Whose Rights?

I would like have had the title read, “Whose rights?” but I don’t know if that’s possible with this platform or how to do it.  The reason for the title is that our culture is very concerned about “criminal rights.”  Police have to bend over backwards to ensure that anyone arrested in suspicion of a crime is “read his rights,” and probably anyone hauled in for questioning knows to ask for a lawyer right away.  More than one person on trial has walked away because of some little technicality, some oversight, some “i” not dotted properly or some “t” not crossed completely.

(After I put this away last night, with just a few lines beyond this point, one of the news stations had a segment about serial rape and the problems law enforcement was having with what to do with those guilty of numerous sexual crimes.  The segment showed one individual with a dozen or more such offenses.  In the course of the discussion about what to do with such a person, the officer commenting on it said, “At some point, you run into the constitutional rights of the offenders.”

“The constitutional rights of the offenders.”

I couldn’t believe it.

The Old Testament solution would have been that he wouldn’t have lived to commit the second offense, let alone 11 more – and law enforcement puzzled about what to do with him.

There is no “constitutional right” to be a rapist or any other criminal.

And, yes, I know that’s not what’s really meant, though that does seem to be how some people view it.)

In all this, very little seems to be said about the “rights” of victims.  Nothing was said about the victims of the above predator.  What about their “rights”?

While the Old Testament is concerned about fairness and true justice, it’s also concerned about victims.

We see an example of this in Exodus 21:12-27, especially vs. 18, 19, 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  (emphasis added).

Earlier in this description, it’s said that if the injured party died, or even, it seems to say, becomes bedridden, then the other man was to be executed.  If he did not die, and became somewhat able to get up and around, then the other man was responsible to see that he was restored to health and for any wages he had lost.  Not insurance, not the government, not some hospital ER having to write it off – the offender was responsible for the healing and restoration of his victim.

The offender had no “rights,” only responsibility to his victim.  He had no “debt to society,” as we like to put it, but only to his victim.  We wonder how things would be different if we had a similar view of crime and punishment.

We’ve already seen that the Mosaic Law was given to a specific people in a specific context.  As such, it doesn’t mention situations with which we are familiar, like auto accidents or cybercrime.  And it does mention situations with which we are not familiar, like harsh treatment of servants, or about which we have developed different views, like the place of a father in his family, the raising of children or the roles of men and women.

And the New Testament give further instruction.  Because of this, some have said that we don’t have to pay any attention to the Old Testament at all.  I disagree.  While we don’t live under its precepts, and we do live under the New Testament, even the Apostle Paul said that there were some things we could learn from the Old Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11, he wrote, Now all these things [from the earlier part of the chapter] happened to them [Old Testament folks] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.

“Examples,” “admonition.”

In other words, “pay attention.”

There are things there for us to learn.

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Who Says?

As I read through the Old Testament, especially the early books, in which God calls out and forms the nation of Israel, I’m impressed by the number of times that the Lord said to Israel, “I am the LORD.”  He might say that just by itself, or He might add something:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.”

It’s true that the Lord said that obeying Him would bring blessing and that disobeying Him would bring judgment, and that, in freeing them from Egyptian slavery He had already blessed them, yet it seems to me that the Lord is also saying that the main reason to pay attention to what He commands is that He commands it.  He didn’t ask for their agreement or their opinion or their thoughts on the subject.  He just said, “Here is what I want you to do.  I am the LORD.”

There is a message for us in this.  We increasingly live in a time when there are no objective standards.  It’s all about consensus, or who can make the loudest noise or cause the most destruction.  It’s all about “self-identity,” regardless of any objective reality.  We’ve become like the society described in the last verse of Judges:  In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, Judges 21:25.  It’s true that we’ve never had a king here in this country, but that doesn’t mean the verse isn’t relevant.  A king was THE authority in the land, the source of law and order, however those might have been defined.  Not every king was a good king.  Judges describes a situation in which there was no king, no established, recognized code of conduct.  It was up to each individual how he wanted to live.

Because it is increasingly true in our nation that everyone does what he thinks is right.  we also see immorality and wickedness in our world similar to that described in the last chapters of Judges.  Granted, it isn’t an exact correspondence, so far as I know no one has recently hacked his concubine into pieces, although, now that I think about it, there are unspeakable atrocities against women approved by some cultures, but even without that, there are things which were unthinkable not all that many years ago that are now front page news and people demanding freedom to do them, to say nothing of the crime and violence that has mushroomed over the last few years.  There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments formed much of the basis of our legal system.  This fact is denied or ignored by those who demand the removal of every trace of them from our public lands and buildings:  no plaques listing them, no memorials of them in public, no reference to them by lawmakers or officials.  The “anti-establishment” clause in the Constitution has been reinvented to mean no religion in government at all, not the denial of civil power to the church.  Many of the Founding Fathers had suffered    because the church had had such power, and had misused it, as in England and Germany, and even in the very early days of the country, and they wanted no part of that in this new country, no part of an “official” church.  At the same time, contrary to some today, they were NOT establishing atheism as the official stance of the government.  There is abundant evidence of the influence of Christianity in the formation and early days of America.  There were other things, true, like Plato’s Republic, but the Bible was certainly there, and respected.

In the next few posts, Lord willing, I want to look at the Old Testament law and see what there is that might instruct us.  By “the Old Testament law,” I don’t mean the Ten Commandments.  Psalm 119:96 says that the commandment is exceedingly broad, and there might be some surprising things in it.

We must remember that “the Law,” as seen in the Mosaic documents, was given only to the nation of Israel, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Psalm 147:19, 20.  It was never given to Gentiles or to “the church”.  At the same time, there is something called, “the Moral Law.”  Paul refers to this in Romans 2:14, 15.  When he says that the Gentiles are a law unto themselves, he doesn’t mean that they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, though they, and we, do do that.  He’s saying that they recognize that there is “right” and “wrong,” though they might differ on what each of those is.  The Moral Law is simply the reflection of the righteousness God requires of His creation.  The Mosaic Covenant was the application of that Law to a specific historic and geographical place and people.  Even though Gentiles are not under the Mosaic Covenant, and never have been, it’s still wrong, for example, to murder or steal, not because of the Ten Commandments themselves, but because the righteousness of God forbids it.

We just want to look at the Mosaic Law to see what God thinks about some things we don’t usually associate with Him, to see if there’s not something we can learn from them.