Basis of Human Law Part 7

We have finally arrived at the place where we first see humans given authority to practice law over one another. It comes just after Noah’s flood and, simple as it is, it is the important beginning of what has blossomed into an overwhelming legal minefield.

To better navigate that minefield I’m helping you think about a bunch of foundational principles which combine to be the basis of human law. That starts with God’s law. That’s why I have started in the Holy Bible. We have already seen a bunch of stuff (to use an American expression) out of just a handful of chapters from the first book in the Bible, Genesis. So, let’s press on.

Man Judging Man

In Genesis 4 we find that Cain was punished by God for murdering his brother, Abel, but was not to be punished by man. A special mark was placed on Cain to make sure people knew not to kill him. In those days people lived for up to 900 years, so there would have been many people who would come across Cain’s path in the centuries of his life. None of them was to prosecute human punishment upon Cain.

Prior to the flood of Noah’s day there was no authority given to men to make judgement of other men. The result of that situation was that everyone did what they wanted and what they wanted to do was evil.

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5

It may well be that a form of human court and legal process might have restrained the behaviour of the people. We will never know. But we do know that God gave permission to mankind to punish evil, after Noah’s flood.

Murder Prohibited

Among the various things said by God after the flood are comments about the sanctity of human life. Human blood was not to be shed. People were not to be killed, by animal or by humans.

“And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.” Genesis 9:5

Note that God had the right and authority to kill mankind. He had just done so in the global flood which wiped out probably millions of evil people. Death as a result of judgement is legitimate. Death by any other means was forbidden.

Capital Punishment

The very first legal power given to mankind was to exercise capital punishment. Mankind was authorised by God to kill a person who has killed someone else.

Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Genesis 9:6

Now, that might sound like a contradiction, like a policeman breaking the speed limit to chase someone who is breaking the speed limit. But it’s a legitimate process. It is authorised by none other than God, Himself.

Capital punishment is an offence to the minds of some people today. So, it is important to at least pay attention to what God has revealed to us in the Bible. The very first legal power given to man was capital punishment.

Relationship With God Re-established

After the flood all those who had broken fellowship with God were gone. God was now in open relationship with all the people on earth – all eight of them. Once again mankind would be tempted to indulge the sinful inclinations of his heart and come under the power of sin, as Cain and others had done. But now there was a check to man’s behaviour. People had the power to prosecute those who went so far as to kill another person.

God’s Law in Man’s Hands

The only legal authority given to man was to exercise the law set down by God. Man could not make up his own laws. Man could not create whatever law he so chose. Law was only that ‘moral law’ which God established as man’s requirement.

God’s law was placed in the hands of men, in a limited way. And so it is today. Man acts as God’s agent when he prosecutes someone for breaking God’s moral commandments.

The first legal processes passed to man were to uphold Moral Law. Man was not given authority to prosecute another based on commerce, contracts or the like, but only on moral principle.

Law was not originally a social construct. It was a divine reality, based on man’s moral accountability to his holy creator God. When we come to consider the many forms of law which make demands of us today, we need to keep in mind the moral laws of God, as separate and special in our considerations.

Action Not Attitude

Man’s authority to hold other men accountable to God’s law was an ‘after the fact’ authority. Man was given no right to prosecute someone based on the attitudes of their heart. While hatred is a moral evil, which God will judge, man cannot prosecute someone for hatred. If the hatred becomes murder, then man has the right to step into the picture.

We saw previously that the people in Noah’s day were engaged in evil actions and also had evil imaginations in their hearts. That second area was retained by God, as His domain.

Punishment is not Crime

As noted earlier, to punish a person for killing someone, by killing them, seems to be a contradiction. If killing someone is wrong, then how can the killer be killed? The answer to this conundrum is that punishment is not a crime.

When a person is punished, that is a moral process. If the punishment is to kill them, then that action is of a different quality to the act of killing someone other than as punishment.

It is criminal to imprison someone, unless the person is a prisoner under punishment. It is criminal to inflict pain on someone, unless the person is an offender receiving their just punishment. It is criminal to kill someone, unless the person is under death sentence as punishment for their crimes.

Note, however, that we are still talking here about punishment as prescribed by God. Our investigation has not yet moved to that area where men make up their own laws and punishments.

Human Society

We have already seen what happens in a human society where everyone does as they please. Our next exploration is of human society under some regulation. That’s coming up in the next post in this series.

Basis of Human Law Part 5

Here are some new observations about the human condition and things which create the bassi for human law. The point of the posts so far has been to observe some initial principles and realities which develop into the complex world of law that we have to navigate today.

Law embodies a wide range of issues just in terms of legality, without reflecting on the broader impact of ‘laws’, such as the laws of nature. We have Contract Law, Family Law, Common Law, Natural Law, International Law, Civil Law, Federal Law, Maritime Law, and more. So this investigation of the ‘basis’ of all that human law should help us all to understand how the various laws impact us.

These posts are drawn from the text of the Holy Bible, particularly the early chapters of the first book, Genesis. This post picks up the review at Genesis 4, where we find the first family coming into problems.

Subverted Lives

The historical events recorded in Genesis 4 point out that human lives do not remain free, but become subverted and engage in illegal and immoral actions. We have already seen, in Genesis 3, that humans are perfectly able to rebel against the rightful supreme authority of God. That ability attests to the free will which all people have been given by their creator. God has free will, and so man, made in the image of God, has also been given the privilege of using free will.

In Genesis 4 we have the account of one brother who takes a dislike toward his sibling. Both men made offerings to God and one offering was accepted, the other not. Abel offered animal sacrifice, while Cain offered garden produce. God was pleased with the animal sacrifice, since it reflected the future sacrifice of Christ. Cain did not learn from the experience, but allowed his personal feelings to rule his actions. By doing so his life was subverted. It came under the power of a force called ‘sin’.

Warning Ignored

Cain was warned by God that his heart attitude was dangerous. There was an evil force seeking opportunity to subvert Cain’s life. That force was meant to be resisted, but if given in to would rule Cain’s life.

Cain ignored the warning, seethed in anger and eventually murdered his brother. This event reveals that humans cannot be trusted to do the right thing, or even to heed appropriate warnings. People do wrong things. People act out of self interest, to the point of criminal action against others.

Cain gave in to the temptation of ‘sin’ which promised him some form of pacification of his inner feelings. Sin did not make things better in Cain’s case, just as it had not made things better for Adam and Eve. Sin is a lying force which promises gratification, but brings destruction.

The Apostle Paul, writing some 4,000 years later, prompted his audience to realise that sin did not provide any benefit. It did not deserve to be listened to. People owe sin nothing, because sin always breaks its promise of gain.

What fruit did you have at that time in the things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” Romans 6:21

“So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” Romans 8:12

Slavery

Sin seeks to rule us. Jesus Christ stated it plainly and so too did the Apostle Paul. If we give in to sin that sin will own us and make us its slave.

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” John 8:34

“Don’t you know, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?” Romans 6:16

This reality explains why there are people who seem committed to evil, such as serial offenders. It also explains how people who have the trust of others can choose to hurt people for selfish gain.

Humans have the capacity to give in to sin and become enslaved to it.

Note that this principle is true of those who do not commit heinous crimes. Anyone who has given in to lying, lust, pride, theft, greed, gluttony, resentment or the like, is equally a slave to those things. They may not murder someone, or commit a sensational crime, but they are slaves nonetheless.

Blood Crimes

After Cain killed his brother God interrogated him, as sovereigns have the right to do to their subjects. Cain chose to lie to God. This reveals how his life was increasingly subverted by sin, using one form of sin to cover another.

God knew exactly what had happened, but when challenging Cain, God used an interesting reference point – the blood of the dead brother.

“And God said, What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” Genesis 4:10

Abel’s blood cried out for justice and maybe vengeance for the crime committed against him. So we see that killing another person has a unique quality about it. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit there was no blood. When Abel killed animals there was no cry from the blood, but God accepted the offering. But when Cain killed Abel, Abel’s blood cried out for God’s attention.

Blood crimes are serious. When murder takes place there is not only a moral crime, but there is a polluting of the very ground, since the blood cries from the ground.

“And they shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.” Psalm 106:38

Unique Punishment

Because of Cain’s sin of murder God put a unique punishment on him. When Adam sinned the ground was cursed – which accounts for the degenerative decay which attends all living things. But when Cain sinned God decreed that he would be cursed from the earth (Genesis 4:11). He was also assigned a new status, that of fugitive and vagabond. This included the fact that he would lose his connection with God.

It is interesting to note that God did not prescribe capital punishment, in the death sentence, upon Cain, even though he had murdered someone.

Cain was very distressed about the punishment placed on him.

“And Cain said to the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from your face will I be hid; and I will be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it will come to pass, that every one that finds me will slay me.” Genesis 4:13,14

Human Vengeance

Cain was concerned that he would be victimised by other people because of his crime and God’s curse. Here we see the reality of human retaliation. Much has been done through the centuries by people stirred by their own passion of vengeance or their own sense for what should be meted out to criminals.

The wild, blood-thirsty posse of the wild west and the cold-hearted avenger who bides their time for retaliation are known to us. Cain wanted protection from any person who may think it their right to kill him.

God did not allow for the notion of people taking justice into their own hands. God did not say to Cain, “Well it serves you right!” God gave Cain a special identification mark, to warn people not to kill him. Anyone who took justice into their own hands and killed Cain would receive a punishment seven times greater.

“And the LORD said to him, Therefore whosoever slays Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” Genesis 4:15

Coming Up

Genesis 4 gives us insights into God’s dealings with individuals who commit crimes. The next key chapter to investigate is Genesis 6, in which we see God responding to a world full of people who have lost the plot. Immorality, rebellion and self-interest became so rampant that just about everyone had rejected their created purpose and any relationship with God.

We shall investigate the legal lessons to gain from that situation in the next post.