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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Hebrews 13:1-6, Brotherly Advice.

[1]Let brotherly love continue.  [2]Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.  [3]Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.
[4]Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
[5]Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you  have.  For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  [6]So we may boldly say:  “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”

The chapter break is unfortunate, as are many others, because it breaks up the writer’s thought.  It may not seem like it in what he’s been writing before this, but it’s really all about “brotherly love.”  Our culture has so distorted the idea of “love” that the Biblical viewpoint has totally been thrown out.

In our society, “love” is defined as “tolerance,” or “acceptance.”  Most ideas of saying that something is “wrong” are rejected out of hand, except maybe that it’s wrong to say something is wrong.  The exception seems to be when those who are in the wrong accuse those who differ with them of being wrong.  There’s an example of this in Exodus 2:11-14.  Note carefully who it was who said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?”  Nothing’s changed.

There’s an interesting instruction about this view of love in the OT.  In Leviticus 19:17, 18,  God said to Israel, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.”  The Israelite had a responsibility toward his neighbor.  Now, he wasn’t to be the “executioner” if one might have been needed, that wasn’t his place, but he was to say something to the neighbor about it.  Not other neighbors.  That neighbor.  Hear also our Lord in Matthew 18:15.  He does say a little more, but the basic idea is the same.  He also says something about our responsibility when someone has something against us, Matthew 5:22, 23.

Moses carried it a little farther:  to be silent was to bear sin.  “Tolerance” and “acceptance” of wrong is sin.  Not love.

How does all that tie in with our text in Hebrews?

The writer has been faithfully warning his readers against having a casual attitude toward the Word of God, an attitude which ultimately leads to rejection of it.  Indeed, in itself a casual attitude toward the Word is to reject it.

It’s true that the writer isn’t talking about wrong-doing.  He’s showing what it means to “love.”  In warning his readers, he’s been showing love to them.  Now he continues with some other examples.  We could probably write a post on each of them.

Entertain strangers.  In that day, they didn’t have motels and hotels.  Travelers were dependent on people they knew or the hospitality of strangers for overnight accommodations.  See, for example, Judges 19:15; Luke 10:4-7.  You never know who you might be helping, even “angels.”  Abraham did this, Genesis 18, although his hospitality extended to the LORD Himself.  After the Resurrection, some disciples extended hospitality to a stranger who turned out to be the Lord Jesus, Luke 24:13-35.  You never know whom the Lord might bring our way.

Remember the prisoners.  That is, believers who are being persecuted for their faith.  For some reasons, Christians are surprised when persecution comes to them or to others.  We’ve been spoiled in this country.  But church history is filled with stories of believers who did not love their lives to the death, as Revelation 12:11 describes some future believers.  If we can do nothing else, we’re to hold them up in prayer, that God would strengthen them and enable them to be faithful.  If we can help them otherwise, then we must.

Marriage is honorable.  There’s a lot we could say about this current and much-debated topic.  We’ll just leave it at this:  God has given clear instruction in His word about this topic, and those who deny, defy or distort His Word will be judged, and in the words of the last verse of ch. 12, our God is a consuming fire.

Be content.  The writer has given some instruction about love toward strangers, toward the persecuted, toward marital love.  Now he touches on the love of “things.”  He warns against “covetousness.”  We don’t think much of this in a day when, every few weeks, some product, like a phone, is “updated and improved.”  Last year’s car is just “last year”.  My own opinion is that “new” isn’t always “improved.”  An hour of TV has some 20 or more minutes of advertising, most of which is designed to make us discontent with what we have and wanting something else or something better.  In Luke 12:15, our Lord said, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things which he possesses.”  Indeed, covetousness means that things possess us.   In Colossians 3:5, Paul warned against some things in ourselves, even telling us to put them to death.  One of these things is covetousness, which is idolatry.

We don’t think of it like this.  But when we focus on things, we take our focus off of God.  Whatever thing we focus on other than God, that thing is an idol.  We are idolators.  That doesn’t mean that we have to go off to some monastery or other; it just means that we have to understand that even our very breath isn’t our own, let alone the things around us.  And verse 6 brings in the wrath of God.  He will not take second place, as much as the skeptic or unbeliever might dislike that idea.

I’m interested in history.  Recently, my wife and I have been watching some programs on British castles.  The ones we’ve seen so far, impressive as they are, are all ruins.  I think that’s a fair assessment of “things” in general.  They don’t last.  Some of the owners of those castles did terrible things to get or keep them, but they, too, didn’t last.

In v. 5, the writer tells us to be content with such things as we have.

One of the “things” we’re to be content with goes far beyond the dreams of the wildest imagination of covetousness.  This “thing” is eternal.  The writer continues, For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  This thing is the promise of God.

If you give a little child a choice between a bright penny and a $100 bill, he will probably choose the bright penny.  He has no understanding of “value,” but only that the penny is shiny.

It’s a shame we’re so often fooled by the bright penny of things.