A Reason For Hope Question of the Week – July 2nd, 2021
‘Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal. ‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him—fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.’ ”
Leviticus 24:17-22 (NKJV)
The question, “What is meant by” has meaning. Usually, it is asking how this command is applied practically in the Christian life today. Sometimes it’s asking for clarification of how it was applied in general. Those who are objectively coming to the text are asking something much simpler. What is being communicated in this passage? In order to clarify all three ways this question could be asked, we will first start with the title.
Leviticus means “pertaining to the Levites.” The Levites were the descendants of the 3rd son of Israel Levi, who were given no specific territory in Israel. Instead, they were to be spread out throughout the land of Israel to serve as their equivalent of government representatives. Those who would enforce the law as a police force apart from the military were Levites. Those who would establish the right to a fair trial in Cities of Refuge were Levites. Those who would enact the penalties of the law were Levites. Those who would perform religious ceremonies and sacrifices were Levites. This was their calling from God as the head of state. There were also serious penalties for those who tried to take the responsibilities of Levites on themselves. Examples of this were the kings Saul and Uzziah in the context of offering sacrifices. The former of which was removed from the throne, and the latter struck with leprosy.
At that time the Lord separated the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to Him and to bless in His name, to this day. Therefore Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance, just as the Lord your God promised him.)
Deuteronomy 10:8-9 (NKJV)
As God’s ministers, or servants, this gives us the audience this legal penalty was spoken to. It is also worth noting that distinctions are made between those who take the life of another human being and those who take the life of an animal. Animals lives were to be financially compensated for. Human lives were to be met with a capital penalty. Who would be enforcing this penalty? Look no farther than the title of the book. Pertaining to the Levites.
Now for the statement itself, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If the statement is being spoken to those meeting out legal penalties, the application would be exactly that. What is the legal penalty for, quote, disfigurement. The meeting out of justice for the loss of an eye or tooth was limited to the harm done to the individual. Instead of a perpetuation of violence as it’s often presented to mean, it was actually a limiter to the kind of consequences that would be meeted out on the offender. It wouldn’t be two eyes for one eye. It could only match the harm done in the context of violence.
This then brings us to the practical aspect of the question. How does this apply to us today? Since we aren’t under the legal authority of the Levites, the legal penalties given out to them aren’t how the law is enforced in our own lands. Followers of Christ are commanded to submit to governing authorities as God’s ministers for the same reasons that Israel was to submit to the authority of the Levites. Even though their penalties and legal codes may not entirely line up with one another, we acknowledge that authority as from God. The instructions for this are given to us in Romans 12-13. And from these sections of scripture, Paul the Apostle uses his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament to apply the Law to those living outside of Israel’s covenant. (The whole world today) Just like the citizens of Israel were not to avenge themselves, but allow God and His representatives to do their job, so are we called to do the same.
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:18-21 (NKJV)
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