Meditation: Exodus 21 & 22

Reading: Exodus 21:12-26 and 22:1-15

In this passage we learn some basic principles of divine justice, including just punishment to fit the crime, fair restitution for loss, and serious sentences as warnings to encourage responsibility and discourage crime. Three different types of crime are mentioned: killing, injury and criminal negligence. Not every crime is the same, therefore punishments are different.

Premeditated murder attracts the death sentence. God is very angry at murder because He is the giver of life and made man in His image. Death is a very serious punishment, therefore God ensured a rigorous judicial process. At least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6, 7) are required for a guilty verdict. God also puts very high value of the position authority of parents. Therefore striking father or mother (the Hebrew word for striking means hitting extremely hard) or seriously cursing and totally rejecting their authority should also be punished by death. How very important it is to honour father and mother! The prohibition of kidnapping is aimed mainly at slave trade. Slave traders, and even greedy common criminals, kidnap people and sell them as slaves. God also commands the death sentence for this crime. Every person is made in God’s image, so violating a person’s freedom is very serious.

In cases of personal injury or loss of property God uses the principle of restitution, that is, the victim is paid an amount that covers the financial costs of the injury, including loss of income. The perpetrator must pay, which is his punishment. In the original Hebrew text the expression “give an eye for an eye” does not necessarily mean a good eye must be removed and given to a victim. Such an exchange would not help the victim. According to scholars the expression probably means to give adequate compensation for loss of an eye.

Key text: Ex 21:23-25 “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Question: What do the punishments for these crimes tell you about God’s justice?