Divine Judgment and Traditions: Part 1
Feb 13, 2007
A few days ago I wrote about the sacrificial system and how the traditions of men had turned this into a rigid ritual that left no room for a better Lamb. Today we will take this one step further to show how such rigidity has affected men's ideas of divine judgment in general..
The divine law prescribes that all judgment should fit the crime (sin). In cases of theft, where that which is stolen is found and returned intact to its owner, the thief is supposed to restore double that which he stole (Exodus 22:4). If the stolen item is destroyed (or killed, in the case of an animal), the restitution must be four-fold (Ex. 22:1). If a thief steals the tools of a man's trade, such as his tractor (i.e., an "ox" in Ex. 22:1), he must restore five times the value of the item.
If he does not have the means to pay restitution, he is to work to pay off the debt (Ex. 22:4).
There are some sins, however, where restitution is not possible. Premeditated murder, for instance, carried the death penalty, because it was not possible for a man to restore life to the victim. Kidnapping also carried the death penalty, because he could not restore two people for the one kidnapped.
Likewise, Deut. 17:11 says that if a man REFUSED to pay restitution, it was the death penalty (for deliberate contempt of court). The death penalty was enough deterrent, and few people refused.
Though the death penalty was part of the law, its purpose was to motivate people to submit to the judge and pay the restitution. It was not meant to imply that God was quick to kill people nor that He loved the sight of blood.
The divine law was as interested in restoring the lawbreaker as it was in restoring the property of the victim. The judgment always fit the crime. If a man stole $1,000, the law mandated that he restore precisely $2,000 to the victim. If the judge were to impose a sentence of $2001, he would violate the rights of the thief. If he were to impose a sentence of $1,999, he would violate the rights of the victim. No biblical judge had the right to deviate from the precise sentence prescribed in the law.
This alone tells us something of the character and mind of God.
When David committed adultery and then tried to cover it with murder (2 Sam. 11), he committed two capital crimes. By strict interpretation of the letter of the law, he should have been executed for his crime. But when men repent, as David did, God has ways of imposing the death sentence upon men in ways that are different and even merciful.
David's son died because of David's sin (2 Sam. 12:18). This foreshadowed the day when David's Greater Son (Jesus) would also die for our sin--an innocent life given for the guilty. One may try to fault God for making an innocent baby pay the penalty for David's sin, but that was part of the type and shadow that was meant to portray the death of Jesus Christ for our sin. The baby was a type of Christ and will be rewarded for his ministry on earth, short as it was.
Likewise, because David had committed adultery with Bath-sheba and had not repented of it until confronted by Nathan, he was told in 2 Sam. 12:11,
"Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun."
This judgment occurred in the revolt of David's son, Absalom. The evil was raised up out of his own household. Absalom came to attack Jerusalem, and David left town rather than defend his own crown. Absalom then took the concubines of David and raped them "in the sight of all Israel" (2 Sam. 12:22). And so David was judged according to his sin with Bath-sheba.
David's wives paid the penalty for David's sin with Bath-sheba. Again, this seems unfair--and indeed it was unfair. But will those concubines not be rewarded in the end for paying the penalty for another man's sin? They were intercessors, and God knows how to make all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).
The wives of David represent the Church, even as David represents Christ. And so, during the Age of Pentecost, the people have been raped in public by the religious leaders who usurped the crown of David. Do not think that the true Christians throughout the past 2,000 years will go unrewarded for the injustice put upon them. In that sense, they are intercessors, and God knows how to make all things work together for good.
My point is to show that God can execute judgment in alternative ways when he sees repentance. He is not bound by His own law, but the law perfectly reflects His own mind and will, and so He will always be true to Himself and carry out the provisions of the law. But He is less restricted in the manner of carrying out the law's sentence. He has ways of doing it that bring in the mercy factor.
For instance, an adulterer must be stoned to death (Deut. 22:24). But the law does not specify the size of the stones nor does it define the type of death. If an adulterer is stoned with sand, it fulfills that part of the law, without being fatal. Likewise, there are two kinds of death: mortality and the second death, whereby we, like Paul, "die daily" to the flesh.
This second type of death is the real goal and purpose of the law as expressed by the mind of God. This is revealed not only in the New Testament, but in the Old as well. Hosea 6:5-7,
" (5) O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away. (6) Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and Thy judgments are as the light that goes forth. (7) For I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."
In other words, for years God imposed the death penalty upon Ephraim and Judah, but instead of using a physical sword to accomplish this, He used the sword of the mouth--the word of God. This is the same sword that proceeds from the mouth of the Lamb in the book of Revelation. This is how He slays the people--in mercy, and not to make them a sacrifice.
Jesus quoted Hosea twice in the book of Matthew, showing the importance of understanding this principle in our study of the law. In Matt. 9:13 we read,
" But go and learn what this means: 'I will have mercy and not sacrifice', for I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
This shows Jesus' interest in bringing sinners to repentance, rather than just spending all of His time fellowshiping with the righteous. The other place is in Matt. 12, where the Pharisees thought he was violating the sabbath for picking grain to eat. The Pharisees were more interested in their rigid views about the Sabbath than they were about feeding hungry people. Jesus then told them in verse 7,
"But if you had known what this means: 'I will have mercy and not sacrifice', you would not have condemned the guiltless."
Jesus was "guiltless" in the eyes of the law, but he was being held guilty in the eyes of the Pharisees. There was no law in Scripture that forbade Jesus from picking a little grain to make a meal on the Sabbath. This was not like "harvesting" a field. Jesus did not break the Sabbath laws; He showed us how to observe them by the spirit of the law.
The spirit of the law is the intent and purpose of the law. When the law is interpreted and applied according to man's desire, rather than by the desire of the Author, it becomes a tradition that negates and puts away the law.
This is the first part of a series titled "Divine Judgment and Traditions." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones