but you will have to compensate the victim for a number of things.”  Thus the difference between what you may otherwise have deserved (since striking may well lead to death) and what you are allowed to get away with since God did not allow the one you struck to die.
And what is the nature of the compensation that one is to pay if the victim survives?  Well, for starters, God says the aggressor will pay for the “victim’s loss of time”.  This is the idea we have today in our legal system of damages for loss of alternative opportunities.  If you lame me to the point where I cannot work, then the courts help us come to a settlement of what opportunity for me to earn wages you deprived me off and then assign you the responsibility to pay me for the equivalent amount.
God also says here that the aggressor is to pay for the victim’s costs of living until he is completely healed.  Here we get the idea of rehabilitation costs, or damages, which in our justice system have been broaden to include the legal costs the victims incurred in going after the aggressor in the courts.
And before we return to our two areas mentioned above – that of automobile accidents and non-consensual sex – allow me to comment on one other area of broadening of this whole principle that God outlines in these verses.  Our society has taken “striking” and given it many more meanings today.  While God spoke of physical striking here, our society has taken this much further, and perhaps rightly so.  We now include defamation of character, slander, mental anguish, wrongful dismissal in employment, and so much more.
Finally, we can see now how what God outlined to be the course of action for one who strikes another person (keeping in mind all the modern day equivalents of that) if he were to survive, formed the foundational principles for what our justice system often requires today.  That is, compensation of the aggressors in terms of making the victim as “whole” as possible.  Understanding that while one can never get back what they lost – a leg, their reputation, the mental health, etc. – the aggressor is required to compensate them in a way that allows them to have as much of a life as possible.
As we study this book of Exodus, we cannot but marvel at how much our entire legal system and society depend on God’s original thoughts on both punishment and compensation.
I can also see threads of similarity here between how God wants violators of His laws dealt with and how God Himself applies these same ideas to our sin against Him.  We have sinned and deserve to die.  But He wants us to live.  The penalty or compensation for our sin, however, still needs to be paid and He arranges for that payment to be made by His own Son dying on the cross in our place.  The wholeness of God’s Holy nature as far as His willingness to call us sons and daughters because of His love for us has been kept in tact, and we can have a relationship with Him for eternity.

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