Fairness and Mercy
Open Your Bible
Deuteronomy 25:1-19, Deuteronomy 26:1-19, Deuteronomy 27:1-8, Hebrews 10:11-23
Sometimes when we read a Scripture passage, there’s a line, or even a single word, that stands out in a new way. It may be a familiar verse, but this time the impression it makes on us is deeper. As we sit and reacquaint ourselves with old, familiar passages, the Spirit often draws our attention to a particular word or idea to dwell on. Even if we’re brand new to reading Scripture, the Spirit can still work in this way, drawing our attention to what God knows we’re in a place to receive.
This experience happened to me today, while reading Deuteronomy chapter 25. In verse 3, Moses makes this statement after explaining how the Israelites were to settle disputes among them: “He may be flogged with forty lashes, but no more.” The part that stood out to me was the phrase “but no more.”
Here, we see instructions for carrying out a justice system before God, where those who are judged guilty receive a punishment equal to the extent of their crime (v.2). This is fair. This is just. Yet—and this is what surprised me—even the guilty are shown mercy by not having to endure more than they can bear or that could cause a degrading experience.
But this civil law shows there’s a difference between punishment and abuse. The guilty still bear the image of God. Because of this, God instructs Moses and the Israelites to preserve their dignity by withholding what might kill or humiliate. Most beautiful of all, we see in this passage that even the consequences of sin can’t stop God’s mercy from breaking through.
If you’re like me, at this point you might ask, “But don’t God’s people endure more than they can handle every day?” It’s true that overwhelming things still happen to people in this broken, sideways world. But what Deuteronomy shows us is a model for treating others with behavior that’s aligned with the heart of God. If we do this, we honor the Lord and “walk in his ways” (Deuteronomy 26:17). When Moses urges the Israelites to obey God’s commands, he reassures them that in trust and obedience, “you will be a holy people to the LORD your God as he promised” (v.19).