Is an “eye for an eye” really the best law? We have to start by understanding this was written over 3000 years ago – and it was totally revolutionary back then. Eye for an eye was meant to LIMIT punishment, so that unending blood feuds between families would not go on and on. This was also a universal law – if the king took the eye of a normal citizen – the king too should lose his eye. This was revolutionary law – a limit on retribution, cases taken before judges, and all held equal under the law of God. We may have grown beyond this (Jesus said turn the other cheek), but these laws are still foundational.
There is a lot in this chapter too about slaves. God never condoned slavery, and did not want His people to go back into slavery – He just redeemed them! Yet God made concessions – all slaves had to be freed within 6 years. Slaves had rights. But they were NOT the same as a free person – because God wants His people to not want to become slaves – that shouldn’t be something they use. God is going to bring them into a fertile land, where everyone would have their own land to work – freedom. God does not want them to become slaves again, and so He makes slavery unattractive, and yet protected as human beings.
What we see here are basic rules for society – how to put things in place so people are motivated, and have consequences (good or bad) for their choices, but never taking advantage of others. These rules are foundational, but it is also good that we have moved beyond the foundations – no more slavery (yet we still fight exploitation of women and children and the poor), and justice that understands mercy.