|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 18
Meditation Title: Injuries Inflicted
Ex 21:18,19 If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.
From capital crimes the Law moves to minor injuries and four situations are envisaged in verses 18 to 27, two involving fights and two involving slaves or servants. First, the first of the two fight situations: the Law recognises that sinful men will have upsets and disagreements and in the heat of the moment it will turn violent. Murder and manslaughter have already been covered, so now we consider lesser injuries incurred during such upsets. In our verses above there is an argument which turns violent and one man sustains injuries that confine him to bed. Very well, says the Law, that happens and it is no big issue, but there are two things to be considered.
The first is the fact that the man confined to his bed to recover from his injuries will not be able to work and so he should be compensated for his loss of work by the other man who caused the injury. Second, and this is quite delightful, the man who caused the injury is to go to the injured man and “see that he is completely healed.” In other words, he is to care for him, and that means have contact which, by its very nature, gives an opportunity for rebuilding a relationship after the upset. The picture of the one caring for the one he has injured could well be included in our own modern laws. It is part of the reconciliation work that is sometimes being done today in the legal system. Perhaps we are slowly catching up with God's law.
The second ‘fight situation' occurs a few verses later: “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Ex 21:22-25) i.e. should the pregnant wife of one of the men (for that is the likely scenario) seek to intervene and stop the fight and be injured and give birth prematurely but there is no other injury, then a fine shall be imposed on the other man for having caused it, assessed as a compromise of what the husband demands and the court agrees. For more serious injuries caused, the penalty is to match the injury. This is a ‘limiting law', given to limit there being revenge. The idea is that the punishment should equal the harm caused and no more. It thus stops worse happening through revenge.
Next we move on to the situations involving servants or slaves: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. (Ex 21:20 ,21) i.e. if a slave is killed by a master the laws of murder and manslaughter will apply. If it is a temporary injury there is to be no penalty. To us today, parts of this appear quite unfair and I think it is right to say that it is unfair. It is, of course a law legislating for a situation that we would not want to happen today but which would continue on for thousands of years. Slavery is an outworking of a sinful Fallen World.
In a redeemed world it would not happen. As I have commented a number of times in other places, I believe the Lord tolerated slaverey (never commending it) simply because to abolish it would mean the complete changing of the mindset of a particular nation or series of nations and it would be many years before that could come about. The Lord never forces us to change our thinking and so slavery was an unpleasant face of humanity all over the world for a long time. Thus this law is inhibiting the behaviour of slave masters for they would be fearful of killing a slave because of the repercussions. Striking a slave in the heat of anger, presumably because of disobedience, was not what God wants to happen, but is tolerable in as much as slavery was tolerable until ‘civilised mankind' could eventually see otherwise.
Finally the second of the servant laws here: “If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.” (Ex 21:26 ,27) If a servant is injured the penalty to compensate for that injury is that the servant is to be released. As one commentator has said, slavery in Israel was ‘rural, domestic and small scale', yet the Law made sure it still was concerned for the welfare of such workers. In the Jewish community, the slave was not without rights as was the case with slavery elsewhere in the world. Yes, slavery may have existed, but the Israelite master who had slaves had to care for them and where his own sinful nature resulted in them being injured, the Law was there to speak up for them. This is not a comfortable area of law but it is law that seeks to work within the failures of a Fallen World and do what it can to protect those without power.