Execution of Justice and Healing

“a time to slay and a time to heal; a time to make a breach and a time to build;”

(Ecclesiastes 3:3)

The second couplet of Solomon once again presents extremes. While the first pair dealt with animal and plant life, this seems to shift more into civil activities. The word הרג (harag), which we translate as “kill” or “slay” is often used in the Old Testament to refer to a judicial act (see Leviticus 20:16) or to an act of war (see 1 Kings 9:16). Similarly, the language of פרץ (parats) commonly refers to making a breach in a wall or fortifications. 

Thus, while he will later get to the language of war and peace, it seems that there is a time too, to put one’s enemies to death and a time to heal from the crimes they have done; there is a time to tear down walls and fortifications and a time to rebuild ones that have been thrown down. Again, a balance, and like that of being born and dying, events that are instigated not by anything in the natural world, but which rest wholly in the experience of man.

There is an inference here that ought to be noted. While the execution of justice (the extreme version being capital punishment) is needed to bring healing to a family or to a community; when justice is withheld or there is a miscarriage of justice, healing does not take place. While we clearly ought not punish the innocent for crimes they did not commit, when the punishment is too soft (or short) or is too long deferred due to a bogged-down appeals process, the wounds that the criminal committed against the community remain open and susceptible to infection. And though the execution of a man for his crimes is not something that most of us would relish, for such capital crimes that break down the community or family, they initiate a time where healing can take place.

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