The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers…
Unseen principles of justice lie at the foundation of human society, and if rottenness and decay appear in these foundations, the social structure will soon topple and fall. Visible prosperity is built upon invisible justice. In the absence of justice, property becomes untenable, commerce vanishes, peace spreads her wings for flight. "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?"
I. THE MAGISTRATE'S TEMPTATION. Human nature, at its best, is accessible by temptation; and it is well that from the eyes of the nation a fierce light beats upon the judicial bench. If only the ear of the judge be open to the fascinating voice of self-advantage, if his hand be open to a bribe, wickedness will put on the most ravishing charms to deflect him from his duty. Because he occupies a seat so conspicuous, temptation selects him as a special target for her poisoned arrows. Yet even for temptation he may rejoice, for according to his trials should be his moral triumphs. Avarice may tempt him. Love of ease may tempt him. His own tastes and predilections may tempt. The praise of the powerful may tempt. He will become either the stronger or the weaker for the discipline, will grow in moral courage or in cowardice.
II. THE MAGISTRATE'S QUALIFICATION. The qualification for the judicial throne is ardent love of justice. As only a wise man can be a teacher, so only a just man can be a true judge. No matter what may be the nationality of the litigants, no matter what their color, social rank, or sex, every one has an inherent claim on public justice. To pervert judgment is to arouse all the elements of wrath in heaven and earth. The judge is the visible exponent of justice; he wears the garb of justice, and if in him there dwells not the soul of justice, he is a sham and a pretence. Heart devotion to public justice is the only anchor that can hold him fast amid those currents and whirlpools of evil influences which ever surge around him. Things unseen are the most potent.
III. THE MAGISTRATE'S RULE OF ACTION. This is clearly made known to him by God, viz. that punishment is to be personal, not corporate. The child is not to die for the father. Where there is corporate guilt there must be corporate punishment. But this is no contravention of the rule. The inducement is often great to release oneself from the pains of unraveling a complicated suit; or, if relatives of the accused seem to be accessories to an evil deed, a judge is often tempted to embrace all the suspected family in one punishment. The light of truth is to be his only guide; love of justice his compass; the revealed will of God his chart. To him human life is to be held a sacred thing; not one life is to be needlessly sacrificed. It is a sad fact that judges have been amongst the greatest criminals; they have slain many innocent men.
IV. THE MAGISTRATE'S INSPIRING MOTIVE. Many motives may wisely influence him. He, too, must appear before a higher tribunal, and submit his whole life to judicial light. But the motive here pressed upon him is gratitude derived from past experience. The history of his nation is to mold his character and to teach him the value of human justice. He is expected to sympathize with the oppressed, to enter into their griefs, because he is a part of a nation that has felt the sharp scourge of oppression. He has learnt by national experience that, when justice by man is denied, God appears in court and champions the cause of the oppressed. He is the representative of a nation that has been redeemed. He himself is a ransomed one, and is under peculiar obligation to serve his Deliverer. His time, his capacity, his legal knowledge, his influence are not his own; he is redeemed, and belongs to another. Past deliverances are not to be lost upon us, or we are lost. To forget the lessons of the past is self-injury, yea, is heinous sin. In every station and office fidelity is demanded. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.