In Exodus chapter 20, we have the giving of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 21:1 says, “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them.” (NKJV) In chapters 21-24, we have the practical applications of the law. The punishments given for the crimes committed are very reasonable. The punishment, indeed, fit the crime. We read in Exodus 21:12, “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” This was no new concept, for the Lord had told Moses after he and his family left the ark, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

Let’s read Exodus 21:22-25, “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” These laws contained neither vengeance nor mercy. If there was a loss due to the actions of another, the punishment reflected just payment, whether it be money, or even the taking of a life.

The case in verse 22 shows how the punishment was to fit the crime. If two men were fighting, and perhaps the pregnant wife of one them tried to intervene and was hurt, so much that she delivered her child prematurely, then a crime had been committed. However, if “no harm follows”, meaning that the baby does not die, then the punishment is much less than if the baby died. That is reasonable for no murder was committed. In this case, the husband of the woman would determine a reasonable amount of restitution to be paid. Perhaps his wife needed medical attention, or there were costs involved in the care for this premature baby. He would present this amount to the judges, or arbitrators, and they would determine if that amount was reasonable. The offender would be required to pay that amount.

However, if “any harm follows” or the baby dies due to this man’s actions, then “you shall give life for life.” I suppose we would call this ‘capital punishment’. I would call it a law of “like for like.” Other examples follow: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound. All this was given to maintain order in their government.

Let’s turn to the New Testament, where the Lord quotes verse 24. We read in Matthew 5:38-42, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” While the ‘law of the land’ was fair, showing neither vengeance nor grace, in personal matters, it is good that we show grace to others who may mistreat or use us. If someone was to mistreat you because of your Christian testimony, you have every legal right to call the police and have him punished. If you are talking to someone about the love of God and he should hit you, or shove you, you can call the police and he will be punished. However, we read in 1 Peter 4:16, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” It would be far better to show the love of God to those who persecute us. It’s not that crimes should not be punished, but with personal offenses, we will honor the Lord to suffer for His name’s sake and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28) (268.10)