Deuteronomy 19:14-21 - Lex Talionis
It's not a coincidence that courtrooms & sanctuaries look so similar! Find out why.
Read / Listen
Read Deuteronomy 19:14-21
14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.
15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Listen to passage & devotional:
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 112
Q. What is God’s will for you
in the ninth commandment?
A. God’s will is that I
never give false testimony
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor join in condemning anyone
without a hearing
or without a just cause.
Rather, in court and everywhere else,
I should avoid lying
and deceit of every kind;
these are devices the
devil himself uses,
and they would call down on me
God’s intense anger.
I should love the truth,
speak it candidly,
and openly acknowledge it.
And I should do what I can
to guard and advance my
neighbor’s good name.
Dig Deeper (you didn't read that wrong... our order is switched up today!)
We're back to Deuteronomy again today, a book we've been in often as we dig into God's Law for our lives in this section of the Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is divided up into three sections, often referred to as the 3 G's: Guilt / Grace / Gratitude. As we go through the Law, we're in the Gratitude section, although the Law may often seem to us to fit better in the Guilt section, since through it we see how far from God's perfect righteousness our lives often are!
But God's Law fits best in the Gratitude section, because that's how it's presented in the Bible. God does not give His Law to Israel as a condition for freeing them from Egypt, rather He gives it to define the covenantal relationship He's brought them into after graciously freeing them. Here's how one commentator describes this section of Deuteronomy:
What follows is not a code of laws, but a pastoral address [from Moses] presenting a vision of covenant righteousness that is not legalistic; it is guided by Torah, but driven by the Spirit of God and arises from a grateful and compassionate heart.
In this regard, this "vision of covenant righteousness" that you read about in Deuteronomy applies to you as a Christian whose been set free from slavery to sin in the same way it applied to the Israelites freed from slavery in Egypt, even if at certain points the particulars differ.
Courtrooms often have a church sanctuary type of feel to them. Both rooms often have similar architecture, often with deep wood tones. The one leading the proceedings sits slightly above the audience, which is often seated in pews. Both rooms are quiet, and a certain decorum is maintained. Certainly these similarities reflect the serious nature of the subject in both the court and church, but it also pays homage to the same Lord who is present in both settings (v17).
Notice, though, that God does not act as the prosecutor, or sit in the judge's seat, or even pronounce the jury's verdict. Rather, God oversees justice using ordinary means: people He's authorized to "make a thorough investigation" into the matter at hand (v18). The judges, lawyers and jury are all doing the Lord's work!
The whole system is predicated on honesty, but yet honesty is never assumed. Testimony must be corroborated, claims must be verified and accusations must be proven. Liars, false witnesses and perjurers are to be dealt with severely: the punishment that would apply to the accused if guilty must fall upon them so that when others hear about what happened, they'll be too terrified to lie in court if they every must take the stand. Moses tells them to "show no pity" in invoking the principle of lex talionis: "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot (v21)."
As a Christian, do whatever you need to do to "purge the evil from among you (v19)." The best way you can do that is to make sure you keep the 9th commandment and never bear false witness.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, the God of all justice;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray for the wisdom to be able to discern the truth, and the courage to always speak truthfully;
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - John 7