Exodus 21:23 MEANING

Exodus 21:23
Verse 23. - Then thou shalt give life for life. "Life for life" seems an excessive penalty, where the injury was in a great measure accidental, and when there was certainly no design to take life. Probably the law was not now enacted for the first time, but was an old tribal institution, like the law of the "avenger of blood." There are many things in the Mosaic institutions which Moses tolerated, like "bills of divorce" - on account of "the hardness of their hearts." Verses 23, 24. - Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. Aristotle says in the Nicomachean Ethics, that this was the rule of justice which Rhadamanthus was supposed to act on in the judgment after death (book 5, see. 3), and that it had the approval of the Pythagoreans. Solon admitted it to a certain extent into the laws of Athens, and at Rome it found its way. into the Twelve Tables. There is a prima facie appearance of exact equality in it, which would captivate rude minds and cause the principle to be widely adopted in a rude state of society. But in practice objections would soon be felt to it. There is no exact measure of the hardness of a blow, or the severity of a wound; and "wound for wound, stripe for stripe," would open a door for very unequal inflictions "Eye for eye" would be flagrantly unjust in the case of a one-eyed man. Moreover, it is against public policy to augment unnecessarily the number of mutilated and maimed citizens, whose power to serve the state is lessened by their mutilation. Consequently in every society retaliation has at an early date given way to pecuniary compensation; and this was the case even among the Hebrews, as Kalisch has shown satisfactorily. If the literal sense was insisted on in our Lord' s day (Matthew 5:38), it was only by the Sadducees, who declined to give the law a spiritual interpretation.

21:22-36 The cases here mentioned give rules of justice then, and still in use, for deciding similar matters. We are taught by these laws, that we must be very careful to do no wrong, either directly or indirectly. If we have done wrong, we must be very willing to make it good, and be desirous that nobody may lose by us.And if any mischief follow,.... According as that is, so shall it be done to the smiter: if death follows:

then thou shalt give life for life; if death to the woman, so Jarchi and Aben Ezra interpret it; to which agrees the Targum of Jonathan,"but if there is death in her, then ye shall judge or condemn the life of the murderer for the life of the woman;''about which, Jarchi says, there is a difference among their doctors; some say life properly, absolutely the person himself; others say money, but not life properly; for he that intends to kill one and kills another is acquitted from death, but must pay to the heirs the price (of the person killed) as that person might be sold for in the market: and indeed it seems hard that a person that kills another at unawares should die for it; it is more reasonable that the punishment should in such a case be commuted for something less than life; and that though no satisfaction was to be taken for a wilful murderer, Numbers 35:31, yet it seems to imply that it might be taken for one that was so without design; as by another law cities of refuge are appointed for the manslayer at unawares: the canons of the Jews, according to Maimonides (b), run thus;"he that strikes a woman, and she miscarries and dies, although it is done ignorantly; lo, such an one is free from payment, and he does not pay anything, as it is said, "if there is no mischief, &c." the Scripture does not distinguish between what is done ignorantly and presumptuously, in a thing in which there is not death by the sanhedrim, to free him from payment; in what things? when he intends the woman; but if he intends his neighbour and strikes the woman, though she dies, since her death is, without intention, lo, this is a thing in which there is not death by the sanhedrim, and he pays the price of the birth:''the Septuagint version interprets this, not of the woman that miscarries and dies, but of the child that becomes an abortive; if that was not formed and shaped, then only a fine was to be laid, but if it was come to its proper form and shape, and so was animated or quickened, then life was to go for life: and so, according to the Salic laws, he that killed an infant in its mother's womb was to pay 8000 pence, which made two hundred shillings; but if he was the cause of a woman's miscarriage, by blows or otherwise, if the birth was animated, according to the civil law, he was to be punished with death (c): but one would think, where this is only accidental and not intended, such a punishment is too rigid and severe: however, neither this nor what follows were left to the will of a private person to inflict at his pleasure, but to the civil magistrate; and therefore no ways encourages private revenge, in favour of which it was applied by the Pharisees in Christ's time, whose gloss he refutes, Matthew 5:38 nor are the words directed to the offender in this and the following cases, but to Moses, and so to all judges under him and in succession, who were to see these laws put in execution.

(b) Chobel Umazzik, c. 4. sect. 5. 6. (c) Vid L'Empereur in Misn. Bava Kama, c. 3. sect. 2.

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