Monday, December 7, 2009

It's the Law!

I've been thinking about the death penalty in the OT. This is a very partial list of offenses for which death is the prescribed punishment.

1. Killing someone.
2. Striking one of your parents.
3. Dishonoring one of your parents. (!)
4. Selling a person.
5. Being the owner of an unpenned goring ox who gores.
6. Eating blood.
7. All manner of unlawful sexual relations, including homosexuality.
8. Profaning the Sabbath.
9. Profaning objects of the tabernacle (just ask Uzzah).
10. Blasphemy.

1. On the one hand, there are some today, among the ultra-conservative/theonomic set, who believe that we should still enforce the death penalty for (at least some of) these sins. I'm kinda glad we don't, given the strictness of #3, I might not have lived to see the end of Junior High if we did.

2. On the other hand, however, before we dismiss those wacky ultra-conservatives as being wacky and ultra-conservative, we should consider something: all these laws were God's idea. This is his law, and God's law reflects God's character. God's desire was that his people would be holy, and he wouldn't put up with this kind of evil within his chosen people that he loved. We haven't truly understood the seriousness of our own sin, until we understand how God feels about it. For most of us, we have a lot of work left to do in meditating on God's law, and considering what it teaches us about God himself.

3. On the third hand (is this allowed?), we have almost no examples in the OT of the death penalty being carried out for these offenses. Now it might be the case that it happened all the time, and the OT writers simply didn't record it. But I think otherwise. Because God's law also included other options. For instance, the man who killed someone, but without evil intent, was allowed to move to a city of refuge, and live there until the death of the high priest. Or again, when the goring bull gores, the offended party may choose to accept a ransom, rather than require the death of the bull's owner. In these ways it is evident than thick strands of mercy were woven into God's holy law. It seems that God did not desire the death of the sinner as much as he desired mercy, repentance, and reconciliation. Even in his law, which we often view as strict and unbending, he made provision for restoration, so that his grace and love might shine through alongside his justice and holiness.

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