“Be responsible.” How many times have you wanted to scream it at the TV? Or a professional athlete? Or a politician? Or your children? (Hmm, seems I don’t have enough fingers and toes.) For some reason being responsible is not something that runs parallel with our natural desires. Instead, it’s just easier to shrink back and blame someone else.
Devotional Scripture: Exodus 21:12 – 22:15
Key Verse: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10
Especially if the elicited result was merely an accident. Right? I mean who wants to take responsibility when you didn’t mean to do it? No one, that’s who. For example, the following is a common conversation I have all the time with my beautiful little blessings:
“Mom, he hit me!” says child A.
“But I didn’t mean to!” says child B.
“Well even if you didn’t mean to, you need to apologize and take responsibility for your actions,” says the exasperated mother.
“But I DIDN’T mean to!!” says child B louder this time.
“It doesn’t matter whether you meant to or not. Tell your brother you’re sorry for hitting him,” says the exasperated mother A LITTLE LOUDER THIS TIME.
Can I get an amen? I know I’m not the only one repeatedly having this conversation. In fact, I’m just sure you’re nodding your head in agreement right now.
Taking responsibility for our actions is not something we like to do, nor want to do, nor take any pleasure in doing, but it’s Biblical. (Surprise, surprise.) Exodus 21 and 22, our text today, leaves no room for doubt on the matter. In both passages God expounds on the law by giving a list of rules or examples that were to help Israel’s leaders judge cases, usually at the city gate. So beginning with instances of personal injury done to others, like, well, murder the LORD covers an array of incidents on down to the accidental injury of a neighbor’s animal.
These rulings were part of the Book of the Covenant Israel agreed to live by in Exodus 24. It helped them function as a nation. Remember they had been under the not so wonderful example of Egyptian jurisdiction for almost half a century. So it was important God set some new parameters if they were to be His treasured possession and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).
In every case or ruling the punishment was to fit the crime. There were no million-dollar lawsuits for a cup of spilled coffee. The principle used was Lex Talionis. Described in Exodus 21:23 like this, “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
However, the only instance we see this play out literally is with murder. If someone purposefully took the life of another, he was to pay with his own life. Yes, the Bible supports Capital punishment my friend. God values the sanctity of life too much not to. Only in the case of an accidental death was the offender’s life to be spared.
Otherwise Lex Talionis was not to be taken literally, especially in matters of personal dispute. If someone cut your ear off, it wasn’t a free pass to turn around and cut off theirs. That’s not what God had in mind as Christ makes clear in Matthew 5. Lex Talionis was to be the principle guide used by Israel’s judicial system (consisting mostly of elders at the city gate). It insured punishment for the offender, all the while protecting them from being unjustly punished.
The idea is appropriate restitution. If you wrong a brother (or sister for that matter), then make it right. If it’s an injury, pay for their time off work and the medical care needed to get better (Ex. 21:19). If you harm your slave – let them go free (v. 26). If you dig a pit and your neighbors donkey falls into it, pay for your neighbor to get a new donkey (v. 34). If your animals graze in your neighbor’s field, make restitution by giving them the best of your own field (22:5).
In other words, BE RESPONSIBLE.
If you make a mess, clean it up! If you borrow a friend’s shovel and it breaks don’t just give them back a broken shovel; buy them a new one, even if it was an accident. If you push someone down, help them up, even if you didn’t mean to send them to the floor.
Be a neighbor. This was God’s hope for his people. And it told the Israelites they served a fair God. A fact I’ve contested with God from time to time when I didn’t get my way, but the revealing of his law clearly paints the portrait of a fair God.
However, enforcing these standards is not the job of the offended, but the official or the judge or the jury sitting inside a sweltering hot courtroom. (I don’t know why, it just seems like it should be sweltering hot in there.) But my personal responsibility is forgiveness and love and peace and kindness that I might be an instrument of righteousness God uses to bring the lost to saving faith. (The heart of what Christ was getting at in Matthew 5.)
So there is responsibility on all sides my friend. No one gets off scotch free. My neighbor might owe me a new shovel, but I owe my neighbor the hand of forgiveness and the decency to not tell everyone in town he broke my shovel.
But the problem is we’ve set aside the example God’s laid out for us in Exodus 21 and 22. One of respect and decency towards one another. One of restitution. One of responsibility. One in which the punishment fits the crime. Our legal system has gone both ways. Handing out victorious lawsuits for vain charges. And/or not handing out insufficient correction for convicted criminals.
Now I may not be able to do anything about the government that oversees me, but I can certainly do something about the God who oversees me. I can honor Him by recognizing his sovereign design for society and model it. I can take responsibility for my actions and teach my children to do the same. I can say I’m sorry even when it was merely an accident. I can buy new shovels when necessary and keep my mouth shut and reign in my heart when required.
I can know God’s word and I can live it myself. Because God’s ways are not old fashion, but expertly crafted for a people He knew would have ample opportunities to say, “I’m sorry,” and make restitution for the error of their ways.
Bottom line – I can be responsible for my heart and mind and actions and reactions. Because living accountable for our actions is not just a fleeting hope we have for our government officials or the professional athlete our kids look up to so much. But it’s the hope of God for all of us.
Contemplate and Evaluate:
What do you need to take responsibility for today? And where do you need to extend the hand of forgiveness?
In what ways is God’s design for society upheld today and in what ways is it not?