(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 21:12
How, you might ask, does putting someone to death play a part in the history of worshipping God? Good question. Everything God does and says is part of worship. People often make a division in their thinking about what it means to worship God. If it’s pleasant to the eyes, feels good and sounds good, it’s part of worship. If it’s not pleasant to the eyes, doesn’t feel good or sound good, it’s not part of worship. That’s defining worship from the human perspective. Humans don’t define worship–God does.
When God called to Moses from the burning bush, He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12) The Hebrew word for “serve” here is abad. The primary English words used to translate abad are “serve” and “worship.” Abad was used for serving another person as well as for serving in a religious sense. The idea of the word was that of serving through obedience. God rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt so they could abad Him on the same mountain where Moses stood hearing the commands of Almighty God.
One of the lessons we learn from Israel’s time wandering in the desert is that obedience to everything God commanded them was a life or death decision. Almost every Israelite who left slavery in Egypt died in the desert because of their disobedience to God’s commands. The children born during the wandering became the adults who followed Joshua into the promised land. Obedience to everything God commanded was necessary to life and success. When that fact of total obedience hits us between the eyes, we are well on our way to understanding worship.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
God “formed” man of the dust of the ground, breathed His Breath into the nostrils of the man, and the man became a “living being.” How amazing is that! How precious is life. No wonder that God placed such a high price on the taking of another person’s life. What happened when Cain killed his brother, Abel?
“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” Genesis 4:10-12
God cursed Cain for murdering his brother. That murder divided the ungodly line of humanity from the godly line. That division almost led to the destruction of every living being. How could the human race worship God and commit the horrible sins of violence against each other?
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:5-8
After the Flood, God taught Noah and his sons and their families what would be involved in worshiping Him in the new world. One of His commands concerned violence against other human beings. We see how precious and valuable human life is to God.
“From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.” Genesis 9:5-6
Life is so valuable that God sees the wrongful taking of another life as an attack on Him – “For in the image of God He made man.” That was the law of the human race from that time on and God reminded the Israelites of it in Exodus 21 – “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” The violent and wrongful death of a person is an attack on the nature and character of God and that attack is deserving of death. The human race cannot say it is worshiping God with one hand while murdering each other with the other hand. Those who worship God must also value life and obey the command of the Giver of life.
God is just. Look at how He deals with violence from a slightly different perspective.
“However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.” Exodus 21:12
In this situation, the person who struck a man and killed him is not put to death. He did not “lie in wait” for the man. It might be in self-defense or an accident, but a life was taken. How did God deal with that in a “just” fashion? “… then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.” God designed a system of justice for taking a life accidentally or because of self defense. It was called “cities of refuge.”
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there. They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment. And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge. You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.” Numbers 35:10-15
We see in the “cities of refuge” God’s compassionate justice. It demonstrates the value of life in that the person who killed another person had to “flee” from where they lived. They could not continue to live in the same community because of “the avenger,” probably a member of the dead person’s family who would attempt to take the life of the “manslayer.” However, because it was accidental or self defense, God provided for six cities of refuge where the manslayer could find refuge until he or she had the opportunity to defend themselves “before the congregation in judgment.”
Let’s go back to Exodus 21 to see what else God said about violence toward other human beings.
“But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die. ‘And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. ‘He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. ‘And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. ‘If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed. ‘And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property. ‘If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. ‘If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.” Exodus 21:14-27
What do you see in these verses? I see the value God placed on human life. Not just whether a person was killed by another person, but how they were treated by another person. The worth God places on human life goes further than just whether someone is breathing or not. It’s how they live, how they treat others and how others treat them. As we treat each other, we so treat God.
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”