An Eye for an Eye
Advancing in Righteousness
Although we have established that there are strong resemblances between the Mosaic law and code of Hammurabi, we must also acknowledge some fundamental differences in various areas. Also, many laws from the Code of Hammurabi have no parallel laws in the Mosaic law. These differences and omissions speak volumes when understood. As God chose to work with the Israelite people, He incorporated as many changes as they would allow and could bear. Again, these changes were always in the effort to lead people further into His righteous ways. This is a principle that must ever be borne in mind as we learn to understand God operating in the mode of permissive will, which carefully pulls errant humans in His direction, through processes that take generations, even eras, to accomplish.
The first fundamental difference is that the Mosaic law was designed in a system where homage was due to God and not any man or monarch. It was also acknowledged as the most righteous law that any of the surrounding nations would have been exposed to: “Surely I have taught you statues and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the people. For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statues and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
The issue of personal responsibility for individual sin stressed in the Mosaic law stands out in distinct contrast to many of the lex talionis laws contained in the Code of Hammurabi. For example, many Hammurabic laws called for the death of a person other than the one who was directly responsible for the crime committed. In some cases, a guilty person’s child was to be killed in exchange for something they did which caused death to another person’s child. For example:
Laws of Hammurabi (LH)
209: If an awilu (referring to the societal classification system) strikes a woman of the awilu class and thereby causes her to miscarry her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver 10 shekels of silver for her fetus. 210: If that woman should die, they shall kill his daughter.
229: If a builder built a house for any one and do not build it solid; and the house, which he has built, falls down and kills the owner; one shall put that builder to death. 230: If it kills a son of the owner of the house, one shall put to death the son of the builder.
In contrast, the Mosaic law did not allow for the taking of an innocent life for someone else’s crime. Specifying in particular that a child was not to be put to death in place of their father. It had to be stipulated precisely because the concept of direct personal responsibility, although to us today being self-evident as correct and normative in today’s laws, was an extremely radical advance in righteousness in the minds of the people living in those ancient cultures and, therefore, requiring the clarification we read in Deuteronomy: “Father shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).
There are many additional examples of how the Mosaic laws pointed to people to a higher knowledge of the principles of heaven while allowing them their choice to be ruled under a flawed human system of law. For example, the Code of Hammurabi is pervaded with laws that involve mutilation. Here are a few examples.
- Cutting off the hands of a physician who makes a surgical error that causes a man to lose his eye
- Cutting out the tongue of an adopted son for denying his foster parents
- Cutting off an ear if a slave strikes a freeman
- Cutting of the hands of a child who strikes his parent
- Cutting off the breast of a wet nurse who tries to substitute another baby in the place of a baby who dies while in her care and upbringing for other parents and the switch is discovered.
These are just a few examples among many others. All these types of laws strive to create punishments that relate to the crimes, but they are extreme and cruel sentences. In contrast, the Mosaic law only has one law involving mutilation (Deuteronomy 25:11, 12).
The Hammurabic three-tiered system of law, which assigns value to the lives of people relative to class, is also noticeably missing. Value is placed on all life, equally. The Lord even specifically calls for the same system of law to be given for the Israelite and the stranger (Exodus 12:49; Numbers 15:16), and the Israelites are instructed not to make slaves of their brethren, but they are to redeem them if they somehow find themselves in this unfortunate position.
The Mosaic law still allowed for slaves in some circumstances, so we can deduce from this that to have completely abolished all systems of slavery at that time would have been a concept too difficult for the people to accept. It was a system in which they had been deeply entrenched for a long period of time, and the surrounding nations were all still practicing it as a way of life. Slavery continued to be generally accepted practice thousands of years later during the time of Christ and the apostolic ages (I Corinthians 7:21-24). Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5, 6; Colossians 3:13; Philemon).
Slavery was not even abolished in our own civilization until the nineteenth century. In any case, all Mosaic laws pertaining to slaves show a much higher level of fairness, respect, and mercy than those of the Code of Hammurabi. For example, in war, if a woman was captured as a slave and desired by an Israelite, he was to allow her a grieving period, and then he could marry her, treater her as a wife, thereafter. Also after an Israelite’s slave’s years of service were ended, the slave was not released empty-handed but was given animals and possessions to take with him or her. If a slave lost an eye or tooth, by accident or mistreatment, he or she was to be set free. In fact, after six years of service all slaves were to be set free; the seventh year was considered to be their “year of release.” According to Hammurabi, fugitive slaves were to be detained and returned to their masters. Failure to do this resulted in death, as did any effort to assist a fugitive slave (H16-20). In contrast, Israelites were commanded to house and feed fugitive slaves, allowing them to reside there free from oppression (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16).
A comparison of laws regarding military service will also reveal advanced principles of righteousness. There were distinct laws concerning conscripted soldiers. In the Hammurabic law, failure to fulfill military duties in the slightest had deadly consequences. In contrast, God desired only those who were unafraid and who were wholeheartedly committed to be In His army (Judges 7:3; I Samuel 14:6): Then the officers shall speak to the people saying: ‘What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. Also what man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it. And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another man marry her. The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘what man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart’” (Deuteronomy 20:5-8).
Other distinct advances in righteousness included going the extra mile to find the owner of an animal or article that was found, rather than simply holding it until someone could prove it was theirs; fines being allotted for various crimes of theft rather than the death penalty; not charging usury (interest) for charitable loans to brethren; and instituting the “law of Jealousies,” outlined in Numbers 5:12-28, in place of throwing a wife suspected of adultery into the river to be proclaimed innocent or guilty through an “ordeal by water.”
The many ways in which the Mosaic law portrayed higher moral ideals reveal God’s desire for His people to come to a knowledge of his character and of His ways that they might be called out of darkness into His marvelous light. He wanted their transition and transformation to come out of their own personal choice, as He placed the desire in their hearts to go beyond that which they had known all of their lives as slaves in Egypt.
These civil ordinances were based upon and dealt with social customs of the day. In some points the ordinances simply reaffirm legal practices already in effect. Some of these are similar to laws of the code of Hammurabi. It may seem out of keeping with our concept of the character of God that He should at least tacitly approve of such things as servitude, concubinage, and seemingly harsh forms of punishment. However, it should be remembered that in bringing the Hebrew people forth from the land of Egypt God took them as they were, with the purpose of gradually making them over into what He wanted them to be – fit representatives of Himself.
Through the new birth imparts to man new ideals and divine power for attaining them, it does not bring instantaneous understanding of the fullness of God’s ideal for man. The understanding of, and the attaining to, that ideal are the work of a lifetime (see John 1:12; Galatians 3:13, 14; II Peter 3:15). God does not work a miracle to accomplish this in a moment of time, particularly when the habits in question are matters of general custom and practice. Were He to do so there could be no character development. For this reason God takes people as He finds them, and through the increasingly clearer revelation of His will leads them ever onward to loftier ideals. Thus, with some of the civil laws given at Sinai, God for the time being permitted certain customs to continue but erected a safeguard against their abuse. Final abandonment of customs themselves came later. This principle of an increasingly clearer and more complete revelation of God’s will was enunciated by Christ (Matthew 19:7-9; John 15:22; John 16:13; Acts 17:30; I Timothy 1:13).
Christ Upholds the Truth
Christ was born to bear witness to the truth (John 18:38), and every word He spoke brought new light to the minds of people. The sermon on the Mount was designed to proclaim hidden truths that radiate out the everlasting righteous principles of His kingdom. During this discourse, Christ challenges several misunderstandings of the people. Some of these misunderstandings were derived from ideologies found in the Old Testament. As with the misunderstanding of the “eye for eye” principle laid out in the Mosaic law, Christ challenged their ideas on divorce and marriage, love for enemies, and issues of oath taking, for example
In addressing the issue of divorce, Christ was really reestablishing His intent for marriage as a symbol of the union between Himself and His church, which He had instituted at the creation of the earth, proclaiming that the two would become one. When the Pharisees asked if it was lawful to put away one’s wife, Christ replied saying, “therefore what God had joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). He also went on to explain that although, because of the hardening of people’s hearts, Moses had allowed for a certificate of divorcement, it was not God’s will or directive and that in allowing for divorce one was bringing the sin of adultery upon their spouse (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:4). The code of Hammurabi gave detailed instructions regarding divorce, and Moses would have, no doubt, been exposed to and influenced by these as much as by many of the other laws of Hammurabi. Jesus, however, made it clear that it was not so at the beginning of time and was still not ordained of God.
Other customs and traditions had also made their way into the practices of the Israelites that were not instituted by God and upon which Christ brought light to bear. Consider the tradition of Levirate marriage, which is outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. The custom is referred to in the stories of Tamar in Genesis 38 along with Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 4:5, 6. Christ’s treatment of this law avoided controversy or explanations by simply stating that in the resurrection people would neither marry nor be given in marriage. He pointed to a more elevated concept that people would be as the angels, not subject to laws of the flesh or death (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34, 25).
It is interesting to note that both of these issues pertaining to marriage are not found in Exodus in the laws that were recited to Moses on Mount Sinai but were later noted in some of the other books containing laws. Christ made it clear that Moses had allowed for divorce. Is it not also possible that he allowed for some other laws and traditions?
“Many of these Mosaic laws were undoubtedly old ones that had been in force for some time, all were now to be enforced with divine approval. Some provisions may have come from judicial decisions rendered by Moses in the wilderness.
We need to consider this with prayerful deliberation when we look at the Old Testament laws and endeavor to ascertain how they did or did not reflect the ultimate will and character of a loving, all wise God.
Even when unrighteous men tried to trap Jesus by presenting situations from which they felt He could not escape condemnation, He used these situations to reveal the heart, wisdom, and eternal purpose of His Father. Knowing full well that the Mosaic law demanded death for adultery, they brought a woman, caught in the act, before Him to test Him before the people, seeking to entrap Him (John 8:7). In His infinite wisdom, He was able to find a response where mercy and justice kissed. He did not demand a literal lex tallionis punishment. Instead, He brought forgiveness and redemption and a higher knowledge of righteousness to the world. Just as the enacted parable of the book of Hosea reveals God’s heart toward humankind, the revelation of His grace in the treatment of the adulterous woman also revealed His heart and true method of dealing with the sin and the sinner.
Christ was ever seeking to teach people, reaching them in their limited understanding and weak state. He is ever lifting people up to a standard of holiness that can only be found in His infinite touch of grace. In teaching people to pray, He said, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). He came as a Mediator so that He could grasp the hands of mortal human beings and connect them with the outstretched, loving hand of the heavenly Father. ON our own our minds cannot even imagine all that God has prepared for us: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8, 9).
We can aspire to understand and know God only because He wants us to know Him and sent His Son to reveal Him, that we might have eternal life (John 17:3). However, we shall only find Him if we seek Him with all our hearts. One day we will come to understand that God does not need or want a system of human law that deals with crimes and metes out punishments. The Principles of His law are to be written in the heart and will produce only the fruit of complete peace and righteousness. To this kind of heart, written laws will be a foreign concept as it was to the angels: The will of God is expressed in the precepts of His holy law, and the principles of this law are the principles of heaven. The angels of heaven attain unto no higher knowledge than to know the will of God, and to do His will is the highest service that can engage their powers.
But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of God, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory dwells, His words are re-echoed, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: Yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8 (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessings, P. 109).
In our next post we will explore the Mystery of iniquity. What is it, who or what teaches this and where did it come from?
If you have not had the opportunity to read the other posts in this series, I invite you to click the links below.
|01 He Wanted to Teach Respect||05 Approaching the Study of God|
|02 Why a Tree to Teach Respect||06 The Constitution of the Government of God|
|03 The End of the Great Controversy||07 A Perfect Law|
|04 Isaiah’s Wonderful Prophecy||08 God’s Principles Tested|
|09 A Summary of God’s Constitution||13 The Supreme Revelation|
|10 Contrasting Statements||14 Urged to Destroy|
|11 Statements and Principles||15 Magnifying the Law|
|12 Does God Destroy – But How||16 Go the Second Mile|
|17a An Eye for an Eye||18 The Mystery of Iniquity|
|17b An Eye for an Eye||19 The Mystery-Unfolding Cross|
|17c An Eye for an Eye||20 The Way of the Cross|
|17d An Eye for an Eye||21 Rods and Serpents|