The Gospel According to Moses


Week XVIII: Justice, Retribution & Capital Punishment


Day #120: The Wisdom of Restitution

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep. ...He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

Exodus 22:1,3-4

One of the greatest differences between modern and Mosaic laws is the policy of restitution. Restitution is paying for your crime, and it the wisdom of it is so obvious that I wonder why it’s been discarded by modern society. Most thieves never consider their victims at all. They steal because they want what someone else has: I like your TV set, and your VCR, therefore I take it away from you, and sell it to someone else for a fraction of what it’s really worth, so he can turn around and sell it for more. Never mind what the original owner paid for it in the first place. Never mind if they worked overtime at a job which paid very little, never mind if a great portion of their life has gone into that item, who cares if it had sentimental value, had perhaps belonged to their father and grandfather before them. Some lazy and evil person saw it, liked it, and decided to steal it.

Well God cares! And His system of justice makes the thief consider the cost, too, because if he gets caught, he’s going to have to restore it. If it’s in his possession and still unharmed he has to return two TVs for one, two VCRs for one; if he has sold it to somebody, he has to refund four times the value of it, possibly five. If there is sentimental value the judges also take that into consideration. It makes the thief not only think of his own skin, but also of what he does to someone else by stealing, because he’s brought into direct contact with the cost of his crime.

Today, by contrast, the thief may be slapped on the wrist, and given probation or a suspended sentence—or he may be sent to prison, where he’ll learn from more experienced thieves how not to get caught next time. The victim better have insurance, and then be prepared for a big fight with his insurance agent—chances are he’ll get little or nothing even then, because of a large "deductible." Our laws protect the criminal against false accusations, insuring his rights from start to finish—and they should—but the courts don’t have time it seems to consider the victim’s rights, and there is nothing in our legal system that insures any justice at all for the them.

Our laws were drafted against the backdrop of, and in response to, the harsh and unjust laws of a few hundred years ago that allowed a man to hang, or rot in prison, for little or no reason at all; the framers of our constitution vowed that it would never happen here. The problem is their reactionary laws forgot about the victims—that wasn’t a problem in the Eighteenth Century, like it is today. God’s laws saw every century and every system of man, and prescribed a system far beyond what any group of men might come up with, no matter how intelligent, noble, or caring they might be. Retribution is a good idea, and that slavery clause is pretty interesting, too. If the thief can’t make retribution, he’ll work it off. It worked a lot better than our system. It was God’s idea.


Day 121: Borrowers with Integrity

And if a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution.

Exodus 22:14

Why do some Christians get so upset when you talk about the Law of Moses to them? It is mostly an assortment of common-sense rules and guidelines that should be applicable to honest people of any time and place. There are even principles regarding borrowing and/or leasing things from your neighbor, as we see in today’s text.

If you lend something to a friend, and it becomes broken or hurt while in his possession then he has to make full restitution. That is a law with integrity. Someone might argue that it could have broken no matter who was using it, but on the other hand the owner could argue that it had always performed reliably while he was using it and the borrower must have abused it, whether out of ignorance or neglect. The law settles the issue; there is no argument—the borrower must make it right, by either buying the owner a new one, or fixing it to as good as new again.

Nowadays, if something like that happens, a person with integrity would make restitution with or without a law to guide them. They fear God, and are righteous in their dealings with others; it may or may not have been their fault, but they respond with integrity and make the proper amends. A less noble person, however, would begin to make excuses, and perhaps even blame the lender for giving them something that was ready to break at any moment. Their true colors would show, they wouldn’t make restitution, and they would sin against God and man, and ruin their character even more. Many good people have the policy of not lending anything to anybody, because they’ve been burned by a few bad experiences. The Law is good because it demands that every one of God’s people act with integrity and develop in righteousness. Laws may or may not keep honest people honest, but they definitely help the unrighteous to stay in line and grow in integrity. (By the way, Paul first made that statemnt in 1 Timothy 1:9)

Does it sound like the deck is stacked in favor of the lender? Not at all. The next verse goes on to say, "If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire." If the owner is standing by, it’s his responsibility to see that his property is used right, and to call the borrower on any abuse before the property is damaged. If the property is hired—if the borrower has paid rent on it—then no restitution needs to be made. The owner has been paid and he takes the risk that something might happen. He’s not lending out of good-will; he’s doing it for money; he may even hire his property out on a regular basis, and may have earned more on it already than its original value. The Law takes everything into consideration, and calls for righteous judgments.

We don’t have laws like that in the United States, but the Christian should have the Law of God written in his heart. Act with integrity toward your neighbor at all times, and if you need a few lessons on integrity, get into the Law of God. He’s the Author of integrity.


Day 122: The Price of Seduction

And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.

Exodus 22:16,17

The Law always makes the offender consider the cost and the implications of sin. Today when a young man is physically attracted to a girl, he simply bends every effort to get her, and to get as much of her as possible. He doesn’t necessarily think about marriage, and he certainly doesn’t care about the girl’s parents, or her future husband. He doesn’t even consider her own dignity, self-respect or morals—the less morals and self-respect, the better, as far as he’s concerned. Good girls aren’t much fun, after all, at least that’s how most boys think—and that’s probably why so few girls want to be good girls.

The Law of God makes the seducer think twice. If he actually succeeds in having his way with the girl, he’s going to be in big trouble. He’s going to have to marry her—that’s the first option. If she doesn’t want to marry him, or if her father doesn’t want her to marry him, then he has to pay her dowry anyway. And dowries weren’t cheap—they were like college educations are today; parents saved all their lives for their children’s dowries. Even if the boy was rich a dowry wouldn’t be easy to come up with, for they were probably negotiated according to social status and income. Even spoiled rich kids couldn’t easily buy their way out of trouble under the Law.

It was also almost certain that they’d be found out, too, even if both the boy and girl decided to keep it a secret. Her future husband fully expected to marry a virgin, and would demand an explanation if he should discover on his wedding night that he hadn’t. So if she had yielded to some boy before she was married, she’d probably tell her father as soon as she could get her nerve up—there was no it could be hushed up, anyway.

If a man succeeded in seducing a girl who was married or engaged, it could be much worse—in many cases the Law actually prescribed the death penalty for adultery! (An engagement, or betrothal, incidentally, was as binding as actual marriage in Jewish society.)

Proper laws keep all of society more upright, and avoid a lot of the pain and heartache of sin. Our own ungodly age might consider such laws the painful part, victimizing poor people who happened to give in to sin—but we are the losers because of such attitudes. We’ve lost our morality, and we take the heartache and degradation of fornication for granted. In the past few generations in particular we’ve lost all controls on this precious gift called sex—it’s become cheap, easy and available without commitment. God only knows the pain that this has brought, for we ourselves are hardened to it.

Again, may I prescribe a good dose of the Law of the Lord to help sort out our thinking?


Day 123: Understanding God’s Death Penalty

You shall not allow a sorceress to live. Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Exodus 22:18-20

Many modern people find capital punishment to be primitive, savage, and completely offensive—especially when they find it prescribed in the pages of the Bible. They fancy that somehow mankind has come beyond the place where we vindictively take a "life for a life," and society itself becomes just as evil as the murderer by taking his life in exchange for the life that he has taken. At the same time, since we’ve taken a more lenient stance towards crime and punishment in the last forty years, while mocking the moral code of the Bible, violence and lawlessness have increased at an alarming rate, and support for the death penalty is making a comeback even in modern America.

There are three things we ought to understand about the death penalty as found in the Scriptures, and I think as you consider them, you’ll understand God’s point of view, and at least some of the purpose behind it.

In the first place, the severity of the punishment, coupled with the inescapable code of restitution, forced potential criminals and hotheads to think twice before committing an act that they’d soon regret. If they got caught doing somethgin unlawful, they knew they were going to pay dearly for it: whether it was fornication (the dowry), theft (anywhere from two to five-fold restitution of whatever they had taken), breaking someone’s nose (their own nose would be broken), or a crime punishable by death, such as the ones in our text. Whatever the social science experts of today may say, and how they might manoeuver the statistics, a stern justice system is always an effective deterrent to crime—and all the more so when it’s coupled with the rest of the Law and the entire biblical world view.

Today, the criminal gambles on the system just as a child does with lenient parents. The child has learned by experience that he or she can continue to be naughty long after Mommy says, "Stop that." She’ll say, "Stop that" a little louder pretty soon, and then little louder still, maybe throw a few mild swear-words around, threaten a little bit, then a little bit more, before losing her temper and actually enforcing her "Stop that." The child pushes right up to the limit before finally backing off; and of course sometimes he or she crosses the limit and actually gets disciplined, but then Mommy feels so bad about losing her temper that she comes back later and apologizes anyway. In any case the child wins, and it’s instilled in his little heart from almost day one that you can usually get away with disobedience, if you play your cards right... and even if you get caught, you usually don’t have to pay too much for it.

The application to the criminal in a humanistic justice system is obvious—in fact the criminal is that child, now grown up and playing the same game for higher stakes. The part of Mommy is played by the courts, which coddle criminals just as she did. He gets his wrist slapped a few times along the way, but by and large never has to actually pay for his misdeeds. Even if he’s convicted of multiple murders and sent to death row, chances are he’ll sit there for the rest of his life, fat and secure, with full privileges, access to television and internet... and a financial burden to society. (Do you know it costs more to keep a prisoner in a maximum security detention center for one year than it would to send him to Harvard or Yale?) If the state finally decides to execute him, there will be demonstrations in the streets and last-minute appeals to the governor or President to pardon him after all.

Americans today, like Western Europeans and other fallen societies, do not have the stomach to run a just society, and it is costing us dearly. God had a better idea back in the days of Moses...


Day 124: The Death Penalty, Cont’d

You shall not allow a sorceress to live. Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Exodus 22:18-20

We’re looking at the death penalty under the Law of Moses again today, and we’re trying to gain a deeper understanding of the rationale behind it. Why did God impose such strict punishments for certain crimes, especially some which may seem undeserving of death to us, and what effect it had on the Hebrew nation?

The crimes in our text for today are probably in that category already mentioned: certainly not good practices from a Christian point of view, but the death penalty? Isn’t that a little stiff? These could even be looked upon as a matter of preference, not something that should be dictated by law. We think along these lines, not because it’s just and rigtheous, but because we’re conditioned—brainwashed, if you will—by the value system of our own country and culture. That value system stresses mutual respect for people of various beliefs and practices. It’s based, not on God’s values, or even on right and wrong, but on a secular, humanistic world-view. The underlying assumption is that truth is not objective or constant, nobody can really be really right or wrong in their choice of gods, or their sexual preference, for that matter. Such minor issues aren’t worth fighting over. As long as we all agree on this pluralistic view, we’re not hurting anybody else by these differences—we’re simply exercising our God-given rights.

Perhaps you are starting to see the error of this way of thinking. God hasn’t given us inalienable rights to worship other gods! There is such a thing as objective truth, and the definitions of right and wrong don’t change with the general consensus of the population. There is either a true God or there isn’t. If there isn’t then these practices are a matter of choice; if there is, then we better honor Him and conform our thinking to His.

Most of the crimes punishable by death in the Law are those that open doors to serious demonic oppression. If you worship another "god" you are actually opening yourself up to, and inviting into your life, a demon spirit. You can repent of stealing fairly easily, and just never do it again. Idolatry and sexual sins are not so easily dealt with, for demons are attracted to these sins like ants to a picnic You’re tormented at night, driven to do things that you hate yourself for doing, you destroy your relationships and act in an generally self-destructive manner. This is not a mere crime. This is demonization.

Furthermore, it does hurt others. Once doors are opened up to demons within a community, they begin to make their presence felt in many ways. They’re like cancer cells in a society—feeding on the body from within; malignant growths that spread and eventually destroy everything they touch. Look how the introduction of drugs and Hinduism and free love in the late ’Sixties has changed our whole western culture in just a few short decades! We now have "New Age" beliefs, bizarre sexual perversion, mass murders—you name it. The America of our fathers is irretrievably gone, and it’s a change for the worse, anybody has to agree.

That’s why the Bible prescribed the death penalty for such behavior—these sins not only ruin an individual sinner, but the entire society around him.


Day 125: The Death Penalty & God’s Forgiveness

You shall not allow a sorceress to live. Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Exodus 22:18-20

For the last few days we’ve been looking at the death penalty under the Law of Moses, and we’ve seen some of the wisdom of God behind it. A legitimate question to the New Testament believer at this point might be, "How does this relate to forgiveness, as taught by Jesus Christ?" Look at the "Sermon on the Mount" for example... "But I say unto you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also," (Matthew 5:39).

There is really no contradiction here at all. The Sermon on the Mount and the Law of Moses are two entirely different contexts. Jesus is talking about people’s hearts, while the Law is talking about civil matters and keeping order and peace in society.

If someone hurts you, you’re to keep your heart right towards them. The natural impulse when someone hits you on the cheek is to hit him back, but Jesus says, don’t you hit him at all; have such a pure heart as to offer him the other cheek. Don’t stoop to his emotional responses, don’t yield to sin just because he does. You can easily survive a punch in the face, or a little oppression by an evil political system, but you cannot spiritually survive the demonic poison of hate and bitterness that will invade your soul if you always strike back. Forgive them—they know not what they do—they hurt themselves more than they can ever hurt you. Don’t let resentment take root in your heart, don’t nurse the desire for revenge, or you’ll become as ugly as he who hurt you in the first place.

If someone kills your son you don’t offer him the other son, say "God bless you," and return to your home in peace. This is a matter for the civil authorities. A murderer cannot be allowed to roam about, killing and maiming others at will. For the sake of society as a whole, for the sake of law and order, to protect the lives of innocent people, he must be caught and brought to justice. God is a God of order and peace, the Bible says; He doesn’t sanction lawlessness. And God has prescribed in the Law how to deal justly with murderers in society—whether it’s first degree murder or manslaughter, as we saw a few days ago.

What happened to forgiveness? You still forgive him, even if it was your child who was killed. You keep your own heart pure, in spite of the tremendous hurt and loss—God will give you the grace to do it. If the murderer genuinely repents from the heart, and turns to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, God will forgive him. He may do it just before his execution, but if he is sincere, the Lord will usher him into heaven. Civil justice has been carried out, just the same. You can forgive him, in the sense of keeping your own heart right; and God can forgive him, in the sense of wiping out the account books of heaven regarding it. But only God can wipe the accounts clean; no earthly judge really knows the heart of man, or how deep an apparent repentance is. The civil courts must uphold the law of the land, keep order, protect law-abiding citizens, and maintain the integrity of the whole system by just retribution in each and every case. Forgiveness is between a man and God, but civil justice must be carried out to the full extent of the Law.

There’s no contradiction at all here. God loves both the sinner and the community, and has made provision for the welfare of each.


Day 126: The Problem with Prisons

We’ve been looking at the subject of restitution, and of the death penalty, as found in the Law of Moses—or rather, the Law of God, for that’s what the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy really are.

One observation that you might make regarding the Law is that there is no mention made of prisons or jails. In just two instances—Leviticus 24:12, Numbers 15:34—are men held at all, and in those instances it was just long enough to find out what the word of the Lord was. The Gentile governments in the Bible had prisons and jails—Egypt, Babylon, and the Roman rulers of Palestine in the New Testament, and during the times of the kings we also find mention of incarceration, but it’s never prescribed in the Law.

There is no need of prisons in a system that places the emphasis on retribution—if you steal, you pay it back, either two-fold or more, depending on the circumstances. In more serious crimes, the offender is actually put to death—again eliminating the need for prisons.

The wisdom of God’s Law is obvious if you consider the weakness of our own prison system. First of all, prisons cost the state—the taxpayers—a lot of money. The offender could very well sit back and gloat—he may have lost his freedom, but he’s set up for life now: he eats better than he probably did before, he has access to many forms of entertainment, well-furnished gyms, and even job-training. Prisons suck up billions of tax dollars every year, and all the various court costs, salaries for prosecutors, public defenders, and all the staff, government clerks, etc. etc.—it boggles the mind just how expensive this whole thing is. The prisoners even receive a nominal salary for their labor! It costs more to keep a man in prison for a year than it would to send him to Harvard or Yale—and that isn’t counting court costs or other related industries, such as bail-bondsmen, police and sheriff departments, and the like.

Secondly, the prison system gives no satisfaction to the victim. Sometimes the court orders some minimal amends to be made to victims, but more often you can only hope that they have a good insurance policy... what kind of justice system is this? You have to pay monthly installments to buy security against criminals—and of course, you pay much more than you ever get out of it, for that’s how the insurance companies exist. It’s a little like paying protection money, when you stop and think about it. As to more serious crimes, there is absolutely no satisfaction—the offender may very well be back out on the streets in a few short years (even if the crime was murder or rape) to victimize somebody else. This is a good country to be a criminal in—you’re treated with kid gloves, and you rarely have to pay much for your antisocial behavior. It’s not that good of a place for the law-abiding citizenry, for that very reason.

Finally, a justice system based on prisons puts the offender in the company of other offenders, and minimizes the chance of real rehabilitation. The atmosphere and the companionship in prsion is hardly conducive to becoming a better person. Most become repeat offenders, many spend their entire lives in and out of the slammer; few are truly repentant and restored as functional members of society.

Once again, we see that the Bible approach to law and order—with the emphasis on restitution instead of incarceration, and including capital punishment for serious offenders—works better than man’s ideas. If only we’d learn to stick with our Maker’s blueprint!


The Gospel According to Moses, Week XI

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XII

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XIII

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XIV

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XV

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XVI

The Gospel According to Moses, Week XVII

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All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Version unless marked otherwise.

Copyright © 2005  Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

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