December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. . . . And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. . . . If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. . . . If one man’s ox hurts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the money from it; and the dead ox they shall also divide. Or if it was known that the ox tended to thrust in time past, and its owner has not kept it confined, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall be his own.”—Exodus 21:12–36 (NKJV)
If you made it through reading this passage, you might be thinking, “This is why I tend to skip over these parts of the Bible. I mean, what do these ancient laws concerning capital punishment and oxen goring a person to death really have to do with me?”
That’s an understandable question, but don’t bail on this basis! Every passage in the Bible, regardless of how obscure we may think it is, points us to who God is and how He should factor into every aspect of our lives. So, this does matter, greatly . . . we just need to dig a bit to see it.
Remember, this was anything but obscure for the Israelite living in this time. All of this was big news because it served to establish what their lives were going to be like from here on out. Consider how our news cycle reacts to the passing of some new law or bill that will take effect in our society. It’s a big deal! So now, imagine you’re being given an entirely new set of laws that will govern the things that are said and done, including the consequences when these new laws are broken.
This leads us to another important point: God is the one giving these laws to Moses who is then conveying them to Israel. These laws aren’t coming from Moses, but are flowing from the heart, mind, and mouth of God. Moses is more accurately a mail carrier since he’s simply delivering the Lord’s message. God, not man, is the one doing the law giving.
Back to the oxen. So, what’s happening here is the Lord is establishing boundaries for behavior. It’s not man but God who decides what is a capital offense and its corresponding consequences. He’s the one who dictates where the edges for what is and isn’t acceptable are. He’s telling man what he can and can’t do, and He gets to do that because He’s God!
Seems simple, doesn’t it? And yet, we can’t get away from the fact that many (if not most) of our current problems center on our refusal to accept this. Our raw fallen nature doesn’t like to bow to a greater authority. Like any toddler, we don’t like to be told what we can and can’t do. This is especially true when it comes to the claim God has over us. He possesses the right to decide the boundaries for our behavior, not us. These boundaries are clearly marked in His Word, both for the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament and for the believer in Christ in the New Testament. And when we reject them and live our lives beyond these bounds, problems follow.
However, someone who accepts that God is the one who speaks with authority over their lives will know a much different way of life. It won’t be completely without problems and trials, but they’re within the boundaries of God’s blessings—freedom, joy, peace, wisdom, love and hope. The highest quality of life belongs to the person who submits to God’s statutes. It was true then, and it remains true now.
Pause: How does this passage point to who God is?
Practice: Why is this aspect of God’s nature important? Reflect on and pray about how this aspect of His nature should change the way you live.
Pray: Dear God, I confess I don’t like authority over me—I resist and rebel. But I know You are Lord over all, it’s Your Word that matters, and I need to submit to the boundaries You have established for my behavior. Give me greater grace to yield and willingly surrender to Your authority over my life. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.