Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.
– Exodus 21:15
Many people read the Law of the second half of Exodus and all of Leviticus and ignore the details. They stick to “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” ignoring the rest and summing up the old testament god as being a meanie (which He is not). There is great wisdom in those chapters. It is the basis for the law statutes of many countries, some denying that origin today in the guise of being politically correct. PC doesn’t change the facts, however.
I picked one verse that struck me. It actually struck me like a prize fighter going for the knockout. The story behind that reaction will follow. Exodus 21:15 says that attacking your father or mother should result in death. Some translations say “killing.” I read this verse right before my two sons arrived, one from Nebraska and the other from Tennessee. They brought their families. There were no punches thrown, but there were eleven people in a house designed for four people at the most. There were harsh words said, and both of my sons seemed to place all blame on me. Don’t worry. I have broad shoulders. Sometimes I must take the blame anyway. I either contributed or I could have prevented…
It reminded me of a co-worker who said that the second greatest time you will have in your life is when your sons come to visit, but the greatest time in your life is when they leave again. He had three or four grown sons. When he passed along his wisdom, one of mine had left and the other was about to leave for college.
The boys and their families are now gone. I miss the grandchildren, but I am enjoying the peace and quiet. My wife is tearful. She loved the noise and the crowded conditions.
When I read the Scripture above, I thought of how I became the black sheep of the family. I don’t know if family reads this, but I want to get the record straight.
In 1995, we lived in West Richland, WA in the Horse Heaven Hills on Bird Hill. Okay, Horse Heaven Hills gets its name for the location that the Pony Express ponies were released to the wild after their service to the Pony Express. Bird Hill was unofficially named for the housing development where all the streets were named after birds. We lived on Pheasant Lane, but at the corner of Pheasant and Chukar.
My parents came to visit that summer. They invited my aunt, my mother’s younger sister, to accompany them. My wife, being the gracious hostess, planned lavish meals, but she also planned two meals eating out. One was at a Mongolian BBQ place, something that my parents had never experienced. It went well, except for my mother’s dinner. She refused to put any meat with her vegetables. The cook tried to cook eight dinners at the same time, but my mother’s veggies were burned. My mother had a double insult, getting burned veggies and having to hear the cook’s tirade (laced with many curses) about how vegetarians screw up his system. (The meat that cooks on the hot slab of steel absorbs the heat, helping the veggies to not overcook. Also, my mother was not a vegetarian. She was just being difficult. They had been in a car for thousands of miles. I’ll give her that excuse.)
The other night of eating out was to go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. The senior discount took about $2 off the price to compensate for their lack of appetite. My mother refused. They were old. They would never set foot in one of those places ever, ever, ever. (The irony in my parents choosing an all-you-can-eat restaurant chain in the SE USA five years later was not lost on me, but I never brought it up. And by the way, the senior discount at their ‘favorite’ place was about 50 cents off.)
That sets the stage for the day before the incident. That night we were to go to the restaurant that my mother refused to go to. During the day, we went to a museum just north of the Columbia River in a home originally built by Sam Hill. There is an old expression, “Where in the Sam Hill?” It originally meant that you could find anything you needed in Sam Hill’s general store, but since there was so much in the store to find, you might not find what you were looking for.
Since this was a bit of a drive, we approached a four-way stop on our way back home about dinner time (supper time for Southern folk). I could turn one direction and go to the restaurant. I could turn another direction and go to the nearest grocery to buy something since the cupboard was bare. I could go straight and go home. We had rented a full-sized van so that the seven of us could ride in comfort and have time to talk while driving around. My Dad was next to me, and my wife had one of the boys next to her in the middle. My aunt, mother, and the other son were on the back bench seat. I pulled off the road and asked my wife which way to go. I explained the options. She said to go home, and we’d figure it out and eat late. She ended up taking the car on her own to the grocery store and getting enough for sandwiches.
Although my mother had berated me in public for spending too much at the museum, I had never said a cross word in return.
The next morning, I was getting ready for church while my parents were packing to leave. The room that my parents were in was halfway down the hall. As I passed their room, my Dad emerged throwing both fists at me. He was 74 at the time, and his blows did not have much power behind them. I pushed him away before one of his punches actually hurt me, holding him at arm’s length. I asked what this was all about. He said that he was defending his wife’s honor. I had said horrible things to her in the van when I pulled off the road the day before. He was continuing to throw punches while I held him at arm’s length. I tried to explain that I was talking to my wife, not my mother. I had said nothing bad. There may have been irritation in my voice due to the changed plans and my mother’s dressing me down in public, but I simply wanted to know what the changed plan for dinner was. No harsh words, nothing addressed to my mother. He was in the front seat with me. He should know.
At this point, my Dad quit swinging his fists. He then started yelling about how I had hit him. He started crying. He told me about when he had hit his uncle, and the uncle died (not from his blows) soon after. I would be haunted for the rest of my life, if I didn’t apologize. My response was, “I did not strike you at all. You hit me, maybe over a hundred times. I held you at arm’s length just to try to stop you.”
With that, he gathered the two women with him and they left.
Did my mother have poor hearing and imagined what I said? Did my Dad have a mental collapse for a moment? Did their fatigue from a long trip affect their ability to reason? All three have passed away now. I’ll never know what prompted the incident. I do know that I saw my aunt on two or three occasions after that incident. Each time, she pulled me aside and insisted that I apologize for the harsh words that I had said to her sister and for pummeling my father with countless blows. After all, I was Army trained. I could have killed him. I could ask one more question, but I already know what the topic of conversation in their car was from Washington state to the Space Coast of Florida where they dropped my aunt off at her house. I was the star attraction, and none of it was true.
When I next visited my parents, they were well rested and lucid. They did not speak of the fist fight. It was as if nothing had happened. I even pulled my Dad aside to ask about it, but he said there was nothing to say. But he also said that nothing needed to be said to my mother. She seemed to have forgotten (She never forgot anything, but bringing it up would have lit a firestorm, even an apology.), and he didn’t want to bring up the fact that he had thrown all the punches.
When I read Exodus 21:15, I wondered what would have happened if my father’s false accusations had been taken to Moses. Would I have been killed? Would my father have admitted that I had not struck him, that he had struck me? How far would his protection of my mother’s honor have gone?
Most of the rules in the second half of Exodus could have been listed with bullet points, short and to the point. But a lot had ‘what ifs.’ Someone kills another man’s bull. This is the punishment… , unless it was an accident… It then became the judge’s problem to sort out the evidence. Was it deliberate or was it an accident?
Whatever the judge decided, the result was justice. It sure sounds a lot like our court system today.
We are all guaranteed to stand before the judgment seat on Judgment Day. Do we want justice or mercy? Your answer should temper how you treat others.