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Rules, Rules, Rules

???????????????????????????????Today’s post is brought to you by Amy Kinder who has her Master of Arts in Biblical Studies with a concentration in the Old Testament from Ashland Theological Seminary. She is presently a stay at home mother of two beautiful children, and wife of a wonderful husband, and was, until recently, the associate minister of Church of Redeemer UM.


I have often heard the argument that the Old Testament doesn’t apply to us today for several reasons.  1) Jesus came, therefore, the Old Testament is just that, old and irrelevant.  2) God is just angry and judgmental in the Old Testament.  3) The Old Testament is just full of names that are too hard to pronounce and a bunch of rules that don’t apply to anyone today.

Wow, that is a loaded lens through which to view the Old Testament!  Certainly, we can’t cover all the aspects of this presupposition in one short blog entry.  Instead, how about we look at an ox. Yes, an ox.  Exodus 21:28-29 speaks about a goring ox, and the punishment for a goring ox being death for the owner.  Now, this would be one of those rules that appear to have nothing to do with our modern society.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t happen to have an ox of any type in my back yard.  Typically, the only type of cow near my house is the one that is on my plate in the form of a steak or hamburger (yum!).

So, why on earth would this even be worth talking about or looking into?  Why not just gloss over this and dismiss it because we do not own livestock, so we do not have to worry about what the Bible says here?  What possible guidelines or life lessons could be learned from looking a little deeper, from delving into grammar of all things?  Let’s find out!

Exodus 21 is a list of ordinances and principles for God’s community to live by and follow with the goal of social function and harmony.  These are precedents and wise decisions that have resolved certain types of issues in the past.  Therefore, they have been put in place by the elders of the community and mandated by the elders so that a limit may be set of what is appropriate in behavior and punishment.   This is not punishment in terms of someone did this to me, so they deserve to be hurt as much as I have been hurt, if not worse.  This was punishment which was to be a response that was equitable to restore harmony within the community. These principles “provide moral and especially theological reasons for obeying the laws, such as the humanitarian ideal of caring for one’s neighbor.”[1],[2]

With this fundamental goal in mind, there is a general principle set out in Exodus 21:28 that, “When an ox gores a man or a woman and he (or she) dies, the ox shall be stoned and its flesh will not be eaten, and the owner of the cattle will be free from punishment.”[3] Here is an example of the biggest picture possible.  The ox was an extremely expensive item for anyone to own.  It required wealth and land in order to own one.  “The domesticated animals were of great importance economically for biblical man, who lived under both nomadic and agricultural conditions.”[4]   So if an accident occurred and the ox killed a person (man or woman[5]), the ox was to die. This would have been a great loss to the owner, and the debt would have been paid.

However, in Ex. 21:29, a qualifying principle was set forth concerning an extreme.  This is where we can begin to relate.  “And if it was a goring ox that was addicted to goring, and it had been allowed to continue, though his master had been warned, and he kept it and it caused a man or a woman to die, it will be stoned and also his master will be killed.” [6]  In this verse, not only does the ox deserve to be stoned, but the master is also to be killed.  Here is that angry God killing people all over these rules, right?  Wrong…Here is a master who has a viscous animal, who has been warned by others of the brutality of this animal, yet he maintains a complete indifference to other humans around him.  In the Hebrew there is great emphasis that this ox was an addicted and habitually goring ox, and the owner had been warned time and time again.  The depravity of this owner is lost to the reader in English, but it is quite clear in the Hebrew, and should certainly not be missed considering this ox cost the man his life. The owner makes the choice to put his wealth, his very expensive ox, over the value of his neighbor’s life.

Ouch…A person chose to put wealth and his own property over and above others to the point of costing someone their life.  The price was his own life in the end.  This person had a blatant disregard for the harm that his property was causing others.  He dismissed warnings from those around him, and it, literally, cost him his life.  I would say this is not an angry God ordering people to death over a bunch of rules, but a strong guideline to value and protect human life.  If we are knowingly turning a blind eye to that which causes destruction or takes someone’s life, then the price is extremely high and the consequences severe.



[1]   Selman, M.J. (2003). Law. In  T.Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Ed.), Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch  (p. 502). Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

[2]   For further reading concerning the Law, see the entire article “Law” by Selman, M.J. Ibid (pp. 497-515).

[3]   My translation, underlining added for emphasis.

[4]   Hasel, G.F. (1979). Cattle. In Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia vol. 1 (p. 624). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.

[5]   There is great significance in the addition of “woman” in this passage considering the highly patriarchal society in which this passage was written.

[6]   My translation

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