Exodus 21:12. He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
There are a number of things this commandment was not intended to forbid. The first is capital punishment. Capital punishment is based on the premise that it is God who gives life and only God who can take it. God has placed such a value upon human life that He has decreed that if a man takes another man’s life, then he must forfeit his own. God Himself does not come down from heaven and take the man’s life – instead God has delegated that divine authority to society. God has given to human agents and to our social community the responsibility to punish crime.
In Leviticus 20 and 24, God lays down the rule that under certain conditions human life must be taken as a punishment for crime. ‘He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death’ (Exodus 21:12). Of course I know that it is not a popular stand today. Here is an old Quote ‘Capital punishment is a dramatic, flawed and entirely false solution to the problem of capital crime. There is no such thing as a humane way of taking someone’s life’ (Argus 2 September 1988). An old quote repeated in various ways since then.
But there is nothing more cruel and more inhumane and that negates the respect for human life more than a criminal who takes a life and is set free, or who has a light punishment imposed upon him. In this way, the courts unwittingly devalue human life. The more humanistic society becomes, the more clever people think they are and the more God and His laws are marginalised, the more brazen criminals become and the more desensitised we all become to violence.
I am aware of the debate around capital punishment and this short piece is not the place to enter the debate. Many believe that the instruction to take a life for a life as a punishment for vicious crimes has been subsumed under the grace of the gospel. My purpose here is to draw attention to the seriousness with which God viewed the taking of human life.
The more crime and violence proliferate the more society decays and evil people seem to rise to the top. Note these words from Psalm 12:8:
“The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured amongst men.”
This is what happens when the authorities are light on crime and punishment. So when moral absolutes are banished from our thinking and right and wrong become relative, it is hard to know how to punish crime.
We need to watch over our private lives in this regard and be sure we live according to God’s rules, standards and by His Spirit living within us, ever displaying the gentleness, patience and compassion of Christ.
Almighty God. You see and know all things. You know the anguish of a lawless world. Please send your Holy Spirit to us. Strengthen us to live for you and to make our impact on those around us. Amen