Capital Punishment by God’s Standard

The law enforcement community has been congratulating itself on the lowing of violent crime statistics. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, for example, records the murders in 1994 as 23,326 as contrast with 2013 (the latest report available) as 14,196. That was, until Ferguson and then Baltimore where we have seen a significant uptick. The FBI director, “During his speech at the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police… said the surge in criticism and protests against the police was “the one theory that to my mind and to my common sense, does explain” the increase in crime in some major cities in 2015.” “Shootings are on the rise in New York, as are quality-of-life crimes that create a sense of public disorder and social deterioration. Seattle is also a good example: a federal lawsuit and a court-appointed monitor followed on the heels of a publicized incident, and now homicides are up 25 percent, car theft is up 44 percent, and aggravated assault is up 14 percent.”

Some criminologists have differing theories. They cite many factors involved—an aging demographic, population shifts out of the cities, and so forth. However, the discussion about these statistics doesn’t reveal the bigger picture.

If we were to take not just a twenty year snapshot, but rather a 100-year panoramic shot, we would see that America is a much more violent place than it was 100 years ago. Murders were exceedingly rare, violent crimes were few and far between, and the populace was shocked when violent crimes occurred.

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Today, we are inundated with violence as entertainment, whether movies, books, or video games. Violence has become normalized, and the tragic consequences are all around us. Does the Word of God speak to this issue we face today? Indeed it does. Turn to Exodus 21:12, as we continue in our sermon series, True Law is God’s Law. Crime affects all of us, and understanding the Law of God, as well as perceiving the roots of crime, is what God’s Word offers to us.

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Why the Death Penalty? – Exodus 21:12-14: “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.”

Here, God clearly instituted the death penalty for the crime of murder. Notice that the law of God distinguishing the types of homicide:

  • Whether the murder was premeditated – what we today have labeled this first degree murder. “First degree murder requires that a defendant plan and intentionally carry out the killing, whereas second degree murder requires that the killing either be intentional or reckless, and occur in the spur of the moment. Taking the time to plan another’s death is arguably a more serious crime.”
  • The text here speaks of “slay him with guile.” The Hebrew word translated “guile” here is `ormah, which means with trickery and deceit.
  • The sanctuary accorded those who have committed a crime in the tabernacle does not apply to murderers. We have examples in Biblical history of a person who committed a crime going into the sanctuary and claiming the protection of the sanctuary such that the law could not apprehend them. They could not claim that privilege if they had committed murder. The next degree of homicide is manslaughter.
  • Manslaughter and the cities of refuge – Numbers 35:6: “And among the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites there shall be six cities for refuge, which ye shall appoint for the manslayer, that he may flee thither: and to them ye shall add forty and two cities.” When a homicide occurred, the perpetrator was to flee to one of these six cities of refuge. Contrast that with the fact that both Federal and State statues regarding manslaughter today always involve imprisonment.
  • Perhaps the largest rejection of the penalty imposed by God’s Law is rejection of the death penalty. Currently, 19 States and the District of Columbia have eradicated the death penalty, and an additional four states have a Governor mandated moratorium on the death penalty. So just under half the States have rejected God’s sentencing of death for murderers.

I think part of the problem is that we don’t understand it. We don’t see the wisdom of God revealed in it. God established the death penalty when He instituted human Civil government at the end of the flood in- Genesis 9:6 “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”


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