A second type of law that we see in the Old Testament is civil laws. An unusual example of this is found in Deuteronomy 25:11-12 " 11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity. "
Some more common examples of civil laws are:
- fair weights and measures (deut 25)
- what to do when an animal falls down a hole (Exodus 21:33-36)
- eye for an eye (Ex 21:22-25)
These were all given as civil laws for a society living in the desert and were designed to promote honesty and fairness in a situation where it could easily have turned into every man for himself and the strongest survive. The fair weights and measures is fairly obvious - promoting honesty and fairness in business, not ripping anybody off. The rules about animals falling down a hole promote fair compensation. An eye for an eye wasn't about individuals dishing out harsh punishment then and there, but was guidance for judges to decide on compensation (see the examples given in the verses following that section). It was there to promote justice and prevent escalation of the situation.
We think we like justice, but we are actually vey inconsistant. I want mercy shown to me and my friends and my family and justice for people I don't like. Unless the dispute is between me and my friends in which case I want mercy shown to me and my family and justice shown to my friends. Unless it's between me and my family, in which case I want mercy shown to me...
We can see this inconsistency in the ridiculous compensation claims that people put in...
Marv Granzinski of Oklahoma bought a brand-new Winnebago motor home. On his first trip he join the motorway, set the cruise control to 70mph - and went into the back to make himself a cup of coffee. After the crash, Mr Granzinski sued Winnebago for not telling him in the handbook he had to stay at the steering wheel while the vehicle was on cruise control. He won £960,000.
- Convicted bank robber Michael Brodson broke his leg scailing a 40ft wall in a failed prison escape attempt in Ohio. He was awarded £12,000 - because the prison hadn't told him climbing a wall was dangerous.
- £5,000 to a pupil who slipped on leaves in the playground;
- £21,168 to a pupil who broke an ankle when playing 'tag'
- £21,650 to a student who fell off a climbing frame.
- £48,808, was to a pupil who burned their arm on a radiator pipe.
- £4,000 to a pupil who broke their wrist when pushed out of a toy car by another pupil
- £14,000 to a teacher who dislocated her hip after falling off a child's toilet
If we are the accused, we want comon sense to prevail, to take into account our special circumstances, to show a bit of mercy. If we are the claimant, we want the letter of the law applied. We are totally inconsistant. You make a careless remark that hurts someone and you want them to give you the benefit of the doubt. Does it work the other way around?
Loads of people, christians and non, would say that they live by the "golden rule" - whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matt 7:12). But in reality this works out as - they should be doing to to me what I want them to. It all comes down to selfishness. Our default setting is selfishness. Our world revolves around us. And as a result, we take these sorts of civil laws and twist them and manipulate them so that they come out in our favour.
Jesus shows they are about mercy not justice. See Matthew 5:38-47. Not returning an insult for an insult. Giving up your cloak (legally not required in any situation, see Ex 22:26-27) to someone who is repossessing your stuff. Walking an extra mile for someone who is forcing you to walk one. These things Jesus is talking about is not doing favours for your friends, it's talking about showing mercy to people who are not showing mercy to you! Loving your enemies.
You can't do this by yourself. So what is the solution? We can get a bit of an idea from the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35)
[NB 1 talent = 20 years wages, minimum wage = approx 11K a year which is 215K in twenty years so total (10,000 talents) would be 2 billion [impossible to pay back], 1 denarius = 1 days wages, minimum wage = approx £40 so total owed (100 denari) would be £4000 [could have been paid back in a few years]).
When we recognise how much we have been forgiven, mercy flows out of our lives. Jesus forgives us for all those times that we turned our back on Him, but we can't forgive that person who we think took too long to return our phonecall? Our anger is forgiven, but wecan't forgive that person who spoke to us sharply? If we can't, it shows we do not recognise how much we have been forgiven.
Jesus came to fulfil the law (Matt 5:17-20). How can our righteousness surpass the Pharisees (who followed the letter of the law)? Only through Jesus. We want mercy sometimes and justice others. Justice is required by God for sin, Jesus paid the price so that we, having been shown mercy, can show mercy to others.