Sunday, June 29, 2008

Judicial Laws of Moses (12) - Compensation for Injury

The meeting of the principle of justice with the principle of mercy is very clear in the case of fighting men striking a pregnant woman by mistake.

If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:22-25).
The justice principle in the second part of this passage describes what the offender deserves. If the woman or her baby is injured, justice demands the affliction of a similar injury on the offender. This is expressed in the commonly used, but misunderstood, expression: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” The person who harms another deserves the same thing done to them.

The mercy principle is specified in the first part of the passage. The offender does not receive physical punishment, but must pay full financial compensation instead. If no harm comes to the baby, he shall pay what the woman’s husband demands. If the woman or the baby is injured, the compensation will be proportional to the injuries received. In each case the financial compensation must be approved by judges after listening to witnesses to the crime.

The financial compensation must be proportional to the loss. “An eye for an eye” is not a justification for personal revenge, but is the standard of justice to be applied by the judges when deciding compensation. They will decide the compensation for an injury to the eye by assessing the economic value of the eye. This involves estimating the loss of the income and enjoyment resulting from the lack of sight, just like the lump-sum compensation provided by some accident insurance companies. Loss of an eye could be worth $200,000 and loss of a hand might be worth $170,000, whereas a bruise might only be worth $1,000.

God could not define just compensation in terms of shekels, because inflation changes the value of a currency over time. By linking compensation back to the value of the specific limb or organ, God has provided a principle of compensation that is relevant in every culture, regardless of the currency in circulation at the time.

Exodus provides a humane way of making compensation to the victims of violence. Modern human justice makes offenders pay fines to the state, but very rarely provides financial compensation to the victims of violence. This is a good example of God’s standard of justice being better than human law.


brandbuster said...

What about life for life? who can value a life in terms of money. You must have been counting beans to long!

RonMcK said...

Insurance companies do it all the time.

For example, accident insurance often provides a wife with income to compensate for the loss of income her husband would provide.