“An Eye for an Eye” and the Sanctity of Life

While Christians generally recognize the biblical mandate of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as part of the Old Testament Law, I suspect that most do not normally identify it with its original context—the sanctity of life, specifically that of a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus. I for one was recently surprised to read the following from Exodus (coincidently, the day after Sanctity of Life Sunday):

22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exod 21:22-25 ESV)

How remarkable that this first mandate from God of proportionate retribution of an eye for eye is in the specific context of injury to a pregnant woman and/or her fetus from men who are engaged in a brawl. If she and/or her fetus are harmed (through premature birth or a miscarriage), God demands punishment of “life for life, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, etc.” Notice that there is no restriction on this penalty—such as, only to late term pregnancies or in cases in which the baby was determined to have no major birth defects!

The interpretive challenges of these verses notwithstanding (see any number of good commentaries for details), the message is clear—God values the lives of both the mother and the unborn child. The life in the mother’s womb is of equal value to the life of the mother. This, of course, is because God is the ultimate author of all life.  Moreover, the innate worth of each human being (born or unborn) is grounded in the fact that they are created in the image of God (Gen 9:6). The continuing devaluation of human life in our society through the shameful atrocity of abortion (as well as growing receptivity towards euthanasia) stands as a direct affront to the Creator of life. The life of the unborn is precious to God and the taking of that life through abortion is sin in the eyes of the righteous Judge before whom all will one day stand.

Interestingly, as detailed in Douglas Stuart’s commentary on Exodus (NAC, 2006), the attitude expressed toward the value of an unborn fetus varied throughout Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures as evidenced by ANE law codes—with some (e.g., the Middle Assyrian Laws) actually requiring the exchange of a life for the loss of the life of a fetus. Others, such as the Babylonian Hammurabi’s Law, imposed a fine of ten shekels for the loss of a fetus. Remarkably, the pagan Babylonians placed more value on the life of a fetus than the laws of most countries do today!  For the God of Israel every life in the womb was precious and anyone who caused harm or death to that little one was to be punished—an eye for an eye.

Several additional remarks are warranted. First, the above comments should in no way be understood as promoting or justifying individual acts of violence on abortion clinics or physical assaults on abortionists. Such acts are to be categorically condemned.  The OT law of retribution or lex talionis, which was intended to impose proportionate penalty for physical injury, was part of Israel’s legal system for the nation (notice the involvement of a judge, v. 22). It was not intended to encourage vigilante justice. The fact that the law of our land does not value the life of the unborn does not justify individual acts of retribution. Remember that the responsibility of protecting life and the enactment of capital punishment, when necessary to do so, have been given to government (Rom 13:4), not individuals.

Finally, I would be amiss when dealing with such an emotionally charged topic to not proclaim the message of forgiveness that is offered through Christ to any who have had, performed, or encouraged abortions. The wonderful message of the gospel is that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished the just retribution for our sins—all of them. Through personal faith in Christ and Christ alone one need not fear “an eye for an eye,” even in regard to violations of God’s law on the sanctity of life.


While We Were Waiting

My wife and I were waiting for our daughter and her husband to return from visiting his family.  Near the end of our 2 hour wait, I noticed another family.  Unlike the rest of us, this family stood transfixed just beyond the “DO NOT ENTER” sign and the reach of customs officers.

A mother, a boy about ten years old and two teenagers—a boy and girl. They never took their eyes off the arrival door.  Unlike us they carried posters and wore tee-shirts with inscriptions.  Clear to anyone who turned from waiting to reading, were messages for Staff Sergeant DAD returning home from Iraq – “a real American hero.”

I whispered to my wife, “We have a soldier coming home.” Then turned my gaze to the arrival door. I began looking for a uniform, the ten year old was looking for a face. When it appeared no sign or customs employee was going to stop him from getting to his DAD! The two teens were soon clinging to a dad they hadn’t seen in too long. The smile on the soldier’s face told stories beyond words.  His wife met him and the whole family was wrapped in one hug.

Then something refreshing happened. The rest of us noticed one soldier and his family in their reunion embrace. The whole room broke out in applause. The soldier sheepishly looked up, acknowledged the applause, and walked away with his family as the applause continued.

In my mind, my experience that day pictures in a small way what I expect goes on every day at heaven’s gates.  Waiting crowds of loved ones surrounding the Savior watching the gates for the next believer arriving home.

Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones.”

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

A Reflection on Hunger and Thirst

When your stomach is empty or your mouth is parched, it’s hard to think of anything but food or water.  In John 4, Jesus and his disciples have been traveling for hours.  Around the noon hour they come to a well near Sychar in Samaria.  As you can imagine, they are all thirsty and hungry.  Therefore, Jesus sends his disciples to get some food.  While waiting, a Samaritan woman approaches to get some water from the well.  Naturally, Jesus asks for a drink of water.  Thus, the story begins with Jesus being thirsty and hungry. 

What’s intriguing in the story is that John never tells us that Jesus drank and ate in Sychar.  It’s not because He didn’t; it’s because John focuses on another appetite, which eclipses physical appetites.  Jesus was more concerned that the Samaritan woman would yearn for the water of eternal life than for a physical fountain of youth.  Unlike His disciples, Jesus was more concerned with obeying His Father’s will than with eating bread.  He models for the characters in the story the priority of spiritual necessities over physical necessities.  In our own lives, our physical needs are crucial.  However, our greatest needs are spiritual.  Above all, may we thirst to know Him and hunger to do His will in furthering His gospel in the world.   Along the way, remember the promise of Jesus, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

Have You Achieved Low Self-Esteem?

I came across this arresting passage in a book I’m reading this week:

“A young, well-dressed man (at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting) stood up and gave his personal narrative of addiction. It was full of tales of injustice and betrayal and mostly full of himself. The young speaker gave the impression of being a proud man who needed to blame others and justify himself. While the young man was speaking, a man in his forties, with dreadlocks and black shades, leaned over and said, ‘I used to feel that way, too, before I achieved low self-esteem.'” (Andrew Delbanco, quoted by Kevin DeYoung in The Good News We Almost Forgot)

Accepting personal responsibility for your problems is a message that runs counter to popular culture. We are told that our most basic problem is not loving ourselves enough.  We are taught to demand from others respect and fair treatment. To admit that you are wrong is to make yourself vulnerable.

The dreadlocked sage behind the shades surfaced a basic theological truth that is clearly taught in the Word of God. Before you can experience the life-changing love of Jesus Christ, you must achieve low self-esteem!

The kind of “low self-esteem” I’m describing means, instead of justifying yourself, you freely admit that you are a sinner by birth and by choice. Your sinful choices have separated you from a holy God and you have no virtue whereby you can earn or deserve forgiveness. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

Only by embracing the bad news about ourselves can we experience the miracle of the good news. It was the tax collector who prayed, “God be merciful to me the sinner,” who went home enjoying a right relationship with God (Luke 18:14). Those who “confess and forsake” their transgressions find forgiveness, while those who conceal them will not prosper (Prov. 28:13).

Have you “achieved low self-esteem”? Have you taken personal responsibility for your sins? Then rest today in the Savior who died for us “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8). His atoning blood is what transforms our bad news into the best good news the world will ever hear.


Meeting God in Your Mess

I’m doing some study in 2 Corinthians this week in preparation for our upcoming Advancing the Church  conference in February. I’m especially struck by the opening phrase, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. . .”  (2 Cor. 1:1).

You remember that much of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s explanation of why his ministry had been fraught with so many difficulties. Paul’s opponents argued that his troubles proved he wasn’t a genuine apostle. Paul argues exactly the opposite. His troubles actually became the portal for a deeper experience of God’s grace in his life. His weakness made the treasure of Christ in his life all the more prominent.

So I think his mention of “the will of God” probably has a dual purpose. He obviously is making a statement that his apostleship is invested with divine authority. But I wonder if there might also be another more personal reason for mentioning God’s will? That is, Paul found it helpful to remind himself, before rehearsing all the troubles he had experienced, that this was all part of God’s plan for his life. He was right where God wanted him to be, though at times it was an uncomfortable position. He hadn’t made a wrong turn somewhere to wind up in all these messes!

Don’t you find that you need a similar reminder at times? I certainly do. Trouble, trials, and disappointments do not necessarily indicate God’s displeasure with me. They are God’s way of reminding me that only when I am weak and entirely dependent on Him, do I experience His all-sufficient strength (2 Cor. 12: 9). Let’s embrace our troubles today – for therein lies an excellent opportunity for others to see the glory of Jesus revealed in us.


Nobody’s Perfect, But…, Part 2

Returning to the issue of blamelessness and Dean Shriver’s book, Nobody’s Perfect, But You Have to Be, one of the book’s numerous strengths is its reminder of the emphasis past generations have appropriately placed on ministerial integrity.  The following are a series of its quotes from notable voices of the past whose words are worthy of our careful consideration.

And let the luster of thy life be a common school of instruction, a pattern of virtue to all, publically exhibited like some original model, containing in itself all beauties affording examples whence those who are willing may easily imprint upon themselves any of its excellencies … For when the life is illustrious, and the discourse corresponds to it, being meek and gentle, and affording no handle to the adversaries, it is of unspeakable advantage.

Chrysostom, in his Homily on Titus

God sent His Son into the world to be the light of the world in two ways, viz. By revealing his mind and will to the world, and also by setting the world a perfect example. So ministers are set to be lights, not only as teachers but as examples to the flock, 1 Peter 5:3. The same thing that ministers recommend to their hearers in doctrine, they should also show them an example in their practice.

Jonathan Edwards, “The True Excellencies of a Gospel Minister “

Take heed to yourselves, lest you exemplify contradictory doctrine. Beware, lest you lay such stumbling blocks before the blind that you occasion their ruin. Beware, lest you undo with your lives, what you say with your tongues. Beware, lest you become the greatest hindrance to the success of your own labors. It hinders our work greatly when other men contradict in private what we have declared to them publically about the Word of God.  This is so because we cannot be there to contradict them and to show their folly.

But it will much more hinder our work if we contradict ourselves. If our actions become a lie to our tongues, then what we may build up in an hour or two of discourse can be demolished with our hands in a week. This is the way to make men think that the Word of God is merely an idle tale and to make preaching appear no better than prating. For he that means as he speaks will surely do as he speaks.”

17th Century Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

You must have holiness; and dear brethren, if you fail in mental qualifications (as I hope you will not), and if you should have a slender measure of the oratorical faculty) (as I trust you will not), yet depend on it, a holy life is in itself a wonderful power, and will make up for many deficiencies; it is in fact the best sermon the best man can deliver.

C. H. Spurgeon, Letters to My Students

As appropriately concluded by several of its reviewers, Nobody’s Perfect ought to be required reading for all ministers and ministerial students.  In so doing, may our lives daily evidence the transforming power of the glorious gospel message.


Nobody’s Perfect, But…, Part 1

In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul challenged his young protégé: “show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned …” (Titus 2:7-8a, ESV). Peter, likewise, exhorted the elders throughout Asia-Minor to “be examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3, ESV).   God’s Word is eminently clear that the life of the minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ must emulate the message of that very gospel.

In preparation for a workshop entitled “Who Me, Blameless?” that I will be presenting at our Feb 22-25 Advancing the Church Conference (ATC), I recently read a deeply challenging book entitled Nobody’s Perfect, But You Have to Be (Baker, 2005). Author Dean Shriver’s central proposition is well summarized in the book’s subtitle – “The Power of Personal Integrity in Effective Preaching.”  Shriver rightly argues that while all believers’ lives are to be characterized by integrity, for pastors integrity is everything. Acknowledging that there has only ever been One truly perfect Preacher, Shriver underscores the importance of integrity in preaching.  He introduces the all-important topic by defining integrity as “the state of being whole or undivided,” noting that we as preachers demonstrate integrity when unity exists between the truth we proclaim and the lives we live. He rightly asserts [pg. 16]:

Integrity is crucial to our preaching. Integrity is more crucial than a well-crafted introduction. It’s more crucial than smooth delivery. In preaching, integrity is always more crucial than technique because all the oratory skills on earth can never transfuse spiritual power into a sermon bled dry by a preacher’s own contradictory life.

Shriver, of course, is not negating the importance of sermon preparation and delivery, but rather putting them in the larger context which includes the oft-overlooked condition of the delivery vessel.  Or as appropriately asserted by noted author E. M. Bounds [Power Through Prayer, 69], “We are not saying that men are not to think and use their intellect. But he who cultivates his heart the most will use his intellect the best.”

Through examining specific areas of the preacher’s integrity, Shriver provides practical and challenging insights by which to evaluate one’s own life and ministry.  The areas addressed (with a chapter devoted to each) include: above reproach (or blameless), humility, contentment, fidelity to God’s Word, courage, purity of life, purity of mind, and temperance.  As an aside, I will argue at next month’s ATC workshop that the clear scriptural directive for pastoral leadership begins and ends with one non-negotiable – the aspiring pastor must be “blameless.”  While the workshop will unpack the numerous qualifications for pastoral leadership as detailed in 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1, I will argue that “blamelessness” is not one among equals but is, in fact, the governing lens through which all the other qualifications are to be read.

In the next part of this post I will document some of the great voices in church history on this issue of integrity.

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