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In the Gates


Manslaughter--Here is a case of what we call manslaughter.

The sixth commandment

Exodus 21.12-14

Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.”

Here is a case of what we call manslaughter. One person was responsible for the death of another, but there was not intent to kill and, apparently, no hatred toward his neighbor. Rather “God let him fall into his hand.” Why would God do that? Who can say?

Notice here the idea of taking a man away from the altar of God as punishment for murder. As we sometimes see in the Old Testament, those who know themselves to be guilty of murder would flee to the altar, hoping to find safety before the mercy seat of God. But God required that murderers be removed from His sight and then executed by the community. Is there in this a symbolic warning that murderers somehow forfeit any hope of eternal salvation? I don’t think so. Remember Saul of Tarsus. Rather, I think the community was being reminded that murder and the death penalty are the consequences of mankind’s fall into sin. Though just, the death penalty is not according to God’s original purpose for men. We should thus understand that this is a temporary measure. When the effects of sin are entirely behind us, such forms of justice will no longer be necessary.

This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to and click on our Book Store.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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