How do you respond to Exodus 21:12–13?

“Whoever strikes a person mortally shall be put to death. If it was not premeditated, but came about by an act of God, then I will appoint for you a place to which the killer may flee.”

Compatibilists sometimes argue that this passage shows that fatal accidents are acts of God. The Hebrew does not require this, however. It may simply mean that God allows the acts to happen. Hence the NIV translates the phrase, “God lets this happen.”

It’s helpful to remember that throughout the Old Testament God was laying the foundation for subsequent revelation. The centerpiece of this foundation was monotheism. Against the polytheistic views of Israel’s neighbors, God consistently emphasized that he alone is Creator and that he alone is ultimately in control of the whole world. He has no rivals.

Given this emphasis, Hebrew authors sometimes describe events or states as coming from the Creator, though they do not mean by this that the events or states are directly caused by God. Free agents and chance influence how things transpire (Eccl. 9:11), but they can only have the domain of influence Yahweh allots them. We can thus understand how an Old Testament author could contrast an intentional murder with a fatal accident that “God lets…happen.”

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