25 to 45.

The title represents what might be a sentence in a capital case, 25 to 45 years in prison.  In contrast to this, the thing that impresses me as I read through the Mosaic Law is that there is no provision for prisons or jail.  There are no sentences like the one in the title.  There are a couple of references to people being put in “ward” until it was decided what was to be done with them, and there are references to prison later in Israel’s history, but in her founding documents there are no references to prisons, no multi-layered judiciary, no defense lawyers, no plea bargains, no years and years of “appeals.”

What did they have?

Well, let’s see….

In our last post, we saw what was to happen if two men got into a fight and one of them was injured.  The other man was responsible for his healing and restoration.

In Exodus 22:1-4, we have an example of theft.  How was a “perp” handled in such cases?

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.  If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.  If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.  He shall make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.  If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.

If this were today, it would say something about his rights to an attorney.  He might be arraigned before a judge and bail would be set, upon payment of which he would be set free until the trial.  Nothing about the victim of his thefts; anything recovered would be held as evidence and wind up in some storage area in the police department.  It might be decades before the case is finally settled.

How different is the Mosaic view.  If the stolen items were gone, then the thief was required to return much more than the value of what he stole.  If the items were still with him, then he was required to return double to his victim.  He was required to make full restitution.  If he was unable to do this, then the one thing he still had was to be sold:  himself.  That certainly wouldn’t go over in our society, but the emphasis is not on the perpetrator of a crime, but on his victim.

There is one similarity with today.  If the thief was killed during the robbery, which was assumed to take place at night because it was unlikely that anyone would steal an animal during the day, his death was not a crime.  If, however, he was not caught, got away and was then killed, this was a crime in itself.  A victim of a crime cannot chase a thief down the street and kill him.

The emphasis was on the victim and the return of stolen goods to him, even more than was stolen.  I suppose this was to pay him, if I can put it like that, for the inconvenience of his property being stolen from him.  It also might serve as a warning to someone tempted to steal that, in the hackneyed phrase of today, “crime does not pay.”

Following this example, vs. 5 deals with a situation in which someone’s animal grazes in someone else’s field or vineyard.  V. 6 deals with destruction of another’s field by fire.  Vs. 7-14 deal with the loss or theft of personal property in several different situations.  V. 12 gives us an idea of the solemn responsibility one had toward the safety of someone else’s property entrusted to him.  None of these situations involves jail time.  All of them involve an effort to compensate the victim for what loss he might have suffered.

I don’t know that such practices could be implemented in our so much different time and culture.  At the same time, I do believe that more concern ought to be paid to the victims of crime, in some way making those who commit the crimes responsible not so much to “the state,” but to their victims.

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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.