“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is imposed on him. 31 If it gores a man’s son or daughter, he shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a slave, male or female, the owner shall give to their master thirty shekels[e] of silver, and the ox shall be stoned. (Exodus 21:28-32)
As we have made our way throughout the case laws of Exodus, we have noted that one of the things they show us is how much God values life, and how important it is to protect life. Despite the modern man who rejects biblical principles like the death penalty in the name of being humane, the death penalty actually protects and values human life more than such a modern man. But more than that, in the specific case law before us today, we find another principle about justice and life, and that is that men are more valuable than animals. There are certain animal rights organizations today who would go crazy over the idea that God would have animals stoned for killing a man. But in God’s creation order, men and women, boys and girls, slave and free, are more valuable than animals and the lives of people are to be protected against animals who bring harm to them. Certainly, as you can see in other case laws, there is a righteous standard for how animals themselves are to be treated, but today we are looking at this case of what to do when an animal, in this case an ox, gores a man or woman. The fact that both men, women, children, and every class of man is protected by this law, shows us that even what men consider the lowest of human beings are more valuable than animals. And keep in mind that these laws were given to a largely agrarian type people and world, in which the value of livestock and animals was so much more relevant to their everyday lives than those of us who make a living without the use of animals.
Temporary Elements of this Case Law
Before we walk through the principles of justice found in this case law, there are two more temporary, or ceremonial aspects to this law for us to consider. When we go through the case laws I believe we should look for things that are temporary for Israel as well as what the underlying principle of justice is. When doing so, one of the first things that should catch our eye is the fact that when an ox gores a man, the ox is not simply to be put to death, but they were to put the ox to death by stoning. It’s tempting to think that stoning was simply the method used since they didn’t have the electric chair or the firing squad, but when considered in terms of biblical theology, stoning has a theological significance that is important to see.
First, we know that stoning was the method of the death penalty for many cases of when men were to be put to death for their crimes. So why is it that the goring ox is given the same penalty of stoning as men? The fact that a goring ox is to be stoned like men, shows us that the purpose is more than just getting rid of the dangerous animal. As the law is a teacher, it was to teach Israel something as they witnessed and participated in the stoning. On one level, it would be a reminder to them, a visual lesson to them of what happens to a man should he rebel and commit crimes. That is what animals in the sacrificial system would remind the people of – that death is what sins deserve, and that the shedding of blood is necessity for the atoning of sins. In the Old Covenant, in many places, God put animals in the place of men, to show them what their sin cost and how serious it was. And in a sense, an ox who gores a man, is a “rebel” animal. That ox is rebelling against the created order. God gave man dominion over every beast of the field, putting the fear of man into the animals, so such an animal is a reminder of the fall, and of rebellion against God’s created order.
So, to implement stoning against such an animal is a reminder of God’s judgment. So more than just a utilitarian means of death, theologians tend to see the stoning as representing God’s judgment. We see this theme throughout the Bible in so many different places and ways, but we see this with Jesus in Matthew 21:42-44, “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes”? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone it will crush him.’” So Jesus is the rock and stone of salvation and of God’s judgment on a rebellious people. So when the people of Israel would take up stones to stone a goring ox, or a person, they are affirming God’s judgment upon that person or beast. They are saying that God’s law is good and right and we are witnesses to it by participating in this. So the stoning was a symbol of God’s judgment against covenant breakers, against those who rebel against God. The goring ox being stoned, the animal is taking the place of a man, to teach them this lesson.
Another thing that should catch our eye and raise questions is the fact that such an ox was not to be eaten. The ox who was stoned, his flesh shall not be eaten, verse 28. This is interesting, why not? What’s the point? Well, this should make us think about the fact that in Old Covenant Israel, they were told what animals they could eat and not eat. These are the clean and unclean animals. Now, an ox, was NOT an unclean animal. It was not an unclean animal, which is exactly why they are told that if you stone this rebel ox, you are not to eat his flesh. Why is this? Well, the best I can understand is because in the ox’s “rebelling” against man and creation order, the ox now has become unclean – at least ceremonially. Therefore, they are not to eat unclean animals. Or maybe it’s the fact that the ox has become unclean in its being stoned into the dust of the earth, for animals that crawled on their bellies were unclean. Which should remind us of the serpent. Which brings me to note, that the theologically, a rebel ox goring a man, is a type of Satan’s rebellion against God and his desire to destroy man, and the seed of the woman.
Throughout the Bible in various places we see animals representative of spiritual warfare, or demonic beings in warfare against Christ and His people. There are descriptions of angelic beings, a third of them fallen, that are described in terms of animal characteristics. You have the beast of Revelation. The enemy of God and His people is seen as a beast. When Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, He is entering into spiritual battle with the enemy. And in Mark’s gospel, Mark 1:13 says, “And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him.” So the picture there is Satan v. Jesus, and the good angels ministering to Jesus, vs. the wild animals, the fallen angels. So all this to say, that the beast who raises its horns against a man, is a picture of spiritual warfare, the serpent v. the seed of the woman, and the result is the stoning of God’s judgment upon the beast, crushing its head, as it were.
Psalm 22, the Psalm of Christ’s suffering on the cross. “Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.” This is spiritual warfare of Christ on the cross shown with the image of animals and beasts rebelling against Him. “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me…” “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!”
So this case law is typical of the death of Jesus Christ. The death of Christ was purchased for the price of a gored sale. Indeed, the Suffering Servant was surrounded by, and delivered from bulls and oxen horns.
Christ’s Victory Over Them
But Christ not only suffered and was surrounded by wild beasts. He was not only as if gored by an ox, but He trampled over them. He won spiritual battle and defeated the enemy under His feet. Psalm 68:30 says, “Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample underfoot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.”
So in this case, the law set forth the suffering, death, and price of Christ’s death, and the prophets proclaimed His victory and triumph over them.
Like the ox who gores a man, make no peace with evil. Make no compromise with darkness. Make no deal with the devil. Be not tolerant of sin and rebellion in your life. Sin can not be domesticated, it is to be mortified. The beast has been trampled down in God’s judgment, so put sin to death in your life. It is not to be tolerated, it will only kill, steal, and destroy. Pray that Christ would deliver you from temptation and from the evil one. God has sufficiently warned us against the beast of sin in our lives, that it only brings death and destruction. So by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, put that beast to death. Give it no quarter.
As the negligent owner who does not listen to the warning about his goring ox, your beast of sin, will not only hurt you, but it may hurt others. So out of care for your own soul, love for your neighbor, and love for God’s righteous law, put it to death. Christ has trampled over sin, death, and the enemy, so in Him, we too may triumph. As Christ is the rock of salvation and rock of judgment, so conquer your sin with Christ, the rock. Agree with God’s judgment against sin that has been shown in Christ. Sin brings death, but Jesus died and rose over sin and death, that we might be forgiven and live forever. We should be gored and put to death, but there was Another who was in our place. And since He lives again, let us live unto Him.