“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.” Exodus 21:12-13
I’m thinking that most of you reading this post are like myself in that you’d rather not dwell on or think about violence, especially when it comes to the devotional part of your life. Yet here I am working my way through the book of Exodus, as I write my daily devotional posts, and that journey has inevitably resulted in my facing the list of laws governing the punishment of violent crimes, of which our focus text is the first. If I weren’t trying to create a basically complete devotional commentary I’d be inclined to skip this section.
Then again, I think it’s good think for us to consider and meditate on the fact that our God is a God of justice and righteousness as well as a God of love and mercy. The truth is you can’t have love and mercy without justice and righteousness.
A Christian author I greatly respect named Clifford Goldstein emphasized this point in his book, One Nation Under God, when he talked about the loss his family experienced as a result of the holocaust. His basic testimony is that you wouldn’t be able to convince him that God was loving or merciful if you couldn’t demonstrate that God was also going to hold the people accountable for the crimes they committed when they destroyed so many of his relatives. For him justice and retribution had to be a reality if there was truly going to be such a thing as love and mercy.
As we see from the laws addressing acts of violence both mercy and justice are present. Opportunity for a place of sanctuary was made for a person not guilty of intentional or premeditated murder. Also, the victim of violence, his family, and society were protected from the presence of violent and dangerous people because there were laws to deal with people who committed such acts and strong consequences to deter such actions.
There’s no pleasant way of handling violence. Justice demands an appropriately strong response and if there isn’t one because we’re trying to be understanding and merciful to the offender, then justice itself is compromised and mercy loses its strength.
God’s justice is perfectly harmonized with his mercy and his righteousness is balanced by his love. Those who trust him and look to him for leadership, shelter, and protection will always find in him a place of reliable safety. And those who war against him and oppresses the righteous, the innocent, the vulnerable will find that there is no way to escape from the justice of the Lord.
You may be able to elude the hands of the earthly judge but God sees and knows and he will bring you into judgement where you will receive justice if you refuse to be led to repentance where you can find mercy.