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


Unimaginable Character

How often have you run across passages or stories in Scripture that horrify you? How many times have you discovered a passage that you struggle believing is in character of our Savior? If you have found very few, perhaps you can try to imagine Jesus discussing this one:

“If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.

Exodus 21:7 NASB

This is one of those passages that are difficult to reconcile with the character we ascribe to Jesus. How could Jesus condone slavery, let alone a father selling his daughter into such an institution? Yet, that same Jesus, ministering to a Samaritan woman one moment, and a woman caught in adultery the next, lived a thousand years after the culture of this law. Think about that, Jesus a thousand years after Moses. So, to judge this law against the culture of first-century Judaism, and especially 21st-century America, looses all sense of perspective. Still, it’s in there, it’s inspired, and Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than abolish the law. That’s a tacit approval of this law.

The circumstances that would drive a father to the necessity of enslaving his daughter would have to be severe, regardless of culture. If the normal rules of debt-slavery were followed (i.e. those for male slaves), then this father would be left with an unmarryable daughter after six years. That becomes clearer as the rest of the corollaries are examined:

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

Exodus 21:8-11 NASB

What is not necessarily obvious here is that God has combined two sets of cultural traditions/laws in order to convert a debt-slavery transaction into a marriage contract. There is no option to sell the woman into typical “slavery”, she remains protected as a fellow Hebrew. In fact, notice that the woman is considered family: She’s either 1) a wife (designated for himself), daughter-in-law (designated for his son), or relative (let her be redeemed – technical term for “kinsman redeemer”). So there are some very serious protections included in these corollaries. If the buyer will not adhere to any of these three, then she goes free and the owner forfeits his payment (i.e. the father keeps the money/loan and gets his daughter back).

Also notice the status of this sort of “wife”. If another wife is acquired in a “normal” fashion, then the “purchased wife” has the same rights, guaranteed. She’s not less of a spouse because of how she entered the household. This protects the rights of the poor, protecting them from exploitation by the wealthy, in fact, such a woman is raised to the status of the wealthy (the “husband” cannot reduce her food or clothing).

Judged from the perspective of Bronze Age Cultures, what our Redeemer has done here is elevate the status of women, protect families, and protect women and the poor from exploitation. So, if you do encounter a 21st-century critic of this law, feel free to ask them why they would be against such things.

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

The Good Child

If you had siblings, then you probably have one who was the “good child”, the favorite. At least it seemed that way from your perspective. If you have more than one kid, you probably see better, but that’s not a given. I have only one, and my Master knew she was all we could handle. That’s a lot to wrap up into one kid, but she excels in living out a mixture of her mother and I.

But, is that what it means to “honor” your parents? Is it only living out the mixture of the two that makes up your “nature” part? I hope not. Unfortunately, there are so many who should never have had kids, never wanted them, and have taken little or no interest in them. For some parents, the kids are only a means to more government assistance. It’s sickening. And yet, this commandment isn’t conditional.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”

Exodus 20:12 NASB

You would think that there would be something here about parenting. Shouldn’t there be? Yet, it all falls on the kids. Honor your parents. It isn’t until Paul that there’s more guidance for parents, “Don’t exasperate your children. As if that’s not going to happen.

It’s possible that our Creator acknowledges that parenting is hard. Regardless of the child, regardless of the circumstances, parenting is difficult. Parents know nothing about it until the first one comes along, and they simply do the best they can (or, are supposed to do the best they can). Children are to honor their parents for the difficult job they were given, regardless of how well the kids think they did it or not.

This law comes with a promise, or a “carrot” in a sense. As Paul points out in Ephesians 6:2,3, this is the first law with a promise. The promise is long life in the land of promise. Paul applies it to long life anywhere. The truth is that honoring parents, perhaps learning from them, does give one important life-lessons that will prolong life on this earth. It’s important.

But what about when the parents don’t parent, aren’t interested, leave their kids behind, abandon their responsibilities, and leave a trail of empty broken kids behind them? What about those parents? How can those children honor such parents?

I don’t know. I haven’t been there, experienced such parenting, or lived with such pain. I hope that, in such cases, living better, being a better parent, and rising above the pain is the honor due. In such cases, honor may need to live alongside pain, anger, and frustration.

Regardless of how good or bad a parent was, every child has to wrestle with forgiving them. It’s right, but more, it’s healthy for the child. It may make little or no difference to the parent, but it will free the child. Perhaps this is the most basic and important element in honoring parents.

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