We all know about G-d’s Ten Commandments brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:3-14). Some people argue their application in today’s time but those of us that walk the straight and narrow can readily admit that all 10 will never be outdated. The next question is “what about the detailed civil laws covered right after the 10 Commandments?” (Exodus 21:12-23:19). They appear to be the bylaws of a primitive society consisting of farmers and shepherds. Most of us write them off as ancient rulings that governed a former Israel. But HaShem’s laws are timeless. If we study these ordinances we will have a better understanding of the spirit of G-d’s laws and G-d Himself.
Many of these laws appear to fall into three categories:
1. Intentional Crimes (Part 1)
2. Crimes Committed through Neglect (Part 2)
3. Unintentional Crimes (Part 3)
A. Who gets the death Sentence:
At least nine of these laws are punishable by death (Exodus 21:12, 14, 15-17, 23, 29-30, 22:1, 17-19). They cover a large spectrum ranging from intentional killing to cursing your parents. Regardless of the lists diversity they all have one thing in common – they all are intentional.
1. Premeditated murder (Exodus 21:12 & 14)
2. Cursing your parent (Exodus 21:15)
3. Attack your parent (Exodus 21:17)
4. Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
5. Killing a pregnant woman and/or her child in a fight (Exodus 21:23)
6. Ox kills somebody after you have been told to control it (Exodus 21:29-30) The ox’s owner would be put to death but he could pay a fine.
7. A sorceress will be put to death. (Exodus 22:17)
8. You will be destroyed for sacrificing to other gods. (Exodus 22:19)
9. You will be put to death for sleeping with animals (Exodus 22:18)
B. But why death?
Granted capitol punishment serves as a great deterrent; but there was another motive. If we look in Exodus 22:17 it states “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.” This is restated in Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:10-11 where in these passages the purpose is stated. It is to remove the negative influence from the community. For example; we don’t want ourselves or our loved ones to live in a world where calculating killers are released back into society, do we?
C. This is HaShem’s standard not ours.
Another point of order is that many of us feel that some of these offenses do not warrant the death sentence. That’s because we are using our standard, a human standard or humanism (1). These laws actually reveal to us G-d’s standard and what He views as extreme behavior.
With some of these intentional crimes if the perpetrator is not brought to justice HaShem will intervene. We see this with Exodus 21:15, 17. Here, if one strikes or curses their parents they will be put to death. What if a parent wouldn’t actually turn their children into the authorities knowing that it will result in a death sentence, doesn’t Hashem intervene here by the adding of the fifth of the Ten Commandments “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12), and as we see in the same verse “…in order that your days be lengthened.”
D. So what about thieves?
There are four of the ordinances that deal with theft (Exodus 21:37, 22:2-3, 6). Theft is obviously an intentional crime; but thieves are not sentenced to death. They are to pay back in a worth beyond what they stole. This probably resulted in their indentured servitude (slavery). It’s possible HaShem felt this group of people were more capable of being rehabilitated as opposed to those sentence to death. There is however one exception. If a thief breaks into your home at night you can kill him (Exodus 22:1). But this is not a court sentencing of death, I feel this has more to do with the self preservation of the innocent verses the punishment of the guilty.
E. For those of us that have commited any of the above mentioned crimes:
Some of us have committed these intentional crimes, whether practicing the wrong religion or slandering a parent etc. etc. Granted, most of us don’t live in a country that these consequences lead to being put to death (2); but how do we make ourselves accountable to HaShem. It’s easy, He has provided the answer in His word. Lets refer to Ezekiel 18:31-32 here it states “Cast away from yourselves all your transgressions; whereby you have transgressed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, and why should you die, O house of Israel! For I do not desire the death of him who dies, says the Lord God: so turn away and live!”. If this is not convincing enough please refer to Isaiah 1;18, 43:25, Micah 7:18-19, Psalm 50:23, 51:1.
To be continued:
Neglect Crimes (Part 2)
Unintentional Crimes (Part 3)