Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An Eye for an Eye -- the Lex Talionis

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Tuesday, February 5, 2013:  Exodus 21:22-23:13

23 But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.  Exodus 21:23-25 (NKJV)

Have you ever wanted to get even?  You were hurt and you wanted the person who hurt you to feel your pain.  The essence of the law is found in the principle of justice we call "an eye for an eye."  It has also been called the Lex Talionis -- the law of retaliation. 

This is the guiding principle that determines the punishment for breaking the rules.  It is both positive and negative.  It is positive in that the punishment must match (measure up) to the degree of the sin.  It is negative in that it curtails over-reaction.  You can't use a sledge hammer to swat a fly.

That's where we always get it wrong.  We either let people get away with murder, or, on the other extreme, we nail them for just looking at us wrong.  But, God's law gets it right.  The penalty must match the crime.  The human element can "pervert justice" (see Dt. 16:19 and many other passages).  We either "go soft" in denial, or we get carried away in emotional over-reaction.

This requires a solid relationship with Jesus for us to live in the beauty and security of His justice.  It requires the ability to face to truth and live in the truth.  We should accept the just consequences of our actions.  It requires the ability to keep our heart under the control of the Holy Spirit so we do not enact our own justice.  But, that leads us to the most important lesson of all.

The principle of Lex Talionis drives us to Jesus.  Every action demands a reaction.  Every sin must be paid for.  "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."  This is the basis for a just society.

But, who can survive such a rule.  It was the great missionary statesman David DuPlessis who said, "If we live by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world with be blind and toothless."  Lex Talionis drives us to Jesus.  If justice must be served, then how can we find it? 

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of all time, speaks to us in his wonderful devotional book Morning and Evening

The Lord Jesus had goings forth for His people as their representative before the throne, long before they appeared upon the stage of time. It was ‘from everlasting’ that He signed the compact with his Father, that He would pay blood for blood, suffering for suffering, agony for agony, and death for death in the behalf of his people…He gave himself up without a murmuring word that from the crown of His head to the sole of His foot He might sweat great drops of blood, that He might be spit upon, pierced, mocked, rent asunder and crushed beneath the pains of death.
You see, Exodus 21:23-25 is not just about how we should regulate human conduct -- the law of equity.  It is about JESUS.  When we read these words, we should not think first of how we can get even with our enemies.  Instead, we should think of how a Savior gave His life that I might have mine spared.  In Him, forgiveness flows.  Mercy has triumphed over justice.

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