A. Laws regarding personal property and restitution.
1. (1-4) Restitution required in cases of theft.
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.”
a. If a man steals an ox or a sheep: The command against theft was already stated in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:15). Here are more specific principles given to judges, so they could apply that principle in the daily life and administration of justice among the people of Israel.
i. Slaughters or sells: “There is a heavier fine for this, since such action presumably shows deliberate intent to steal.” (Cole)
b. He shall restore: The Mosaic Law did not send a person to jail because of theft. Instead, the thief was required to restore what he stole, plus an additional penalty.
i. In this passage, the penalty could be anywhere from 500% (he shall restore five oxen for an ox) to 200% (he shall restore double). “The reason for the fivefold penalty in the case of stealing an ox is probably because one man stole the means of another man’s livelihood. The principle would extend to taking any of the man’s plowing or cultivating implements.” (Kaiser)
ii. This can be regarded as a positive approach to the punishment of criminals, putting them to productive restitution and compensating the victims of their theft. These principles are often ignored in the modern administration of justice.
iii. They are also, as a principle, ignored in many Christian lives. “This chapter is full of restitution, of which there is far too little in ordinary Christian life. We try to make amends for injury done to another by an extraordinary amount of civility; but we are reluctant in so many words to frankly confess that we have done wrong, and make proper reparation for the act or speech.” (Meyer)
c. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft:If the person was unable to pay back what he stole, the thief was sold as an indentured laborer, with the money from the sale going to the victim.
d. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed: A property owner had the right to protect his property with force – but only with reasonable force. The assumption was that if it was daylight, the property owner had the ability to defend himself short of lethal force.
i. “It is typical of Israel’s merciful law that even a thief has his rights.” (Cole)
2. (5-8) Further application of the principle of restitution.
“If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that stacked grain, standing grain, or the field is consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution. If a man delivers to his neighbor money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of the man’s house, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges to see whether he has put his hand into his neighbor’s goods.”
a. If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution: The owner of an animal was responsible for the grazing of his animals. He was obliged to respect his neighbor’s property (the grazing land).
i. “Thus men are held responsible, not only for the harm they do, but also for the harm they occasion, even though they may not have purposely designed the damage that ensued.” (Kaiser)
ii. “We wrong another not only by what we do, or permit to be done, but in what we carelessly fail to do.” (Meyer)
b. He shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard: This was a fair punishment, and significant enough to give a farmer a reason to not allow his animals to carelessly and destructively graze.
i. “These laws also began by laying emphasis on the guilt of carelessness. The truth emphasized is that no man must live his life on the basis of selfishness or wholly alone and that wrong inflicted on neighbor by neighbor in the material realm becomes sin against God in the moral realm.” (Morgan)
c. He who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution: Restitution was also required in cases of vandalism or foolish negligence, even if one kept the property of another. The Mosaic legal system had a high view of personal responsibility, even with the property of others.
i. This translates into a proper concern for the property of others today. A Christian, if he backs into someone else’s car, will certainly leave a note and make good the damage. A Christian will have proper insurance, guaranteeing they can compensate for someone else’s loss.
ii. If someone gives you something to hold for them, you are then responsible for it as a faithful steward or manager. This principle also includes what God gives us to manage or steward for Him.
d. Shall surely make restitution… he shall pay double: Restitution was paid according to a pre-determined amount or percentage; it was not left to the whim of either the victim or the judge.
3. (9-13) More application of the principle of restitution.
“For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor. If a man delivers to his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep, and it dies, is hurt, or driven away, no one seeing it, then an oath of the LORD shall be between them both, that he has not put his hand into his neighbor’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept that, and he shall not make it good. But if, in fact, it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to the owner of it. If it is torn to pieces by a beast, then he shall bring it as evidence, and he shall not make good what was torn.”
a. Any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his: In the law of Israel, an owner did not lose ownership simply because the object was lost. If another found the object and owner laid claim to it (with a dispute following), it was to be decided by judges.
i. “An object has been lost: the owner later sees a similar object in possession of his neighbor, and claims it as his own. The Israelites apparently did not follow the Anglo-Saxon dictum of ‘finders are keepers’: a lost object remains the possession of the original owner, who can claim it on sight.” (Cole)
b. The cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double: If there was a dispute regarding the loss of property, the judges heard evidence, investigated, and decided who was right and who was wrong. The guilty party had to pay double restitution – whether they were the accused or the defendant. There was a price for false accusation or lawsuit.
i. Before the judges: “Hebrew, the gods: so judges are called, if good especially (Psalm 82:6). And the seat of judicature is called the holy place (Ecclesiastes 8:10).” (Trapp)
c. If a man delivers to his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep, and it dies, is hurt, or driven away, no one seeing it: This law considered the situation when something suspicious happens – an animal in the care of another dies, is hurt, or driven away. Yet, it happened with no witnesses (no one seeing it). Shall the testimony of the accused be accepted in such cases?
d. Then an oath of the LORD shall be between them both, that he has not put his hand into his neighbor’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept that: In such cases, the owner of the animal was obligated to accept the sworn testimony of the accused, unless there was evidence that gave reasonable doubt to the truthfulness of the accused.
i. This principle is the foundation of our idea that a man is innocent until proven guilty. In this case, the man’s oath was taken as true unless proof to the contrary could be found.
ii. He shall bring it as evidence: “Production of the carcase would show that, while the shepherd could not prevent the kill, he was alert enough to stop the devouring of the prey.” (Cole)
e. The owner of it shall accept that: Though the owner of the animal suffered loss, he was not allowed to compensate the loss by accusing and winning damages against an innocent party. He had to accept the outcome, even though justice left him uncompensated.
i. There is a parallel thought in the New Testament, that believers should avoid taking legal disputes among themselves to secular judges. They should allow the matter to be judged by the church (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
4. (14-15) Restitution principles applied to borrowing and lending.
“And if a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it becomes injured or dies, the owner of it not being with it, he shall surely make it good. If its owner was with it, he shall not make it good; if it was hired, it came for its hire.”
a. If a man borrows anything from his neighbor: The principles of responsibility and restitution also applied to borrowing and lending.
b. The owner of it not being with it… If its owner was with it: The assumption was that if the owner was with the animal or tool (or whatever) as it was used by another, the owner was responsible for the care and use of the object while in his presence. If the owner was not present, the borrower was responsible.
c. He shall surely make it good: This was the simple principle meant to guide the judges. The guilty party had to make it good. Distinctions were to be made according to fairness and justice, not simply to reward whoever suffered loss. Sometimes loss is suffered, and no one is to blame.
B. Moral and ceremonial laws.
1. (16-17) The remedy for pre-marital sex.
“If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.”
a. If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed: Some claim this passage did not prohibit pre-marital sex; but it did prohibit (or at least strongly discourage) it in practice, because it required a man to either marry or provide for a woman he had pre-marital sex with.
i. Virgin: The Hebrew (betulah) “Was an unmarried girl who was always presumed to be a virgin.” (Kaiser)
ii. Entice a virgin: “Hebrew, over-persuade with her by fair words, which make fools fain.” (Trapp)
b. He shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife: This law emphasized the principle that there is no such thing as casual sex. Both Old and New Testaments state that sexual relations carry lasting consequences (1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
i. “This was an exceedingly wise and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel inclined to take the advantage of a young woman knew that he must marry her, and give her a dowry.” (Clarke).
ii. This law encouraged both men and women to value the virginity of a woman. “Since a man has taken a girl without paying bride-price, bride-price he must pay, for who else will pay it now?” (Cole) It’s not that the virginity of men was worthless or ignored; yet the law encouraged greater care and preservation for the virginity of women until marriage and the advantageous circumstances for child raising.
iii. It is to the great detriment of society and culture when the government works against the value of virginity, and (intentionally or not) supports behavior that doesn’t value it or promotes the cheapening of virginity and abstinence until marriage.
iv. A man illustrated the value of virginity with a true story about a friend who owned an antique store and had a table for sale. The table was worth $600 but was marked down to $300. A man tried to bargain her down to $200, and not only did she refuse, but she realized the true value of the table, and upped the price to its true worth – even when offered $300. The man finally bought the table for $600, and certainly treated it like a $600 table – because its worth had been recognized and fought for. Some women who know men treat them shabbily contribute to the problem by selling themselves cheaply.
c. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins: If the man who took advantage of the woman was considered a completely unacceptable husband by the father of the wronged woman, then that man had to pay the dowry without receiving the bride. This was a strong incentive against taking advantage of young women.
d. He shall pay money: This brief presentation of the law gave no penalty to the woman involved. This was because she was thought to be disadvantaged (if a man entices a virgin) and needed to be recompensed. If she was not taken advantage of, then the loss of her virginity and the diminution of her marriage prospects was thought to be punishment enough.
i. “This one consideration was a powerful curb on disorderly passions, and must tend greatly to render marriages respectable, and prevent all crimes of this nature.” (Cole)
2. (18-20) Three capital crimes.
“You shall not permit a sorceress to live. Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. He who sacrifices to any god, except to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.”
a. A sorceress: Among the ancients, the practice of sorcery had two associations. First, contact with dark or demonic powers or persons. Second, altered states through drugs and potions. There was understood to be a connection between drug taking and occultist practices.
i. The law shows that such communication is possible, and the penalty shows that it is dangerous.
ii. The King James Version translates sorceress as witch. “An enchantress, sorceress, whose help was sometimes sought in enticing young maids to folly. The man-witch is also here meant, but the woman-witch mentioned; both because women are more inclinable to that sin; and also because the weaker sex is not to be spared for this fault.” (Trapp)
iii. Taking this noun sorceress, the “verb is to use incantations, magic, sorcery, or the arts of witchcraft. Our English ‘witch’ is alleged to have come from ‘to wit,’ i.e., ‘to know,’ in the adjectival wittigh or wittich, contracted to witch. The Greeks rendered our word by pharmakos (‘poisoners’), since sorcerers dealt in drugs and pharmaceutical potions.” (Kaiser)
iv. “Many of the Israelites had, no doubt, learned these curious arts from their long residence with the Egyptians; and so much were the Israelites attached to them, that we find such arts in repute among them, and various practices of this kind prevailed through the whole of the Jewish history, notwithstanding the offence was capital, and in all cases punished with death.” (Clarke)
v. “It is clearly against the will of God that in this life men should hold any communication with the spirit world, save that of direct fellowship with Himself, through His Son, by the Holy Spirit.” (Morgan)
b. You shall not permit a sorceress to live: This was considered a severe enough threat that sorcery was considered a capital crime. This combination of occult practices and drug-induced altered states was seen as destructive to the culture and moral fabric of ancient Israel.
i. “Thus with blunt directness and complete finality, the law of God against all traffic with the world of evil spirits was promulgated.” (Morgan)
ii. “Witchcraft is equally condemned in New Testament days (Acts 13:10; 19:19), but in spite of the practices of the church in the Middle Ages, there is no hint in the New Testament that mediums or witches should be put to death.” (Cole)
iii. Shall utterly be destroyed: This uses the ancient Hebrew word herem. “Herem is something devoted to God; however, it is not a voluntary but an involuntary dedication. It is now set apart to be banned from the earth.” (Kaiser)
c. Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death: Bestiality was practiced in the ancient world, and here God commanded specifically against it.
i. “This offensive sex act apparently was prevalent among the Canaanites.” (Kaiser) “Bestiality was not only an obvious perversion: it figured so often in the Canaanite cycle ‘Tales of Baal’ that it probably had a religious significance for the Canaanites.” (Cole)
ii. It is surprising to some that bestiality is legal in some European nations, and a subculture practices and promotes it. Yet there should be no surprise; if God’s standard is rejected in one area of sexual morality, then the standards are often left up to the individual to decide. It is Christian civilization and morality that has discouraged and condemned fornication, adultery, pedophilia, polygamy, prostitution, homosexuality, gender confusion and the like. As Christian civilization and morality are increasingly mocked and rejected, it is no surprise that all of these sexual practices are increasingly practiced, supported, and encouraged.
iii. Some years ago a student group at a university responded to the school’s sponsorship of GLAD (Gay/Lesbian Awareness Days), with a mocking parody they called BAD (Bestiality Awareness Days). University administration did not allow them to promote or carry out their parody celebration; but there was no rational reason to prohibit this apart from a Biblical foundation for morality.
iv. If the moral measure for a sexual act is, If it feels good, do it – then there is no moral measure, and the culture will become increasingly depraved until this changes.
d. He who sacrifices to any god, except to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed: In ancient Israel, it was strictly prohibited to sacrifice to the pagan gods. This law was often broken, and this penalty was rarely applied. One rare example of its application was when Elijah executed the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:40.
3. (21) Compassion for the stranger.
“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
a. You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him: A good measure of our moral character is found in how we treat a stranger. People often find it easy to treat their own flesh and blood well, but God commands us to have a concern for others – including the stranger.
i. The enduring hatred and strife between ethnic and national groups shows just how little humanity has progressed.
ii. It is fair to examine how accommodating we are to the strangers among us. If we stay with our own safe group and enjoy all the blessings and fail to be outreaching and out-looking as a blessing to others, we mistreat a stranger.
b. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt: Israel’s own experience of being strangers should have given them appropriate sympathy for strangers in their midst.
i. God’s command that there be kindness and good treatment towards the stranger does not mean that it is not good or fitting that strangers receive permission to live among a new community. The people of Israel were strangers in the land of Egypt, but at the express invitation of Pharaoh (Genesis 47:5-6). Israel was not welcomed into Canaan, and their coming was rightly regarded as a war of conquest. Governments have the right and responsibility to control borders and immigration; yet there is no doubt of the individual’s responsibility to neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him.
4. (22-24) Compassion for the weak and vulnerable.
“You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.”
a. You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child: The widow and fatherless child were the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. In an unrestrained, survival-of-the-fittest society, they would be the first to suffer abuse and destruction. God here commanded that at the very least, they not be afflicted.
i. “It was the prophets who chided Israel for their neglect in this area of oppressing the poor and the weak.” (Kaiser)
b. I will kill you with the sword: Because of their special vulnerability, God commanded a special care and concern for them, promising to protect them.
i. “The society that lacks social justice will itself come under God’s judgment.” (Cole)
5. (25-27) Compassion for the poor.
“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.”
a. If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him: Interest was prohibited on loans made to the poor and the taking of collateral had to be reasonable.
i. “The reason for the prohibition is presumably that the poor man borrows in his need. The loan is seen as assistance to a neighbor, and to make money from his need would be immoral.” (Cole)
ii. This only prohibited the taking of interest on loans for relief of the poor. Adam Clarke said of the word translated interest: “Neshech, from nashach, to bite, cut, or pierce with the teeth; biting usury. So the Latins call it usura vorax, devouring usury… Perhaps usury may be more properly defined unlawful interest, receiving more for the loan of money than it is really worth, and more than the law allows.” Trapp commented on the word interest: “Hebrew, Biting usury.”
iii. “The prohibition against interest was written with the poor in mind. Commercial loans were not explicitly banned because they were not considered. Out of sixteen biblical passages dealing with loans (but not with interest), not one deals with a commercial loan. Commercial loans simply did not come under the biblical purview.” (Gamoran, cited in Kaiser)
b. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge: The fact that one’s garment could be used as collateral (under regulated circumstances) shows that these were loans, with repayment expected and secured with collateral. They were not gifts, but loans.
i. “Retaining one’s outer garment (used as temporary collateral) overnight was strictly forbidden, for even an interest-free loan apparently required some type of pledge or security.” (Kaiser)
c. And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear: God promised to hear the prayer of the poor man when he cried out to the Lord. God’s general sympathy for the poor is reflected in the fact that Jesus came from a poor family. When He was dedicated in the temple, shortly after His birth, the sacrifice was that of a poor family: two birds (Luke 2:24).
6. (28-31) Laws regarding holiness and separation unto God.
“You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people. You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.”
a. You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people: The most basic measure of holiness is in what we say. God cares how we talk about Him and those in rightful authority over us.
i. According to Clarke and others, the context shows that God (elohim) here is a reference to judges. There were laws against the blaspheming of God, but here – combined with nor curse a ruler of your people – suggests that elohim here refers to Israel’s legal judges, as it sometimes does (Exodus 22:9, Psalm 82:6).
ii. “This is the famous verse quoted by Paul at his trial before the high priest (Acts 23:5).” (Cole)
b. You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices: Another way to honor God is by giving Him his due. When we are commanded to give something to God, it is a sin to not give it – or to delay in giving it.
i. “True obedience is prompt and present, ready and speedy, without demurs and consults.” (Trapp)
c. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me: According to Exodus 13:11-12, this command was to be obeyed when they came into the land of Canaan. Much of the Mosaic Law didn’t make sense for Israel in the wilderness and was given to prepare them for life in Canaan.
i. Had they obeyed and trusted God the way they should have, they were at this point only a little more than a year away from Canaan. Because of unbelief and disobedience, they were some 40 years from Canaan, but they didn’t know that at this giving of the law.
d. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me: This was done through redemption, the giving of money to substitute for the son (Exodus 34:19-20). Money was also substituted for the firstborn among unclean animals, but the firstborn among clean animals was sacrificed to the LORD.
i. This law regarding the giving of the firstborn to God was important because:
· Since the firstborn was always regarded as best, it was a demonstrated way to give the best to God.
· It reminded Israel that God regarded them as His firstborn, His favored people.
· It reminded Israel that God spared their firstborn when He judged the firstborn of Egypt.
e. And you shall be holy men to Me: you shall not eat meat torn by beasts in the field: This was a command to act differently than the animals, who freely scavenge dead carcasses. God called Israel to be holy men, not to act like scavengers who tear at carcasses as animals. This reinforces the basic idea of holiness: that we are set apart, different.
i. Kaiser adds two more thoughts: “Animals killed by another were unclean for two reasons: (1) the carnivorous beasts that tore it were unclean, and (2) the blood of such a slain animal would remain in its tissues, leaving it unclean. Instead, the people were to toss that meat to the dogs.”
ii. “In the conclusion of this chapter we see the grand reason of all the ordinances and laws which it contains. No command was issued merely from the sovereignty of God. He gave them to the people as restraints on disorderly passions, and incentives to holiness; and hence he says, Ye shall be holy men unto me.” (Clarke)
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