24–30 April 2016.
Deuteronomy 19 talks again about cities of refuge, an idea we saw back in Numbers 35. But unlike in Numbers, this chapter is special because it includes the “lex talionis“, the famous Jewish law of revenge. In verse 21 this law demands “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
Jewish scholars tells us the law of revenge is not about encouraging violence but about limiting revenge. That’s because the law says: only one life for a life. So the avenger is not allowed to kill 10 or 20 people as revenge for one death! But in today’s text we see this law’s terrible, dark side. Because in vv. 13 and 21 Moses reveals that the law actually is still about fierce revenge, as he commands the people twice to “show no pity” to the killer.
What a shocking and horrible thing to hear from Moses, since he’s also a terrible murderer! In Exodus 2:11–15 Moses deliberately murders a man, kills him with his own hands, hides the body, hides the evidence, and then runs from the country before he can be punished. According to Moses’s own law he is definitely a murderer! But does he place himself under the law?
We are so used to this in Taiwan, used to seeing our leaders demand harsh punishments for others, demanding no mercy, no pity – but then wanting mercy and grace from others when they get caught committing the same crimes!
Moses demands no pity for murderers, but the only reason Moses the Murderer is a leader of Israel is because of God’s grace and mercy toward him. God knew that even though Moses is a murderer, this didn’t mean he had no value as a human being. Instead God chose this murderer to become a great hero of the Jews and to serve God.
On the one hand this is good news for us, because no matter how badly we sin, we know God still loves us as his precious children. But on the other hand, it’s also a great challenge – because this same grace and mercy we want from God we must also give to others! As God’s children, we all want pity, we all want another chance. So we must show pity and grace to others too.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis