Read Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, and Proverbs 11:1-18.
This devotional is about Leviticus 24.
It is common for skeptics of our faith to point to Old Testament passages like we have here in the latter part of Leviticus 24 and condemn the Bible for being violent and brutal. In this case, the man who was executed was guilty of blasphemy; in our world, that sin is highly accepted and even protected legally as free speech. But Israel was a theocracy and her worship was important for several reasons and deserved to be protected.
Leaving aside the offense, note how Israel’s legal system as illustrated here is superior to ours in some ways. First, according to verse 16, “The entire assembly must stone them.” The whole community was required to participate in the punishment, not someone paid to give lethal injection in private somewhere as happens in our country. There are at least two benefits to this. First, it protects someone against a false accusation. If you had to be part of executing a death sentence against your neighbor, the seriousness of taking his life would, I think, cause you to question intensely any witnesses to his offense. You would want to make absolutely sure that he was guilty before you took part in his execution. It is easy to accuse someone falsely and, in the case of a jury, to convict someone wrongly if you don’t actually have to do the dirty work of imposing the sentence of death on the accused. Second, if the whole community must execute the sentence of capital punishment, it might actually serve as a deterrent for many people. When you see how brutal and painful death by stoning is, you will be more careful about committing a capital offense yourself lest you end up like the guy you just passed sentence on.
More broadly, however, notice that there is no penalty of prison in Israel’s justice system. If you broke the law, you paid the price. That price might be a simple fine or it might cost you your life, but either way it will be over shortly. In Israel’s system, there is no wasting the years and productivity of a someone’s life while that person rots in prison. If you were guilty of breaking the law, the penalty was paid immediately; you either go on with your life or life goes on without you. There is no limbo where the state takes over custody of you for a few years. Think about how much money is spent in our society investigating criminals, trying criminals in court, processing them when they are sentenced, paying for food, clothing, and shelter while they are in prison, etc. Israel’s system is much cheaper and, in the long run, more in keeping with prosperity than our system is.
Thirdly, Israel’s system strives for justice that is proportional to the crime. If someone punches you in the face and you lose your eyesight, you are not allowed to kill them. An “eye for an eye” is not a metaphor; it is a lesson and here is the answer: God is just and he commands his people to do justice in proportion to the crime.That’s what is being described in verses 17-22.
Criminal justice reform is an issue that is debated in our society. The principles illustrated here in Leviticus 24 offer guidance that should be considered whenever our society–or any society–attaches penalties to breaking the law.