Exodus 21:14 (HCSB)
14 If a person schemes and willfully acts against his neighbor to murder him, you must take him from My altar to be put to death.
This pericope contains laws concerning personal injury, both intentional and accidental. It also addresses the notion of negligence. The infractions are, in general, listed in an order from most severe to least.
When we read these laws today, our modern sensibilities might argue that some of these are harsh, especially if we have a certain stance concerning capital punishment. But we must also keep in mind the setting of these laws. God is directly ruling the Israelites, with Moses as His mouthpiece. That’s why I find Exodus 21:14 so interesting. The picture of the sinfully scheming, willful murderer being taken away from God’s altar is purposeful. The punishment of sin and crimes is not a vengeful act where God is trying to “get us back.” It is instead an act of destroying sin, of removing it from the Israelites, so that they can resemble God’s holiness.
And as a side note, it is again interesting how the law deals in a favorable way concerning “slaves”, which we know is better translated “servants”. First of all, we see that kidnapping is a capital crime, so the form of slavery that we picture and think of is already not allowed by God, since kidnapping is exactly how that form of slavery was fueled. Second, we see that slaves have comparable rights as victims to anyone else. We see in Exodus 21:20 that a murdered servant carries the required punishment. And although at first read it might seem like Exodus 21:21 suggests a slave owner gets off the hook if they “merely” injure their slave, it simply means that the master has lost the productivity of the servant, so in essence they do pay.
Lord, thank You for providing us rules, guidelines for us to follow to remain safe. I pray that we see Your OT laws for what they were: ways to purify and keep Your people holy and righteous. Please help us to seek and follow the heart of Your laws today. Amen.