Biblical Principle #252: Israel’s Law on Harm of Pregnant Women

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Under the Law of Moses, God gave Israel instructions regarding justice for cases of harm to pregnant women.


The Law of Moses included GOD’s judgments on specific crimes so that justice could be properly administered once Israel conquered Canaan. In the case of harm to pregnant women, the Law said:

22 “If two men fight and hurt a woman with child, and her child is born imperfectly formed, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if the child is perfectly formed, he shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Exodus 21:22-25 OSB

To summarize:

  • If the baby was harmed or born with a defect, the mother’s husband would set the appropriate fine and the judge would administer the judgment.
  • If the baby had no health issue—malformation or what we might today refer to as a “special need,” then the judgment was whatever harm had been caused to the mother, that was the penalty of the crime.

If we look at this from the viewpoint of the “criminal,” we may be tempted to conclude that such consequences are unfair or cruel. But why?

The logic of GOD’s firm civil judgments may be summarized by His statement elsewhere in the Law, saying:

20 Then those who remain shall hear and be afraid, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity him: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Deuteronomy 19:20 OSB

The criminal caused harm, let that measure of harm be done to the criminal. Severe, swift justice creates a fear of getting caught that causes people to think before they act so foolishly. Those extra few moments prevent a lot of sin and suffering.

GOD is wise; we are fools.

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