Capital Crimes

The death penalty is one of those hot-topics that can start a life-long argument, separate friends, define enemies, and incite a riot. Since another of those topics is religion, it seemed like a great idea to combine both. After covering slavery, including daughter enslavement, how could it get any worse?

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.  But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.  If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die.

Exodus 21:12-14 NASB

The main law regards one man striking another, resulting in death. But, like the laws regarding slavery, there are corollaries. Notice that, if the hand of God is detected in the death, “…but God let him fall into his hand…”, then a place of refuge is provided to escape the “blood redeemer”. This one suggests the carrying out of the penalty is not performed by an “executioner”, but a “blood redeemer”. This is another family role, like “kinsman redeemer”, only this one redeems the blood of the murdered.

Notice also that one acting craftily against his neighbor, like premeditated murder, then there is no refuge for him, even the sanctuary of worship is no refuge. (You can find the practice of this specifically in 1 Kings 2:28-34. Joab tried it, and it didn’t work for him.) Here, the killer acted against the “hand of God”, in a sense grasping the life from the hand of God. Even so, there is no sheriff, there is no police, judge, jury, bailiff, or executioner. There is the blood redeemer. It’s a different, much simpler community. So, judging it using standards of our 21st-Century society isn’t possible.

“He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 21:15-17 NASB

One of the biggest criticisms of capital punishment is that innocent people can be executed. Most often, you don’t hear a criticism that the “punishment doesn’t fit the crime”, since in our society it always follows homicide. But what if someone were executed for striking their parent? How about “cursing” their parent, would that warrant death? What sort of society punishes such things with death, and who is it a punishment of, the child, or the parent? What would parenting look like in our society if the parents knew that their child could be killed for cursing them? It’s almost impossible to imagine from our perspective, it makes so little sense. And yet, to our Savior, Jesus, it makes sense.

This sort of penalty makes little sense in our society, we would think it excessive, even insane. And, in our society, with the sorts of laws and institutions we have, it would be insane. Yet, these laws indicate something profound. If we, immersed in our society miss the message, then a message of our Savior is lost. Parenting, and the treatment of parents by their children is dear to our Savior. Why? Why is cursing a parent punishable by death? Could it be that our Savior wants us to teach our children that they have a Father in heaven unimaginably greater than ourselves?

Being easy with how our children treat us, accepting mistreatment and disrespect, these things impede our Savior’s reach into their lives. We focus on how harshness and loveless parenting divides children from their Savior, and it does. Our Father in Heaven is neither of those things. But the answer is not to go in the other direction and pander to them.

Remember that our Creator and Redeemer loves us passionately. And yet we suffer. He permits difficulty. He even causes difficulty for us. He disciplines us because He loves us. And yet He never permits us to be destroyed, to fall with no recovery, and to be taken from Him by anyone. It’s not one or the other, it’s both and. We are to parent as we are parented by our Father in heaven.

So, let them live, but let’s not make it easy for our children to disrespect us. They may not be executed by human institutions or laws for their disrespect, but our Father in heaven may take them from us. He will certainly hold them accountable. If you want to protect them, discipline them. It’s important to our Savior.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation