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[This article was taken from the booklet The Death Penalty: Godly or Ungodly?]
We have already seen an example of Scriptural support for the death penalty in the book of Genesis, and, as was already stated, the death penalty is supported in all five books of Moses. Genesis 9:6 prescribed the death penalty for murder when it said that if a man “shed the blood” of another man, by man must his blood be shed. We will now consider the subject of capital punishment in Exodus, and see clearly that God instituted the death penalty.
(12) Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.
(13) However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.
(14) But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
The first thing to notice in this section of Scripture is that God commands that anyone who kills a person on purpose should be put to death. It is up to the people in the society to enforce this law. The Bible does not say, “If anyone is a murderer, I, God, will put him to death.” Also, note that God differentiates between murder and accidental killing, which we call “manslaughter.” Accidental killing is different than murder, and it is treated differently under God’s law. Notice in verse 13 that if someone killed another accidentally, God would designate a place of refuge for the accused to flee for protection. That was necessary because it was the custom in the ancient world (and still is in the modern world in some places) that a family member would avenge the death of another family member.
Biblically, the family member who avenged a death was called, “the avenger of blood.” It was essential to have a place where a person who accidentally killed someone could go for protection until the civil authorities could get involved. Often, the place of sanctuary was in the Tabernacle or Temple courts where the altar of sacrifice was. This custom was carried on in many societies, and churches often became places of sanctuary. Thus God’s desire to see justice done in regard to murderers is clearly seen in His command that if a person is guilty of murder, there is to be no sanctuary for that person. He was to be taken, even from the altar of God itself, and executed.
The saying, “an eye for an eye,” is well known and often quoted. However, to properly understand it, we must quote it accurately.
(23) But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,
(24) eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
(25) burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
It is hard to see how anyone could read and understand the above passage and maintain that God is against the death penalty. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and Exodus was written in the first year. To insure that the Israelites would really understand that God was serious about the maintenance of social order, and so that no one could propose that “life for life, eye for eye,” etc., was just to maintain order while they marched as an army, the law is repeated again in Deuteronomy 19:21, which was written only months before Israel was to settle in the Promised Land.
The book of Leviticus also clearly states that murderers are to be put to death:
Leviticus 24:17 and 21
(17) If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.
(21) Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death.
These verses are very clear, and also settle another issue that has come up in these modern times. There are environmentalists who state that animals are just as important as mankind. That is clearly not what the Bible says. Animals are not made in the image of God, and many of them are specifically stated to be a source of food (Gen. 9:3) and of domestic blessings. Biblically, the life of an animal is not valued as highly as the life of a human being who was created in the image of God.
The book of Numbers continues the biblical testimony that murders are to be put to death:
(16) If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
(17) Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
(18) Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death.
After giving clear testimony that murderers were to be put to death, Numbers reinforces the statement made in Exodus that there was to be no refuge for a murderer.
Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.
The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of Moses, and it also states that a murderer is to be put to death.
(11) But if a man hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him, assaults and kills him, and then flees to one of these cities,
(12) the elders of his town shall send for him, bring him back from the city, and hand him over to the avenger of blood to die.
(13) Show him no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.
We have now seen that the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, all prescribe the death penalty. It should be abundantly clear that anyone who reasons that the Bible does not support the death penalty because a few translations say, “You shall not kill,” is misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture.
In addition to the point-blank commands in Genesis through Deuteronomy about the death penalty, Scripture contains records that indicate how God feels when His commands are not obeyed. 1 Kings 20 contains the record of a king of Israel who spared the life of an enemy king in spite of the fact that he had attacked Israel and killed many Israelites. Was God pleased that the king of Israel spared the life of this murderer? Not at all. God sent a prophet with this message: “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people’” (1 Kings 20:42). In the United States, we have spared the lives of many criminals who should have been put to death, and now it is “our lives for their lives.” We have been disobedient to God’s law, and as a result we live in an unsafe society where each year thousands of innocent people die. Would it not be more just to execute the criminals and provide a safe society for the law-abiding citizens?
To add insult to injury, well-intentioned Christians will often attempt to comfort the families of murder victims by suggesting that “God works in mysterious ways” as if He were somehow responsible for allowing the murder to occur. However, God has clearly revealed that He has made man responsible for the righteous execution of judgment. Therefore God is not at fault for man’s failure to obey His Law that then results in the growth of criminal behavior and the enormous volume of human suffering it leaves in its wake. 
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