Israelite Anti-Theft

Can you shoot the intruder? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently there have been a number of shootings in our country that have sparked talk about gun control. What does it mean to really be able to protect one’s self? As we are going through the Old Testament, we find that our passage today is discussing just such an incident. What happens when someone breaks into your home and what makes the difference? The passage is Exodus 22:2-3.

“2 “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.”

Okay. What makes the difference here? Is there one time of the day when it’s acceptable to kill someone and a time of the day when it is not? Not really. This is another instance of a case when it is important to know about the context of the ancient world and really begin to think about how different it is.

Tonight, when I go to bed, if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can get a small flashlight near our side of the bed if I need to get up during the night and easily find my way anywhere if need be. If we heard an intruder coming into our house, we could turn on the light to expose them and call the police or deal with them in any way that is necessary.

If you lived in the ancient world, you could not turn on a flashlight or flip a lightswitch. Instead, you would have to light a lamp of some kind and that would require producing a flame first. It would not be as easy to produce light. Now it’s the middle of the night and you hear someone breaking in. You go and engage the intruder in combat. You don’t know if he has a sword or club or some other weapon, but you know your family is in danger. During the melee, you kill him. In the morning, you look and you find out that he is unarmed. He is dead, but you are safe.

A thief breaks into your house during the day. He comes in unarmed and you pick up your sword and run him straight through. Now you are guilty of bloodshed.

This is an example of the principle of eye for an eye. Thievery is a crime, but it is not one that is to be punishable by death. Now supposing the thief tried to kill you during the day when he broke in, that would of course change the situation. Please keep in mind the laws were not necessary ironclad in the sense that they always had to be followed to the letter. Mitigating factors were taken into consideration.

The principle is the same kind that we are dealing with still today. How is it that one can defend themselves? Generally, we can usually speak of sufficient force today. A punishment must fit a crime as well. Our look at the text today shows that these are not new. You could not have vigilante justice. You had to make sure you used only force necessary to protect yourself. Also, contrary to some today, you were allowed to kill in self-defense if you thought your own life was in danger.

We may not live in the Old Testament times, but as we can see, there is still much we can learn from the Old Testament Law.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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