EXODUS 22: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY?
READING EXODUS 22
I'm learning to read the Bible in what N.T. Wright calls Act 5 of the drama: Church. Reading the Bible with the church means when we read Old Testament texts, for example, we read with the knowledge of the incarnate Christ who has come, crucified, risen, ascended, and reigning, and having imparted the Holy Spirit into the church, and coming back.
So how do we read texts like Exodus 22 about things as controversial as the death penalty?
My answer to that is that I'm learning to read the Bible in the context of each book's history, believing there is an interpretation closer than others, a truth we can learn that is more than just our own interpretation or perception or what we want to be true.
So I read Exodus 22 with the Risen Christ by my side, reading with me, because He read it first, interpreted the Torah before I ever did, and He imparts the Holy Spirit to me as one of His followers in order to give me wisdom, what my Harding School of Theology professors called "illumination" in order to read, obey, and live the word of the Lord.
Two things came to mind as I read Exodus 22. First, this is no worse than law reading today! As for repetition and seemingly unnecessary words, modern law still has it! Second, what troubled me is that it sounds like Yahweh directly is issuing the death penalty.
Risen Christ, what do you think about the death penalty? What did you intend in this period of time of the Exodus as you formed your people Israel? What do you intend now. The nation I live in, in many states, views the death penalty as necessary to punish evil doers, law-breakers of the worst kind. You are reminding me that you spoke directly to a murderer in Cain (Genesis 4) and criminals even the Romans thought were bad when you hung on the cross (Luke 23:42-43).
You've heard it said, do not sacrifice to false gods, and anyone who does will be put to death, but I tell you, don't even let false gods get into your head, for they make false promises of wealth, harvests, power, control, and lead to unfaithfulness, disobedience, shame, and violence. Those who worship false gods will surely die. Reflect on what false gods have gotten into your head: car, technology, politics, sex, being liked, remembered, respected.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.