Moses' second speech, Part 8
Jul 25, 2012
Deuteronomy 5:17 says, "You shall not murder."
As with all the Commandments, this was meant to state the basic principle, leaving the other statutes to define it further and the judgments of the law to instruct us in the penalties for its infraction.
One of the most basic principles of biblical law is that the judgment must always be in direct proportion to the crime. The crime, then, must be matched proportionately to its resolution or restitution. Simple theft requires double restitution (Ex. 22:4) to the victim in order for justice to be accomplished.
In the case of murder, it is not normally possible to restore the loss to the victimized family--unless one has the power to raise the murder victim from the dead. And even if he could be raised up, double restitution would be within the rights the victim and his family. How does one restore two lives?
The same problem is faced with kidnapping (Ex. 21:16). How does one pay restitution for such a crime? In cases where restitution is not possible, the judgment of God is death. That is, it is the right of the victims to call for the death penalty, and the law must enforce their will. It should be clear, however, that the victims always have the right of forgiveness. The law is only empowered to enforce the rights of the victims of injustice. Grace and mercy is always the right of a victim, though not of a judge in the performance of his office.
Premeditated Murder and Accidental Manslaughter
Premeditated murder calls for the death penalty (Ex. 21:14). Yet one who unintentionally killed another without malice was required to confine himself to one of the six cities of refuge, where he was to remain until the death of the high priest (Ex. 21:13; Deut. 19:11). This was a voluntary imprisonment that did not prevent the killer from supporting himself by whatever labor he could find. If he left the city of refuge, he could be killed by the victim's representative in court ("the redeemer of blood") with full immunity (Num. 35:26-28).
Again, keep in mind that the victims always retain their right of forgiveness. Both Jesus and Stephen forgave their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60), because this was their right. That right naturally passed to the victim's representative, the redeemer of blood, whose responsibility it was to represent the interests of his family when they were victimized by crime. Victims' rights is a point of law that has not been fully appreciated by most teachers of the law.
Laws of War
The law itself is a war on crime. But whereas most of the laws deal with social relations within the community, there are times when nations victimize other nations. In those cases, the law is applied internationally. God Himself judges the nations to restore the lawful order in this highest Court.
Deuteronomy 20 gives us the main outline of the laws of war. The chapter presumes, of course, that the war itself is just and that God has already given the ruling in His Divine Court in regard to the international dispute. In the religions of most of the nations, it was assumed that their god simply wanted to impose his will upon the other nations, and that those gods would assist their "chosen people" to extend their power and territory. The people did not normally think of such conquests in terms of restoring the lawful order of the universe. War was waged usually with selfish motives, with little or no regard for the well-being of other people.
But the God of the Bible is not like those other gods. When Jesus came to reveal the heart of the father, we find that He had as much compassion for the Samaritans and Romans as He did for His own tribe. In fact, the law itself mandated that the Israelites love the aliens as themselves (Lev. 19:34), remembering that they too had been mistreated as aliens in Egypt. So God's instruction to make war on other nations was not based upon self-interest but upon law enforcement for actual crimes against God or His nation.
The Canaanites, for example, had rejected the Creator and had given His sovereign right of kingship to false gods who had unjust laws that victimized many innocent people. The timing of God's judgment was established by Noah's curse upon Canaan (Gen. 9:25), and so Canaan's descendants were given a grace period of 2 x 414 years in which to repent and submit to God (i.e., Jesus Christ--hence, they were to submit to Yeshua-Joshua at the appointed time).
Nonetheless, the judgment to destroy the Canaanites was based upon their works, their practice of injustice, their murder of innocent babies in religious ceremonies, and other corrupt practices. If the Canaanites had repented of these practices and had submitted to Joshua (Jesus), they could have avoided the death penalty that God had imposed upon them as a nation. Sincere repentance would have resulted in their incorporation into the nation of Israel. They would have stopped being Canaanites, as their citizenship would have been transferred from a kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light.
In fact, this was the very purpose of God's grace period of 2 x 414 years. It was to give them opportunity to escape the death penalty. More precisely, their death penalty would have had a different application under the New Covenant. We ourselves, as believers, are justified by the death of Christ, for we are identified with Him in His death and also in His resurrection (Rom. 6:4). For this reason, Paul says in Rom. 6:7, "for he who has died is justified from sin."
Those who do not follow the divine path of justification must pay the penalty for their own sin, as the Canaanites did. Those with faith in Christ as the Lamb of God benefit from the divine plan established since the foundation of the world. But the Canaanites did not know of this plan, nor did they inquire of it. For this reason, they killed their own firstborn sons as substitutionary victims to atone for their own sin, something that God never commanded (Jer. 19:5).
The point is that God raised up the nation of Israel to exercise authority in His name to enforce His laws and His judgments. Hence, Israel was called to make war on the offending Canaanites. The war was not simply a matter of obtaining land for Israel at the expense of the Canaanites. It was not simply a matter of self-interest. God did not declare war just because He hated Canaanites and loved Israelites. The cause of war was valid, righteous, and just.
Likewise, when one nation does an injustice to another, any nation has the right to appeal to God's International Court of Justice. If Israel is the offending party, God will rule against Israel. If Israel is the victim, God will rule in their favor. God's justice is impartial, for that too is the law. Num. 15:16 says,
(16) There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
When this law is applied in God's International Court of Justice, we see that God judges all nations impartially according to the principles of law that emanate from His own will and character. All nations were created to conform to His image, and He intends to rule them all.
Therefore, the laws of war must be conducted according to His instructions--and then only when He leads us into battle. Under those circumstances, killing in time of war is not murder, but all war that is done outside the parameters of God's law is murder, and the guilty nation (not the individual soldier) is held accountable.
This is the eighth part of a series titled "Moses' Second Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones