“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm,[d] then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 “When a man strikes the eye of his slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let the slave go free because of his eye. 27 If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth. (Exodus 21:22-27)
We continue with the case laws of Exodus, which are very scary to those catechized in modern liberal dogma. The “enlightened” man loves to pontificate on the “barbarity” of these ancient laws, and the dangers such laws pose to our “sacred” democracy. But as Christians the Bible must be our standard of justice and not simply whatever fits with modern sensibilities. Even as Christians who recognize the uniqueness of the time and covenant of Old Covenant Israel, we must confess the righteousness of God’s laws for His people Israel AND the principles of justice underneath the specific case laws.
When carefully examined, the fact is, that these laws provide genuine justice and protections for the vulnerable individual than the mass of our modern laws of man do today. Our modern justice system poses under the slogans of justice and equality, while denying the substance of it. As Gary North once said, “Surely, our modern criminal justice system is more criminal than just.” The fact is, as I hope to show you today, that these laws do more to protect women, children, and slaves, than the whole of our system today.
Now, before we consider the details of these laws and the justice therein, we have to recognize that the Bible, as a whole, is theological and Christological narrative. The placement of these laws at this time in Biblical history is not an accident or mere coincidence. Think about what is happening. If these laws serve to provide legal protections to women, children, and slaves, within a framework of fathers and household rights, what is going on? It is more than just a wonderful system of justice for Israel, but in the theological narrative of the Bible, these laws serve to further the narrative, that God is protecting and preserving the seed of the woman, who would bruise and crush the head of the serpent. Genesis 3:15 – the conflict of the Biblical story is set – it’s the seed of the woman vs. the seed of the serpent. The Christ is going to come from that line of the woman, and the serpent and his seed are going to try and stop it. Fast forward to Exodus, what happens? The children of the woman are enslaved by the serpent. They are slaves and a cruel taskmaster in Egypt. There are brutal attacks upon the children – the casting of baby boys into the Nile. God then frees His people from slavery in Egypt, delivering them by His mighty hand, and now He begins to establish His house at this point as a righteous nation state of Israel, with laws that serve to house, protect, and preserve the seed of the woman, to bring about the Christ. Through these laws and this time, God is working to bring about Jesus Christ, the serpent bruiser, our salvation.
This is one big reason why these laws are amazing. To dismiss them as irrelevant is to dismiss what God has done in redemptive history to bring about our salvation and deliverance from bondage to the serpent. The serpent was crafty and evil, God’s laws are upright and just. The serpent was a deceiver of the woman, God is a protector of His bride. So unlike Egypt, which killed babies, even after they were born, God’s laws protect babies, even before they are born. This is the first case we see here in verse 22 and following.
In verse 22 we have a scenario where two men are striving together. They are in a violent or physical altercation, or at least a confrontation that leads to violence. As we saw in verse 18-19, men were not to solve their conflicts by physical violence. There was always a price to be paid and restitution to be made when this happened. Arbitration and reconciliation is the biblical way. But now this law gives us a scenario where the lack of self-control and violence between men results in harm or potential harm brought upon innocent bystanders. This is one reason why physical violence is not allowed even when two men agree to duel – there is always a potential for strays. And as we saw from the 6th commandment, even the negligent taking of life was to be protected. That’s how much God values life. So in this scenario, where two men are fighting, what happens if in this fight a pregnant woman is struck so that her children come out? Maybe she is with her husband and he is attacked by this other man. Something like that. There are a few different principles for us to consider here today.
Persons are in the womb and thus are to be protected by law.
The first principle here is that a pregnant woman is carrying children. It is plainly assumed that when a woman is pregnant, she is pregnant with her children. Not a clump of cells. Not an impersonal blob of potential life or potential children. But children. And since they are children in their mother’s womb, they are persons which are to be protected by law.
On this point our laws today are very inconsistent, and of course vary from state to state. Pro-abortionists today will say that the decision to have an abortion is between the woman and her doctor, and the state should stay out of it. And then they will turn around and try a man for double homicide when a pregnant woman is murdered. They will say “my body, my choice.” But the Bible says that a pregnant woman is carrying children, which are distinct persons and bodies from the mother. The secular pro-life movement is just as maddening. They will proudly declare that it is indeed distinct life in the mother’s womb, but it is only to be legally protected at 20 weeks, or 8 weeks, or whatever other arbitrary regulations they come up with.
So the first principle: a pregnant woman is carrying children, and they are persons to be protected by law.
Now, in this scenario, is the striking of the pregnant woman intentional or unintentional? A minority would argue that it is an intentional striking of the woman. A man strives with a man and strikes at his bystanding wife to get at the man. Could be, but the scenario reads as if it is unintentional. The men are striving and in the midst of the scuffle the woman is struck. In fact, the word the ESV translates as “hit” in verse 22 reflects the fact that it is a different Hebrew word than is elsewhere in this passage translated as “strike,” and in which the context implies intentional striking. So I think the natural reading here is to see it as the woman catching a stray, so to speak. We will get to it more in a moment, but if the implication is that if the penalty for unintentional manslaughter of the children of a pregnant woman because of negligent violent conflict is the death penalty – life for life – then how much more is that the case for intentional abortion? This is a law about protecting life in the womb. It is essentially an application of the law about having parapets on your roof. You are to be aware and careful particularly around pregnant women, because of the vulnerability of the life of her children she is carrying.
No Vigilante Revenge
The second principle is that vigilante revenge is not allowed. A lawfully ordered society is one where the magistrates judicially bear the sword, not one of wild west revenge. Vengeance belongs to God, and to the civil magistrates, as God’s servants. It is not to be taken into our own hands. When men take vengeance into their own hands, it only begets more vengeance, and perpetuates a cycle of violence. God’s justice, on the other hand, works to bring about legitimate restitution and reconciliation.
So where am I seeing this principle here? Verse 22, if there is not harm brought to the children or the woman, there is still a price to be paid. This is how much God cares about life. Foolish violent negligence has a price to be paid. And it says that the husband of the woman is the one who will impose the fine upon the man. This is godly patriarchy in action. The husband imposes the fine, BUT the man shall pay as the judges determine. So the husband imposes the fine, but it has to be taken under review by the judges, in order for them to determine that it is a just fine for the crime committed. So vigilante revenge is not allowed.
Repayment in Kind
The third principle here is that there is to be repayment in kind. Or the punishment is to fit the crime. Some will call this the Lex Talionis, the law of retaliation. An eye for an eye. The idea is that punishment for crimes is not to radically exceed the crime committed. Certainly there are other laws in the Bible of restitution where you have to pay five fold for a stolen ox and fourfold for a stolen sheep. So that is obviously not an exact eye for an eye. We will get to those laws in time, but what we have in view here is repayment for physical harm, particularly in this case of striking a pregnant woman and harming her children.
As I mentioned earlier, there is still a penalty if no harm is ultimately brought upon the children or the mother. The husband imposes the fine, and the judges approve it or amend it. Just one more thing I would note on this is that it is implied by the husband imposing the fine, and by the consistency of the restitution principle throughout God’s laws, that the fine is paid to the husband and wife that was harmed. Who was struck? Who was offended? That is the person to whom the fine is paid. Unlike our system today, the fine is NOT to be paid to the state, but to the one actually struck. If a man strikes a pregnant woman, why would he pay a fine to the judges? They weren’t struck. The fine goes to the household of the offended party, that is justice. Certainly if there were legitimate court fees that were involved in the process of judgment in the case, the criminal would have to pay those, but he is not paying the courts for the crime, he’s paying for their services and time, and he’s paying the victim for the crime.
So what about the penalty when there is harm brought upon the children? The principle remains that the punishment is to fit the crime. In this case, there is not be excessive punishment, nor is there to be underpaying for it. The situation is little babies being harmed, who do not have the ability to press charges or decide to not press charges, thus they are to be protected fully by the law. If an adult is robbed, he may choose to take the loss and not press charges. But in the case of little babies, that cannot be done, the law is to be carried out.
So what is it? Life for life. If the baby is killed, you will be put to death. If you have just caused other physical damage, but the child lives, then you will be physically damaged as you have done. So what should the punishment be for abortion? Very clearly the death penalty. Abortion is the killing of a child in their mother’s womb, which God protects with this life for life, eye for eye principle. Abortionists and those who hire them. Until the pro-life industry abandones secular humanism, and protects unborn children, life for life, they will not be upholding justice. Here in Missouri, it was two pro-life organizations who opposed a bill that would do just this, and they did so, by their own admission, on the grounds they do not believe in the death penalty for abortion. If Scripture is not our standard of justice, then unborn children will continue to lack proper protections. We cannot be more offended by Scripture than we are by the reviling of the world.
Now, is this principle of the Lex Talionis, an eye for an eye, is it a universal principle? This is our fourth principle: the exaction of an eye for an eye, Lex Talionis, is not universal, meaning that it is not always required to be done. To see this, all we have to do is look at the next case in verse 26-27. If a slave is struck so that he or she loses their eye or their tooth, they are to be set free if they so wish. So this law disincentives masters from treating their slaves poorly and physically beating them. It protects the slave from harsh beatings, and frees them if permanent harm like this is brought upon them. Certainly a slave would prefer freedom from such a situation over having his master’s eye also plucked out. You see the principle is that the repayment benefits and pays back the victim, it is not mere retaliation upon the criminal. This is why things like torture are unbiblical. Torture does nothing to make restitution to the victim, it is only vengeance and retaliation. That is not what God’s laws of justice are about. There are many cases in the Old Testament where other compensation is possible and legitimate. But, in the case of babies in their mothers womb being harmed, there is not compensation for that possible, and that is where the exaction of the eye for eye is enforced.
Forgiveness and Mercy (Matthew 5:38ff)
There is a fifth principle, and it is a principle of forgiveness and mercy. You may recall the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus references this law. Turn to Matthew 5:38.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
So is Jesus here repealing the validity of this principle of just retribution? Is he repealing the death penalty for murder? Certainly not. Notice first, when he quotes the Lex Talionis, He does not quote “life for life.” He quotes an “eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
And notice the examples that Jesus gives, of what he tells them to do, when he tells them not to resist the one who is evil. None of these examples have to do with permanent physical harm. Certainly, they have nothing to do with harm to infants. These are all specific examples of things they faced in their day. And you see, it was the Pharaical tradition which took the Lex Talionis principle and used it to pinch out every inch of personal retaliation they could have. Jesus is saying, don’t use the law like that. The purpose of retributive justice is not to make you an unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful, miserable person.
Jesus is teaching us to display mercy and be forgiving people when wrong is done to us. Jesus is not overturning civil justice, He is teaching us to be personally merciful, when things are done personally to us. Jesus does not change what justice is, He teaches that mercy is an option for one wronged. And when a mother is struck so that her baby does, there is no one in a position to be able to show mercy. Justice must be done. Jesus is speaking to those who are in a position to show mercy, which means, only when things are done to you and you are personally at a loss are you in a position to show mercy. In other words, the civil government is not in a position to show mercy. Their only role is justice. Jesus forbids taking personal vengeance, which is what these laws had turned into. He does not forbid the magistrates from giving just retribution for crimes.
How does Jesus’ teaching here apply to our lives? What about in your home? What do you do when your spouse commits some sin against you? A harsh word, a grumpy attitude, whatever it may be. If you have to be one who goes and exacts retaliation or retribution, then you have misused the law. Turn the other cheek. Show mercy.
Jesus Makes Total Payment, Full Satisfaction of the Law and Justice
You see, if you have received mercy from God through Jesus Christ, then you will give mercy. Someone who has not been forgiven of their trespasses against God, doesn’t really know how to forgive others when they are wronged. But as Christians, we should be the most merciful and forgiving people on this earth, while also the most just and righteous.
The pure righteousness and holiness of God’s law, His perfect standards, demand perfect justice. He cannot compromise justice and remain righteous. And all we as sinners, have gone astray. We have broken and transgressed God’s law in thought, word, and deed. We sinned against His holy character. And when we stand before God’s judgment seat, the perfect and true righteous of God’s law, and the just penalties due to law breakers plainly declares that we have broken the whole of God’s law and are worthy of death and an eternity in hell. Eternal judgment in hell for sinners is justice. It is righteousness. It is the truly fair ruling.
But is not God also merciful? Indeed He is. So what does He do? He doesn’t change the law, or lessen and lower the standards of justice, not in the slightest. Instead, He sends His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The perfect Son. The perfect law-keeper. The perfect holy one. The Righteous one. And since He has no sin, and knew no sin, He became sin for us, taking our sin upon Himself, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Christ takes our sin at the cross upon Himself and what does He do with it? He takes the punishment for. Lash for lash. Stripe for stripe. Wound for wound. The exaction of the justice of God’s law for our sin comes fully down upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is not one stripe of justice that is withheld.
The exactness and perfect righteousness of God’s justice requires us to believe in a limited and effectual atonement. All that Christ died for is accomplished. All whose sins were laid upon Christ, are forgiven. It has been paid. Justice has been met. The punishment cannot exceed the crime in then going on to punish the sinner who Christ already suffered for. God is showing us in His laws. That He is not like that. If Christ has forgiven your sins, then they are forgiven.
For it is by His wounding and His suffering and His enduring of the penalty of the law that we are healed, we are restored, and we are reconciled to God. Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” God has not shown sinners mercy by ignoring the law. But He has shown us mercy by taking the hit himself – by the payment of His own Son, instead of us. If we have received this mercy, this is the kind of mercy we can show to others. Not a mercy that ignores the law, but that takes the hit itself. Instead of God requiring exact retribution from us, He paid for it in His Son. Retribution was had, but it came from God Himself. That is mercy.