By Akilah Holder
In my last article, I concluded by saying that the Mosaic law of lex talionis no longer applies. This is so because when Jesus came to earth, he cancelled that and replaced it with “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” as stated in Matthew 5:44.
But as crosswalk.com explains, God didn’t revoke that law entirely, he simply delegated “the responsibility of the civil authority (to penalize criminals rightfully) from the responsibility we all have in a personal context to love our neighbors and enemies.” In reality, the law of retaliation is still in operation in some countries across the globe in the form of capital punishment.
Therefore, as stated before, when the Israelites cried out to God during their captivity in Babylon, and asked that he kill their children in the same way the Babylonians killed theirs, they were simply demanding justice according to the legal system at the time. The lex talionis ensured that the victim or victims received justice that suited the crime, appropriate justice, justice that leveled the playing field.
So the Israelites were within their rights to demand that what was done to them by the Babylonians, be done to the Babylonians; and as explained above, that system of justice remains in place, but it is handled by the courts, which is fine.
God is a God of love yes, but he is also a just God, and because he is a just God, he must punish sin. And that was all he did back in the era of the Old Testament. When Psalm 137 is viewed in that light, the Babylonians got what they deserved.
1 Samuel 15:3, which recounts the story of God sending a message to Saul through Samuel to kill all the Amalekites, including their children, can also be explained by the application of the lex talionis during that time. In fact, verse two of that chapter states, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid (ambushed) them as they came up from Egypt.’” Verse 3 was written in that context.
Abrahams then went on to quote 2 Samuel 12:15-18 where God allows David’s first son with Bathsheba to fall ill and die because of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah, to cover his tracks. Again, for Abrahams, this amounted to cruelty to children. However, God had to discipline David for his adultery and murder. He could not allow David’s sins to go unpunished.
As explained on Bible.org, “…God cannot allow His name to be blasphemed by allowing it to appear that He does not care about sin. From the very beginning the Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death… For God to allow David’s sins to have no painful consequences would enable the wicked to conclude that God does not really hate sin, nor does He do anything about it when we do sin.”
In fact, verse 14 of that chapter states “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have given [a great] opportunity to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme [Him], the son that is born to you shall certainly die.”
The verse states, in other words, that David’s sin brings the Lord’s reputation into question, so the Lord had to send a clear message that he does not tolerate sin. The death of David’s first son was painful enough to deter David from future sin, and ensure that on-lookers got the message as well that God does not tolerate sin.
Abrahams then moved onto God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, a story found in Genesis 22:1-12. Sigh! God stopped Abraham from killing the child. This was just a lesson in faith for Abraham. And that is what God did; test Abraham’s faith in him. When Abraham – and this is the part that was missed and that many of us miss – showed his faith in God, the Lord told him to stop.
The fact that God stopped him is critical for the human understanding of God. It goes to show that when you trust in God, he works things out for your good. If God did not care for Abraham and Isaac, do you think he would have stopped him? Abrahams point is no point when you think about it.
He then moved on to Genesis 19, the story of Lot and his family trapped in Sodom until the Lord sends two angels to rescue them. Abrahams writes that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the Sodomites to avoid them sleeping with the angels, but ignores the fact that the angels pulled Lot back into the house and carried him and his family to safety. Again, this is no point at all. The angels carried Lot and his family to safety. How is this a strike against the Bible?
He then moved on to Deuteronomy 22:21-24. This chapter goes back to the system of justice used then, so I won’t spend any time on this.
Lastly, Abrahams takes issue with Luke 14:26 which warns that unless you “hate” your relatives, you are not fit to follow God. He disregards the analysis of Christian apologists that “hate” is hyperbole. It is. It is God’s way of emphasizing that you must have undying loyalty to him. So if you are serving him, no close relative or friend should take priority over that.
Moreover, God created the family, remember? He would be the last one to promote hatred of relatives.