The Lord said:
12 Death is the punishment for murder. 13 But if you did not intend to kill someone, and I, the Lord, let it happen anyway, you may run for safety to a place that I have set aside. 14If you plan in advance to murder someone, there's no escape, not even by holding on to my altar. You will be dragged off and killed.
15Death is the punishment for attacking your father or mother.
16 Death is the punishment for kidnapping. If you sell the person you kidnapped, or if you are caught with that person, the penalty is death.
17 Death is the punishment for cursing your father or mother.
18Suppose two of you are arguing, and you hit the other with either a rock or your fist, without causing a fatal injury. If the victim has to stay in bed, 19and later has to use a stick when walking outside, you must pay for the loss of time and do what you can to help until the injury is completely healed. That's your only responsibility.
20Death is the punishment for beating to death any of your slaves. 21However, if the slave lives a few days after the beating, you are not to be punished. After all, you have already lost the services of that slave who was your property.
22Suppose a pregnant woman suffers a miscarriage as the result of an injury caused by someone who is fighting. If she isn't badly hurt, the one who injured her must pay whatever fine her husband demands and the judges approve. 23But if she is seriously injured, the payment will be life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, cut for cut, and bruise for bruise.
26If you hit one of your slaves and cause the loss of an eye, the slave must be set free. 27The same law applies if you knock out a slave's tooth—the slave goes free.
28A bull that kills someone with its horns must be killed and its meat destroyed, but the owner of the bull isn't responsible for the death.
29Suppose you own a bull that has been in the habit of attacking people, but you have refused to keep it fenced in. If that bull kills someone, both you and the bull must be put to death by stoning. 30However, you may save your own life by paying whatever fine is demanded. 31This same law applies if the bull gores someone's son or daughter. 32If the bull kills a slave, you must pay the slave owner 30 pieces of silver for the loss of the slave, and the bull must be killed by stoning.
33Suppose someone's ox or donkey is killed by falling into an open pit that you dug or left uncovered on your property. 34You must pay for the dead animal, and it becomes yours.
35If your bull kills someone else's, yours must be sold. Then the money from your bull and the meat from the dead bull must be divided equally between you and the other owner.
36If you refuse to fence in a bull that is known to attack others, you must replace any animal it kills, but the dead animal will belong to you.
Because the God who created all things is holy we should not be surprised to learn that we live in a “moral universe.” This means that the universe is regulated by God and if we look at life from God’s point of view we are able to discern principles of equity and justice. Our passage illustrates this with its series of laws specifying what is to be done in a variety of contentious situations that call for discerning arbitration.
A survey of the passage reveals that God is concerned about a number of things. First is the value of human life, in fact, it is so valuable that those who deliberately take a human life in an unauthorized manner face the ultimate penalty – the forfeiture of their own lives. But there is also a concern for the integrity of the family and the need to show respect to fathers and mothers.
Embedded in the heart of the passage is the famous “lex talionis” – “an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” – which encapsulates the important moral principle that the punishment must suit the crime and vengeance must not be unbridled or unprincipled. Extenuating circumstances must be taken into consideration because God is a God of holiness and justice and these attributes should be seen operating among his people.
In a day when it seems like many are doing what is right in their own eyes, and morality is viewed as nothing more than a social convention this passage reminds us that right and wrong is not a matter of personal preference or majority opinion. We live in God’s world and he will adjudicate life now and in the end. Our responsibility is to make sure that our conduct lines up with his revealed will.
Righteous Father, We acknowledge that you are not only the creator but the ruler of the world. Help us to know your will for our lives and then to do it with joy knowing that you know what is best for us. In the name of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.