“Whoever attacks a person and causes his death must be put to death. If it was not premeditated but an act of God, then I will designate for you a place to which he can flee. But if someone willfully kills another after deliberate planning, you are to take him even from my altar and put him to death.”-Exodus 21:20
After the Lord addresses the rights of slaves and women, he moves on to address the sanctity of life.
For the following list of crimes, God calls for the swift and irreversible destruction of the offender.
-Inflicting violence on one’s parents
-kidnapping (most likely the subject of the 8th Word of God-‘Thou shall not steal’)
-Cursing one’s parents
If one of the above crimes was committed, the death penalty was the result.
This shows just how important life is to God.
Quite contrary to how modern society operates today, there was to be no mercy nor possibility of rehabilitation for the perpetrator.
If you messed up in one of these areas, you were done, finished, terminated, plain and simple.
The biggest takeaway here is that from God’s perspective, the intention of one’s heart has everything to do with the consequences of one’s actions.
If someone UNINTENTIONALLY killed another, there was a place of refuge where the perpetrator could flee to where he would be safe and no one would be allowed to violate or apprehend him.
However, if a murder was premeditated or INTENTIONAL, no such sanctuary existed.
In fact, even if the perpetrator was in the holiest of places or even in the process of sacrificing at the altar of God, it didn’t matter.
He was to be captured and brought to sure justice, which was the death penalty.
Let’s talk about this for a quick second.
The altar was considered to be a place of sanctuary, and someone accused of murder could flee to the altar and cling to one of the carved horns at its corners in a plea to be held free of harm.
Check out these verses from 1 Kings 2.
“When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns of the altar. King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”-1 Kings 2:28-29
Here we see an example of this exact thing happening.
A man named Joab, who in cold blood had murdered two commanders of Israel, in an effort to escape his deserved death penalty fled to the tent of the Lord and grabbed the horns of altar thinking his life would be safe by doing so.
It turns out no such thing.
Solomon ordered him to be taken from the altar and executed in accordance with this law we have just studied.