Moses continues to preach through the Ten Commandments before Israel is to enter the promised land. He has covered the first five, and now starts to talk about the final five - murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting.
Through the next several chapters Moses is dead set on Israel keeping a right relationship with God by keeping his commands and atoning for guilt when it pops up. And since Israel is in the midst of immigration, war, and lots of marginalized people groups, the commands can span from general to very specific.
When it comes to the command not to murder, what is Israel to do when someone is accidentally killed? A distinction is made between hateful or premeditated murder and innocent or accidental killing. For those who murder, the penalty is death. But for those who are involved in an accidental death, a city of refuge is provided where they can flee and be safe from anyone who might want to get revenge on them.
Moses also talks about what to do when someone lies in court. If a liar is caught trying to get someone punished for a thing they didn’t do, then the liar himself is sentenced to the very punishment he was trying to put on someone else. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
Finally, and at most length, rules are given about the spoils of war. When it comes to the cities in the promised land, the people are not to keep any spoils but devote everything that breathes to destruction. As for cities outside the promised land, spoils may be taken. Israel must show restraint and not covet that which God has devoted to destruction.
In these commands, we see that God is concerned about protecting the innocent. They must not be punished if they are not guilty, whether because of an accident or a false witness. This would particularly protect the defenseless in courts of law from being extorted by the powerful and influential.
But God is also concerned about punishing the guilty. Whether it be a murderer, liar, or the wicked people who currently live in the promised land. Protecting the innocent and judging the guilty are not at odds with each other. They are both sides of the same coin. That coin is justice.
But neither us nor our societies have upheld God’s law.
We do not deserve the blessing promised for obedience, but the punishment promised for disobedience.
Where is Jesus?
This is why the Gospel is such good news. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans in the New Testament, wrote that Jesus is both the just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). He is both sides of the coin of justice.
He is the justifier because he has put us in good legal standing before God. But he is still just because our punishment did not go undealt. Jesus took our full punishment, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, onto himself.
Now that we have been justified freely by him, we have experienced the grace necessary to live a life that does obey these last five commandments. Because of the love Jesus has shown us, and him living in us, we can be loving, chaste, honest, generous, and content. And we can affect the societies we live in to act the same way by sharing with them this just and justifying love of Jesus.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would open your eyes to see the God who protects the innocent and judges the guilty. And that you would see Jesus as the one who took our guilt so that we could be protected from what we deserved.