Summaries of the content of the law are listed below under the following general headings
- Property and Trade
- Personal Requirements
- Responsibilities Toward Other Citizens
This week we will look at the Responsibilities Toward Other Citizens.
Responsibilities Toward Other Citizens
There are numerous requirements to ensure a civilized society, the following examples are illustrative.
Although not listed below the law also proscribed legal marital relationships, divorce, forbidden sexual practices (homosexuality, bestiality, extramarital relationships, etc.) and definitions of rape together with relevant punishments.
Taking the Life of Another
The general overall teaching was that life was granted by God to an individual, and the killing of another human being was forbidden. This principal is encapsulated in the post alluvial instruction to Noah: Genesis 9:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
The law of Moses, further categorises sentences based on the motivation and cause of death (Numbers 35:15-34):-
- Premeditated murder – Death
- Result of an altercation without previous hatred – Confined in a city of refuge
- Accidental killing of another – Confined in a city of refuge
Six of the Levitical cities, strategically chosen in appropriately scattered locations, were defined as cities of refuge. The man-slayer could then flee into one of these cities and claim refuge, his case was judged on the basis of two or more witnesses, and any premeditated murder required that the death sentence be carried out. If not premeditated, the man-slayer may be granted asylum, where he was required to remain within the confines of the city until the death of the current High Priest after which he was free to leave.
Killing another as an act of war or enacting a judicial death sentence were exempt from punishment by law. Contact with a dead body, did however, require ritual cleansing.
Leviticus 24:19-20 if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
Safety of Others
There was a general responsibility for one’s own actions, and a duty of care towards one’s neighbour, which the following examples illustrate.
An owner was counted responsible for his animal’s behaviour, a first offence required monitory amends, but a second offence from the same animal leading to the death of another may result in the death sentence for the owner. Exodus 21:28-36.
Dug pits or wells should be covered Exodus 21:33-34.
Flat roofs of houses should be surrounded by a safety battlement to prevent falls Deuteronomy 22:8
Deuteronomy 19:18-21 … the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Ownership of non-Israelite slaves was allowed. Indentured service of fellow Israelites was allowed on a 7 year basis, where an individual in poverty may wish to sell their labour to another, and after the 7 years they would be free. Voluntary long term servitude was also possible where the individual chose not to leave their master. Exodus 21:1-11, Leviticus 25:39-55
There was a general responsibility to assist the poor. Deuteronomy 15:7-11
Lending with usury (other than to a stranger) was forbidden, Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:19-20
No harvest was to be reaped on the seventh year, any fruits being available for the poor Exodus 23:11
Corners’ of the field were not to be reaped nor fruit trees reaped more than once in a season, the gleanings were to be left for the poor. Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 24:19-21.
Taking advantage of the poor, widows and orphans is forbidden on numerous occasions covering various circumstances. However, before the law all stood as equal, being required to answer for their own actions, regardless of personal circumstance.