An Eye for an Eye
God, reveal the contents of my heart as I read this passage today.
Read Exodus 21:12–27
12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.
15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.
16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.
17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.
18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
26 “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.
New International Version (NIV)
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ReflectThink of when someone has done something wrong to you. How much difference does it make whether it was intentional or not?
Different law codes in the Old Testament have different emphases. Some are about why people did what they did, where law is concerned with internal transformation. In Exodus 20–23, these questions of character are less significant: the emphasis is on clear and correct judgment about what is to be done next. To be blunt: if your donkey fell in someone’s pit, it really doesn’t matter why (see 21:33).
Today’s passage considers several different cases of personal injury, trying to make clear the consequences of different acts, largely regardless of why anything happened. The only exception is the opening case about whether a fatal blow was intentional or not.
The “eye for an eye” passage, found three times in the Old Testament (cf. Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21), was perhaps intended to limit excessive vengeance and produce a sense of proportionate justice. Note that these three passages want justice on behalf of those who have been attacked, rather than for oneself. Jesus’ return to this theme in Matthew 5 suggests that many people found it easier to use the ruling to try to generate their own justice, which might become self-serving.
Do you wish your own version of “justice” on someone who has harmed you? Imagine them receiving God’s mercy instead.
Merciful God, I thank You for the mercy You have shown me. Help me to extend the same mercy to others.