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This month's Q&A's

Why was the Law of Moses so harsh, calling for an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth? This seems so primitive and callous.

This law, frequently called the “law of retaliation,” is also found in Exodus 21:23–25, Leviticus 24:19–20, and Deuteronomy 19:16–21. It is perceived as vengeful and excessive, when in fact it was intended to restrain vengeance and excessive punishment. First, the law required that retribution was to be judicial, not personal. Fines should be paid as the judges decide (Ex. 21:22) after their investigation. The government was to carry out punishment.

Second, the law required that punishment had to fit the crime and not be excessive. If someone has injured an eye, the punishment must not be the death penalty. Moreover, the context of Exodus is about paying monetary fines, so it appears that the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” command was not to be taken literally but referred to the appropriate financial restitution for an injury. The Law of Moses did not intend to create a blind, toothless society!

The only exception to the financial application of these laws appears to be the death penalty for deliberate homicide. Since people are made in the image of God, the deliberate murder of a human being required the courts to carry out capital punishment as the only appropriate justice. That’s why Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” The Law of Moses was not primitive or harsh. Rather, it provided for appropriate justice and restricted the sinful human desire for excessive vengeance and personal retaliation.

Why would the Law of Moses require a woman to marry the man who raped her? This just seems so wrong.

This reflects a misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 22:28–29: “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” The word translated here as “rapes” could also be translated as “seizes” or “seduces.” “Seduces” best captures the meaning, for several reasons.

First, the previous paragraph describes an actual rape and uses a different Hebrew verb that means “forces” or “overpowers,” making a distinction with what is described here in verses 28 and 29. Second, in the parallel instruction found in Exodus 22:16–17, the Hebrew verb used is translated “entice,” and clearly refers to seduction and not rape. Third, the verb used in Deuteronomy 22:28–29 most literally means “captures,” but it is also used figuratively, as in “to capture one’s heart” (Ex. 14:5), which conveys the sense of seduction.

The law in Deuteronomy 22:28–29 is best understood as referring to a man who seduces a virgin so that she consents to have sex with him. This law was designed as a protection for her, so that he could not cast her aside and bring shame to her. The seducer must pay the bride price to her father and stay married to the woman.

Why is the God of the Old Testament so harsh and vindictive, and the God of the New Testament is both loving and merciful? It doesn’t seem like the same God to me.

Many people have thought this, but in fact the God of the Bible is the same throughout all the Scriptures. In both the Old and the New Testaments, God is loving and just. He is not merely wrathful in the Old Testament; He is loving and merciful and forgives sin, as in the example of David, who committed adultery and orchestrated the death of Uriah the Hittite. This description of God is found in the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Ex. 34:6–7).

The New Testament describes God’s justice as well as His love. He holds people accountable for their sin, and sometimes exercises discipline in seemingly severe ways. For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much they were giving to the congregation, Peter rebuked Ananias first, saying he had “not lied just to human beings but to God”—and then God struck him dead. The same then happened to his wife, Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), reminiscent of instant justice sometimes seen in the Old Testament. The New Testament also describes the end of days, when God’s judgment will fall on the earth at the hands of Jesus, the Lamb of God. This is how people will respond in that day: “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” (Rev. 6:16–17)? God is always the same. He is perfect and infinite in holiness and justice and in His love and mercy.

BY Dr. Michael Rydelnik

Dr. Michael Rydelnik is a professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute and the host of Moody Radio’s Open Line with Michael Rydelnik. He is the author of 50 Most Important Bible Questions inspired by both his radio show and his columns for Today in the Word. Michael served on the translation team of the Holman CSB Bible and contributed to several other books and study Bibles. Michael also appeared in the Lee Stroebel video The Case for Christ. Michael and his wife, Eva, have two adult sons. The Rydelniks live in Chicago, Ill.

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