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It shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight. (Deuteronomy 25:2-3)

In ancient Israel those guilty of non-violent crimes were not imprisoned but were punished physically. I realize this might offend the sensitivities of some, especially in a day when most people shudder at the thought of corporal punishment. However the Bible is very clear — there are some actions that merit severe consequences. At the same time, the Bible is also clear that there are to be limits to the punishment so as not to humiliate someone. In short, the punishment should be measured to fit the crime.

In Jewish thought, the reason an offender was given a total of forty lashes was because the person had broken the Torah in some way. Yet that same Torah stipulated that lashes were to be administered with a judge presiding in order to ensure compliance and only after the person was found guilty. In other words, no punishment of any kind was to be inflicted for any reason until the person was proven to be guilty. The point is, even when some have behaved unrighteously, God’s response is always righteous with an eye on reconciliation and restoration. Thus, in the view of rabbinical commentary, God extends mercy to the guilty and grants him atonement through forty lashes.

In that line of thought take note: before the offender is punished, he is called the “wicked man.” However, after the punishment had been administered, he was called “your brother.” This strongly suggests that, once he has paid the price of his offense, his guilt is atoned for and he is welcomed back into fellowship as a brother. In short, the past is the past. We would do well to learn from this example and replicate God’s mercy even in the midst of justice. Never should we hold an offense against someone who has repented just as God doesn’t hold onto to our offenses against Him. Where there is repentance and restitution, there should be a willingness for restoration. Let us always live according to how Messiah taught us to pray: “forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). 

Blessings and Shalom,  




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