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Better Judgment

Numbers 35:31-32
“Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest.”

A crucial reason for the severity of God’s like-for-like punishment of murderers is expressed in the following verse, but even without that widened context the justness of this law resonates. Not because the penalty of death matches the crime of murder—a life for a life—but rather because the punishment here is juxtaposed explicitly against a payment of ransom. In other words, this Scripture doesn’t read, “You shall give no mercy to the murderer but only justice,” nor “You shall not let the murderer go free but shall kill him,” even if these are implicit in the text; instead, it reads, “You shall accept no ransom,” revealing how greed can corrupt justice if not kept in check.

Think about it, friend: how easy would it be for a lenient judge or even perhaps a greedy family member of the deceased to exploit a crime for his own gain? How tempting might it be for even a stalwart District Attorney to posit a murderer’s pardon as mercy, waxing on about the social conflicts in the criminal’s early life that led to such unhinged brutality, arguing how thorough counselling from expert psychologists might remediate those baser impulses, and selling the story to the papers all while raking in blood money behind the scenes?

Cursed is our ability to turn sin that grieves God’s heart and ruins our neighbor’s fortunes into a profitable enterprise! Our society has it all backwards these days. Rather than being triggered by grotesque sins against humanity, people are triggered by just acts of retribution. But don’t let the pop psychologists fool you. The reason so many violent criminals get off Scot free in our society today isn’t because of compassion and empathy but because of money. Someone paid a ransom to someone else, either behind the scenes, or out in the open, supposing it was enough to atone for a stolen life.

But I’m so grateful to have a just God Who desires better and demands better and does better!