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Clear Words

Clear Words – Justice and Mercy (Leviticus 24:17-20)

Today’s Reading: Leviticus 24-25

Today’s Reflection: Leviticus 24:17-20

17) “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18) Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19) If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20) fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.

The concept of ‘an eye for an eye’ is one of the most easily recognized Biblical precepts to have made its way into the world.  The idea that someone who causes harm should have the same harm inflicted upon them is a staple in our cultures.  The basis for both capital punishment and karma emanate from this line of thinking.

And yet the greatest argument against this idea comes from the Bible itself, when Jesus teaches:

Matthew 5:38-39 – 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.

So is the Bible contradicting itself?  Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament?  No not at all, but these two texts do show different and competing concepts that are essential parts of God’s character: justice and mercy.

Justice is fair and unbiased judgment given based on someone’s behaviour in relation to the standards of a legal system.  Justice makes sure someone receives what they deserve, whether it be restitution for a loss inflicted, or punishment for an infraction of the law.  Mercy, on the other hand, is about considering circumstances so that someone does not receive the punishment they rightly deserve.  Though they contradict one another both justice and mercy are required for judgment, and both work together.

Because God is a righteous and good judge (Psalm 7:11, 9:8) when the time for judgment comes He will give out the appropriate penalties to those whom they are owed.  But because of the sacrifice of Jesus, those who have accepted Him will receive mercy (1 Timothy 1:16).  Jesus has already taken their penalty through His death on the cross.  The price has been paid.  The requirements of justice have been met and we can go free.  Not free so we can continue in sin, but truly free.  Free from the penalty of sin and free from the life-destroying bonds of sin itself.  This is the Good News of the Gospel, both now and into eternity.

It’s important to note that justice isn’t solely dispensed by God the Father, nor is mercy solely provided by Jesus.  God has by this point shown considerable mercy to Israel and to humanity at large.  They had committed sins deserving of judgment and destruction already at this point in the story but God has stayed His hand of wrath.  On the other hand, Jesus never hesitated to judge the character of the Pharisees or assert His authority as judge.

John 5:30 – “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

Romans 2:16 – on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 4:14-16 – 14) Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.



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