The Responsible Thing to Do
I bet every one of us can look back on our past life and think of a jillion times when we have either been wronged by another or we have wronged another in regards to personal property. Maybe you lent somebody something and they broke it or lost it.
Maybe you borrowed a car and got it scratched or dented while it was in your care. It could be that you went on a vacation and took one of your pets to a shelter or to a friend for it to be taken care of while you were gone… When you got back, poor Fifi the cat was missing or poor Rover the dog was dead.
When something like that happens in life, there are times when no resolution between the two parties seems possible without either checking with what the law says, or even being compelled to take the matter to a civil court for a decision.
The law of Israel did not foresee every situation that could arise in advance, but it gave great general guidelines for many such situations. Some of these guidelines are still in effect in societies of the world today. They are common sense and they are precise as to what should be done.
And then there are those times when the law didn’t provide specifics. At those times, the law was still specific in its own way – bring the matter before the Lord and to those who judge for a decision.
Text Verse: “Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:12, 13
Israel was instructed to bring the people together every seven years to hear the words of the law. It was to be a reminder to them of their responsibilities towards the Lord and towards their fellow man. Some of the responsible things they were to do in regards to their property and the property of their fellow man are detailed in today’s verses.
In keeping them, or ensuring that they were properly judged when they weren’t kept, was important in order for the society to function properly. These and so many other fine details of the law are to be found in His superior word. And so let’s turn to that precious word once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.
I. Laws for Theft (verses 1-4)
The following laws for theft are very brief and detail only three circumstances. The first is stealing property and converting it for another use; second is housebreaking, or burglary; and third is stealing without having converted the stolen goods for another use.
The ox and the sheep were principle types of valuable property within Israel and so they are used as representative of stealing in general. The punishments, in principle, can then be considered representative of what is proper for other thefts as well.
“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.
In just the first verse of this chapter, there is a lot to consider. First, the idea of this and the following verses is theft. And certainly more than just that is the intent of the heart. This is because different penalties are given for the act of theft based on what happens to what is stolen.
If the main crime is simply theft of any kind, then there would be a unified punishment regardless of what happened to what was stolen, but there isn’t. As we progress, this will be seen and looked into. In the case of verse 1, if someone steals an animal as described and slaughters it or sells it, the penalty is stated.
Second, the word for “slaughter” is tabach. This is only the second of eleven times is it used in the OT. Rather than a sacrificial type of slaughtering, this gives more the idea of butchering an animal for food. The thief willfully steals and then willfully sells, or kills the animal to eat or sell as food. He thus profits off of the animal through his actions.
Third, with the exception of Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, no translation gives the proper sense of the verse. Two different Hebrew words are translated as “ox” and two different words are translated as “sheep” in all other versions except Young’s.
The verse says, “If a man steals an ox (shor) or a sheep (seh), and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen (bakar) for an ox (shor) and four sheep (tson) for a sheep (seh). It’s obvious that a distinction is being made between what is stolen and what is to be returned. Otherwise, it would have just used the same words.
Instead of repeating the same word in English, the word “herd” is certainly more appropriate. An animal of the herd would be used to replace the specific ox or sheep. Therefore, it could be five bulls or five heifers for the ox (or any combination), and it could be four sheep or four goats (or any combination) for the sheep.
No matter what, he is to repay fourfold for having first stolen the animal and then having sold it or eaten it. His benefiting off the stolen animal is what is being considered in conjunction with the theft.
Fourth, there is a difference in the required payment for an ox as opposed to a sheep – fivefold instead of fourfold. Scholars have varying ideas as to why. Some argue that it is more brazen or audacious to steal an ox than it is to steal a goat. Others see that the penalty is higher for an ox because it is an animal from which profit can be derived, such as in plowing fields.
I would think it is a mixture of the two. If it is true that one can benefit more from an ox than a sheep, then the one stealing the ox intends to benefit more from it as well. If he slaughters it and sells its meat, or if he simply sells it outright, the profit to him will be greater than for doing the same thing with a sheep.
There is a strong purpose behind his evil intent to take the larger and more valuable animal. It is the heart which is being looked on as well as the act itself. This principle was adhered to and acted upon elsewhere in the Bible. When Nathan the prophet came to King David with the story of a person who wrongfully took a man’s only precious lamb, David’s response to Nathan’s words was one of great anger –
“So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.'” 2 Samuel 12:5, 6
Unfortunately for David, Nathan was using the lamb as a metaphor for Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah whom David took as his own. It was he who was in the wrong.
In the New Testament, Zacchaeus, the wee little man in the sycamore fig tree, was so elated that Jesus desired to eat in his home, that he rushed down the tree and entertained the Lord. In his great joy, we read this –
“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.'” Luke 19:8
2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.
The second law of theft is concerning burglary. The word for “breaking in” is makhtereth. This is its first of only two uses in the Bible. It means “burglary” or “secret search” and it comes from the word khatar which means to “dig.”
The idea is that one has to, as it were, dig in order to forcibly break into a house or to conduct a secret search. This would involve the use of an implement to either dig through the earthen wall or to dig through the bolted door of the house.
In the case of a person who so breaks in, if he is struck and is killed, the person who killed him is to be absolved of any wrongdoing and bloodguilt. What this means is that the avenger of blood may not come after him to claim his right of vengeance.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that by digging into a house, any implement he had could have been used as a weapon. This would immediately come to mind in anyone who was quietly sleeping and then suddenly awakened by a thief. The thought of murderous intent would be at the forefront of his thoughts.
The second reason is that at such a dark hour, the thief couldn’t be identified. His features, his size, the intent of his eyes, and so on couldn’t be determined. The one in the house would have no idea who they were up against or even if they could safely flee.
And third, anyone who did commit such burglary and who got away couldn’t be identified later. Therefore, there would be no justice for his offenses. By breaking in at night, and under the law which was given to the people of the land, he would subject himself to the possible penalty of that law by forfeiting his life.
3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.
The word for “has risen” here is zarakh. It means the dawning of the sun when it shoots forth beams. At such a time, the sky would be illuminated enough to send light into a house and make a thief recognizable. A burglar in such an instance was not to be killed or the guilt of blood would be on the head of the one who killed him.
The idea is surely that the person could recognize the intruder and flee for his own safety and then later he could identify the burglar who would then be convicted for his crime. He would be required to pay for his theft according to the other precepts within the law.
3 (con’t) He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
This portion of verse 3 is said by some scholars to be out of place because the first half of it notes that there would be guilt for his bloodshed. They say that it thus presupposes that there was bloodshed. This is incorrect. Rather, it presupposes that the one in the house won’t shed his blood, just as the law requires.
Instead, of killing the burglar, it says shelem y’shalem, restoring he shall restore. In place of vengeance on the offender, there will be justice for the offended. The guilty will keep his life and he will hopefully learn his lesson through restoring damages and losses incurred by the owner.
However, if he is unable to restore according to the law, then according to the law he is to be sold for his theft. The word “theft” is genebah. In the OT it is only used here and in the next verse. It is the noun form of the act of stealing. It is the thing stolen.
The thief becomes liable to become property for having put his hand into another man’s property. In this, the words “shall be sold” would be better translated as “should be sold.” The entire verse then is one of justice. To paraphrase it, one could say, “If the sun has risen, instead of killing the person and incurring blood guilt, the thief should fully restore what he has stolen or he should be sold to replace the thing stolen.”
4 If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.
An emphasis is given in this verse which is translated as “certainly.” In Hebrew it says im himmatse timmatse b’yaddow ha’gennebah, “If finding is found in his hand the theft.” It is what we would say, “being caught red-handed.”
If a thief is so caught and the animal which was stolen is still alive, then only double restoration is required. This then is a justice of retaliation. The thief loses the very amount that he anticipated gaining. In contrast to verse 1 where the animal was butchered or stolen, the matter is looking at the intent of the heart.
Until the animal or thing was disposed of, there was always the chance that the thief would own up to his theft and restore it. It would mean he would incur a double cost of restoration, but he would be spared an even higher cost. And it could be that he could seek mercy and not even have to pay back a double amount.
But once the animal was dead, such a chance of restoration was impossible. It had become an aggravated crime from a hardened heart. As long as the animal was alive and in his possession, the possibility for repentance and full restoration was available.
This is similar to what happened to the sons of Jacob when they went down to Egypt to buy grain during the great famine in the land. When they came back, the money they had taken to buy grain was found in their sacks. In order to ensure that the mistake was covered, Jacob instructed them with these words –
“Take double money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight.” Genesis 43:12
On a spiritual level, double repayment for wrongdoing is also a biblical consideration. The people of Israel had sinned against the Lord and the people were punished for it, double in fact. These verses concerning the protection of the physical assets of the people are also given to show what is just and due concerning the people’s relationship with the Lord –
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1, 2
The idea of double punishment for the sins of the people is not unique to Isaiah, but it is also found in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In the end, the double punishment of the people was literally carried out in a double exile – first to Babylon and then by the Romans in AD70.
However, after the times of double punishment, the Lord promises not just restoration, but double restoration –
“As for you also,
Because of the blood of your covenant,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to the stronghold,
You prisoners of hope.
Even today I declare
That I will restore double to you.
13 For I have bent Judah, My bow,
Fitted the bow with Ephraim,
And raised up your sons, O Zion,
Against your sons, O Greece,
And made you like the sword of a mighty man.” Zechariah 9:11-13
Comfort, yes, comfort My people, says your God
Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her
That her warfare is ended, peaceful streets she shall trod
Her iniquity is pardoned, and she is made pure
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins, the payment has been made
And now her future lies ahead ever so grand
For her dirty rags, garments of white she will trade
The double punishment was due and it was just
But now double blessing will come upon Israel
For her will come joy and health, so robust
To My jewel Israel, this promise I now tell
II. Laws for Negligence or Fraud (verses 5-15)
5 “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.
Like many of the verses so far, this one implies a permanent dwelling in the land of Canaan and it also implies private property. The law was given in anticipation of both and it implies both – possession of the land of Israel by Israel, and possession of parcels of the land by individuals.
The last time a vineyard was mentioned was all the way back in Genesis 9:6 when Noah planted a vineyard and got drunk off wine from it. Israel is being given directives for something that they will inherit and which they will have a right to. When that comes about, protections will be in place for their land and their labors.
Translators vary in how they translate this verse in one of two main ways. One is willful negligence, as if the animal was purposely let loose and allowed to go into another man’s field. The other is careless negligence where an animal is let out to eat and it wanders over to another man’s field.
Whichever is the case, the owner is negligent and he is to be held accountable for his actions. The restitution, though, is not a double forfeiture, but rather simple restitution. However, it is to be from the best of his vineyard.
The word “best,” or metav, is rare, being used only six times in the Bible. It always refers to either the best of the land or the best of animals. On a spiritual level, this verse can be equated with taking the best of something from someone for their having taken that to which they had no right to when they took it. This is explained in Jesus’ parable to the people in Luke 14 –
“‘”So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. 11 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”‘” Luke 14:7-11
In other words, we are to carefully ensure that we only to take that to which we are entitled. We are to be responsible to not tread into areas which we are not entitled because when we step out of those bounds, then we are liable for having our own best taken from us.
6 “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.
This verse is filled with fun words. “Thorns,” or qots, hasn’t been seen in the Bible since the Lord cursed the ground in Genesis 3 –
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19
It implies to the people that they will still be living in a fallen world when they enter Canaan. The thorns will be so abundant that fields will be set on fire to burn them out in order to prepare fields for use. Jamieson-Faucett-Brown notes that –
“This refers to the common practice in the East of setting fire to the dry grass before the fall of the autumnal rains, which prevents the ravages of vermin, and is considered a good preparation of the ground for the next crop. The very parched state of the herbage and the long droughts of summer, make the kindling of a fire an operation often dangerous, and always requiring caution from its liability to spread rapidly.” JFB
The word qots comes from quwts which means “summer.” Thus the thorns are those things which spring up rapidly in the heat of the summer when other things struggle in the heat and lack of rain.
The word for “stacked grain” is gadyish. It’s the first of four times it will be used in the Bible. It means a heap of something or a tomb, because a tomb is raised up like a heap. The word for “standing grain” is ha’qamah or “the standing.” This comes from qum, which means to arise, or stand up.
And finally, the word for “the fire” is an unusual noun form of a word used only this once in the Bible ha’beerah. It means “the burning.” Taken together, the words supply us with a picture of what is going on.
Much has to be inferred, but the inferences clear up the difficulty of the verse to us. A person is preparing a field at the end of the summer for the next crop to be planted. In order to do so, he sets the field on fire to clear out the thorns.
When he does, the fire gets out of control and moves into the next field where the farmer is still working on this year’s crops. He either has stalks piled up in heaps or still-standing grain waiting to be harvested, or even both. When the fire gets to his field, it destroys his grain and all of the work he has done.
Hence the use of the word ha’beerah for “the burning” instead of the usual word for “fire” which is esh. As John Lange says about the consequences of his actions –
“The carelessness is imputed to him as a virtual incendiary, because he did not guard the fire” John Lange
His own profits are to be consumed because of his negligence in not keeping “the burning” restrained. Although not nearly a literal translation, the New Living Translation gives probably the best sense of this verse for us to comprehend –
“If you are burning thornbushes and the fire gets out of control and spreads into another person’s field, destroying the sheaves or the uncut grain or the whole crop, the one who started the fire must pay for the lost crop.” NLT
Although looking over a bunch of obscure words in an obscure verse of the law seems like an unimportant thing to do, by doing so, we can almost mentally insert ourselves into the field work of ancient Israel and understand the trials and difficulties of those tedious labors.
And so if you enjoy understanding the nuances of farm life in Israel and seeing them in your mind’s eye, the word studies are far from pointless!
7 “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.
Delivering money or articles to a neighbor to keep was a common thing for people to do in the past. Before there were banks, if someone went on a journey or was going to be gone from their house for whatever reason, they would entrust their valuables to a neighbor for safekeeping.
There was also was the practice of depositing goods by a debtor to a creditor. As a fellow Israelite, he would be considered a neighbor even if a creditor. When the debt was paid off, the personal goods were to be returned.
In such a circumstance, if that property was stolen and the thief was found, the thief was required to pay double, just as would the thief pay in verse 4. After that, the matter would be considered settled. However…
8 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.
Should no thief be apprehended in the matter, then the suspicion would naturally fall on ba’al ha’beyit or the “master of the house.” If this were the case, the owner of the property had a right to bring them forward to have the matter settled. However, from this point on a dispute arises as to whom the matter is brought to.
The Hebrew reads el ha’elohim, or literally “to the God” or “to the gods.” For this reason, translations vary. If it means, “the gods” then it is speaking of human judges who are referred to as elohim, or “gods.” However, because Hebrew also has the commonly used word shophtim which mean “judges,” this is not likely.
Rather, the verse is more appropriately translated as the English Standard Version renders it –
“If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property.” ESV
In Israel, there was a way of inquiring of God using stones known as the Urim and Thummim. These would be used in a case such as this to determine whether the master of the house was guilty or not. Knowing that this type of inquiring of God was available would be a deterrent in and of itself.
However, if guilt was found, punishment was to be brought to the one who was guilty…
9 “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.
Whatever was entrusted to the individual and which was then lost or unrightfully claimed as the possession of another, the parties were given the opportunity to make their case. The word for “lost thing” is abedah – it is the noun form of the word abad, which means to lose. It is used for the first of only four times and it is found only in the books of Moses.
What is implied with this is that it is the property of one person which is claimed as belonging to another, hence a “lost thing.” In such an instance of fraud, the two parties were to come before ha’elohim, or literally, “the God” for a decision.
When so presented, it says that whomever elohim or “God” condemns will be required to pay double to the neighbor. In this verse, like the previous verse, the translation is far better using “God” than judges. It should literally read –
“…the case of both parties shall come before the God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.” (Charlie’s translation based on a correction of the ESV)
It is God who looks upon the heart and it is God who decides who is to be condemned. This word, condemn, or rasha is introduced into the Bible here. It means “to find wicked” or “to condemn.” The one who has acted wickedly and is found out is then required to pay double for the theft.
10 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 verse is parallel to verse 7. It could be that the owner of the animal went on a vacation or on some other business, or it could be that he entrusted his animal to a herdsman whose business it was to take care of flocks and herds.
In whatever case, the one who received the animal became responsible for the care of the animal, whatever type it was. Should it die in his care, or should it be hurt in his care, or should it be taken captive by marauding raiders, or for any such reason as this, then the rights of both parties needed to be protected.
11 then an oath of the Lord shall be between them both, that he has not put his hand into his neighbor’s goods;
In such a case, then a shevuat Yehovah or an “oath of the Lord” shall be made by the one who had custody of the animal that he did not transgress the law in the case of it. The mentioning of the oath of the Lord is a rare thing in Scripture. As Matthew Poole says concerning the oath of the Lord –
“…because it is taken by his authority and appointment, and for his honour, and in his name alone, God being made both witness, and judge, and avenger thereby.” Matthew Poole
Such an oath was considered so weighty and so terrible to be violated that in such a case, the matter is to be considered settled…
11 (con’t) and the owner of it shall accept that, and he shall not make it good.
Because of the weighty and terrifying nature of such an oath, and the consequences for lying in connection with it, the owner was to accept what was spoken before the Lord and the one who had custody of the animal was freed from any further liability.
As a short diversion, let’s take a quick look at the penalty for violating the shevuat Yehovah, or the “oath of the Lord” from 1 Kings 2 –
“Then the king sent and called for Shimei, and said to him, ‘Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there anywhere. 37 For it shall be, on the day you go out and cross the Brook Kidron, know for certain you shall surely die; your blood shall be on your own head.’
38 And Shimei said to the king, ‘The saying is good. As my lord the king has said, so your servant will do.’ So Shimei dwelt in Jerusalem many days.
39 Now it happened at the end of three years, that two slaves of Shimei ran away to Achish the son of Maachah, king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, ‘Look, your slaves are in Gath!’ 40 So Shimei arose, saddled his donkey, and went to Achish at Gath to seek his slaves. And Shimei went and brought his slaves from Gath. 41 And Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and had come back. 42 Then the king sent and called for Shimei, and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord, and warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and travel anywhere, you shall surely die’? And you said to me, ‘The word I have heard is good.’ 43 Why then have you not kept the oath of the Lord and the commandment that I gave you?” 44 The king said moreover to Shimei, “You know, as your heart acknowledges, all the wickedness that you did to my father David; therefore the Lord will return your wickedness on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.”
46 So the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; and he went out and struck him down, and he died. Thus the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.” 1 Kings 2:36-46
12 But if, in fact, it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to the owner of it.
v’im ganov yigganev me’immow – “But if stealing it was stolen from with him…” The statement is emphatic, especially the words “from with him.” It implies that there was either negligence or an underhanded aspect to what occurred.
The property was either stolen from among the caretaker’s own things and yet his own things weren’t stolen, which would then suppose there was fraud involved, or it might imply that with simple diligence the loss would have been prevented. In other words, he was grossly negligent.
In either case, the one who had custody would be required to make full restitution for the loss. This thought harkens back to their forefather Jacob who bore the loss of his uncle’s flocks even when he was diligent and was not in the wrong –
“These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. 39 That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.” Genesis 31:38, 39
13 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.
im taroph y’tareph – Another statement of stress – “If tearing it was torn.” It implies that a beast got hold of the animal and tore at it until it died. In such a case, the one with custody over the animal was not to be held liable. Though the account of Jacob precedes the law, these words demonstrated the unfair treatment Jacob received at the hands of his uncle as he tended to his flocks.
In bringing the remains of the animal, then it was considered sufficient evidence that he had acted properly. Though a beast had attacked an animal under his care, he had been vigilant enough to go after it and courageous enough to take what remained from the beast. This is something that David claimed he had done to prove that he had the courage to face Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17, we read –
“Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
14 “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.
This verse, deals with lending which is intended for the benefit of the one to whom a loan is made, not for the one lending. To borrow implies that one expects to gain advantage from what is borrowed. Because of this, the borrower was under the full obligation of protecting and returning whatever he borrowed.
Therefore, regardless of how it was hurt or how it died, it was the responsibility of the borrower to make good on the loan. As an exception, the words “the owner of it not being with it” implies that if during the time of the loan the owner happened to have it under his care when it was injured or it died, then he wouldn’t have to make good on the loan. This becomes explicit in the next verse…
15 If its owner was with it, he shall not make it good;
This is a very fine point within the law which is given for the protection of a borrower. If, in fact, he had borrowed something and yet it happened to be in the possession of the owner when it was hurt, then there would be no need for restitution.
As an example, a man borrows an ox for two weeks to plow his field. If the owner came by to use his ox for 20 minutes to remove a large bolder from his own field and the ox was hurt at that time, then the owner could not say to the borrower, “You have to pay for the ox because it has been lent to you for two weeks and you still have a week of use left.”
This statement preempts any such claim and would help keep the courts clear of any such niggling over minutiae in this type of arrangement.
*15 (fin) if it was hired, it came for its hire.
As one final point these words are given. Hiring out an animal is different than both borrowing an animal and having an animal entrusted into another’s care. In the case of hiring it out, the risk of the hire was to be considered as part of the calculation the owner should make upon fixing his price for the hire.
If he had an ox and the neighbor wanted to hire it out for 50 shekels of silver, then he had to consider if that was sufficient for renting it out in case it got hurt or died. If so, then should that happen, he had received his payment in advance and the one who hired was absolved from any further responsibility for the animal.
In these past 15 verses, there is the intent that the people would be protected in matters of private property. It is taken as an axiom throughout the Bible that man has a right to his own property and that when someone unlawfully takes it or is negligent in caring for it, that they were responsible under the law for their actions.
It might seem trivial that God would set down such minute precepts when He is God and all things ultimately belong to Him, but if we consider that God has made us free moral entities and that He cares for us in that regard, then it follows naturally that He would want His people to be cared for and free from loss or worry.
In other words, it shows an immensely loving attitude by the Lord to set down these laws for His people. From that point, we can then logically see that if He cares about our welfare and our protection in this worldly life, how much more do you think He cares about our welfare and our salvation unto eternal life!
And then considering that He allows us the choice to either obey His laws or reject them, and to either return our love to Him or shun Him, it shows how truly loving He is. God doesn’t force Himself upon us, but rather makes Himself known to us so that we will want to fellowship with Him.
And the greatest such demonstration of all is when He entered into the stream of humanity and walked among us. In doing so, He showed us His very heart. He said, “I know that this law is big, it’s filled with mandates, and it is impossible for you to live it out perfectly. But I have come to do that for you. If you will just trust Me, I will live out the law on your behalf.
This is what Christ did for us. He came as a Man, born under the law, to redeem us from the law. As you read these commands and precepts, don’t be overwhelmed by what God has mandated. Rather, be overwhelmed that Christ was born under it and lived it out for us in order to set us free from it.
Trust… this is what God would ask you to do. Trust that He can save You from the law by fulfilling it for you. Trust in Jesus and be saved. Call on Jesus and everything in this law that you have violated will be washed clean by His shed blood. Do it today!
Closing Verse: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19, 20
Next Week: Exodus 22:16-31 Living properly both day and night (That Which is Morally Right) (61st Exodus Sermon)
The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. Even if a deep ocean lies ahead of You, He can part the waters and lead you through it on dry ground. So follow Him and trust Him and He will do marvelous things for you and through you.
The Responsible Thing to Do
If a man steals an ox or a sheep
And slaughters it or sells it; it he does not keep
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
His penalty is the spot where he lies
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 instead
If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand
Whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep
He shall restore double
Even if this penalty sounds kind of steep
If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed
And his animal he lets loose
And it feeds in another man’s field
Which was not for his personal use
He shall make restitution from the best
Of his own personal field
And the best of his own vineyard
This to the one wronged he shall yield
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
For the losses which the owner assumed
If a man delivers to his neighbor
Money or articles to keep, and along comes trouble
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, you shall understand
Shall be brought to the judges
To see whether he has into his neighbor’s goods put his hand
For any kind of trespass
Whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothes
Or for any kind of lost thing
Which another claims to be his, but for sure no one knows
The cause of both parties
Shall come before the judges
And whomever the judges condemn
Shall pay double to his neighbor, despite his grumps and grudges
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 and no one makes a peep
Then an oath of the Lord shall be between them both
That he has not put his hand into his neighbor’s stuff
And the owner of it shall accept that
And he shall not make it good; the oath is enough
But if, in fact, it is stolen from him, to you I submit
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
It falls under the hand of Providence
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; this I do apprise
If its owner was with it, he shall not make it good
If it was hired, it came for its hire – this is understood
Thank You O God for watching over us
And for caring about even the small things we face
Thank you above all for sending Jesus
And for His overwhelmingly abundant grace
For this law which we have time and time again failed
To His cross our failings have forever been nailed
Hallelujah and Amen…