Exodus Chapter 22  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Exodus 22
Exo 22:1

“five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” Here in Exodus 22:1, the Torah teaches us that not all property has the same value. We know this, of course. There are things that do not mean much to us, and other things that mean a lot and/or are more inherently valuable. A thief who steals a more valuable thing is required to pay more.

In this example, an ox is more valuable than a sheep both inherently, and also because it is likely that the owner of the ox would have spent considerable time training it to pull carts and such, and to plow. Stealing is very harmful to a society, and God takes it very seriously. If a thief cannot repay the debt he owes from his theft, then he is sold into slavery for six years and goes free in the seventh (Exod. 22:3; 21:2). Modern society also makes people a kind of slave: we put them in prison where their life is not their own. They do, wear, eat, and sleep, what they are told to, and when their sentence is up they go free. Sadly, modern society often does not take stealing seriously, and thieves get little or no meaningful punishment, which only encourages more stealing.

If the thief still has the thing that he stole when he is caught, he still has to compensate for the anxiety and effort of the person he stole from and the society he damaged. He must give back what he stole and add one to it, thus paying “double” (Exod. 22:4). For example, if the person stole a sheep, then he would give back the sheep and add one more sheep as well.

To understand some of the anxiety and effort caused by stealing it helps us to remember that in ancient times there was no police force. If something was stolen from a person, that person had to track down the thief himself, which usually meant taking considerable time, and also enlisting the help of friends and neighbors. The thief then had to be forcibly brought—often no easy task since the thief knew what was coming—before the local judges who would make a decision about the matter and determine if there was really a theft and if so what was stolen. We can imagine that that decision was often not easy, and enforcing the penalty was also not easy. The best course people had then, and now as well, was to be diligent to protect their things in the first place.

Exo 22:2(top)
Exo 22:3

“A thief.” The Hebrew is literally, “he,” but that might cause confusion in the flow of this context. It refers to the thief.

Exo 22:4(top)
Exo 22:5(top)
Exo 22:6

“the one who started the fire.” Accidents happen, but they will happen a lot less if the person who “accidentally” did not prepare for, pay attention to, or control what he was doing was held responsible for the accident. Obviously, there are times when accidents cannot be helped and no one is genuinely responsible, but in this case the person purposely lit a fire, and if it is not properly prepared for and watched over, a fire can get out of control. The point is that there are kinds of accidents where it is reasonable to hold a person responsible for the accident. If societies were more diligent about doing this, there would be fewer “accidents.”

Exo 22:7(top)
Exo 22:8(top)
Exo 22:9(top)
Exo 22:10(top)
Exo 22:11

“its owner must accept it.” A major theme in the Torah, God’s “instruction book,” is personal responsibility. The point of Exodus 22:10-11 is that everyone is responsible for their own possessions. If a person is unable to watch over his possessions for a time, then he (or she) must be very careful in picking someone to watch his stuff, because if it somehow disappears, the one who said he would watch over the stuff only has to swear he did not take it himself, and the matter is settled. The stuff is gone somehow, but there is no retribution required. The lesson in this is that each person is responsible for his own things. If you must leave something with someone, you have to pick someone that you trust and that you think is also responsible and diligent to keep it safe, and even then if it somehow gets lost you lose what you own. No one is ultimately responsible for your things but you.

But there is an exception that involves risk for the one who agreed to keep watch over the things. If anything is stolen, the one who agreed to watch the things must pay back for what was stolen. He does not have to pay the owner double, but he has to make good the loss (Exod. 22:12). Part of the lesson here is that you do not want to agree to watch over someone else’s things unless you have clear boundaries (“How long will I have to watch this?”) and are quite sure you can indeed keep the goods safe.

Exo 22:12(top)
Exo 22:13(top)
Exo 22:14(top)
Exo 22:15(top)
Exo 22:16(top)
Exo 22:17(top)
Exo 22:18(top)
Exo 22:19(top)
Exo 22:20(top)
Exo 22:21(top)
Exo 22:22(top)
Exo 22:23

“hear, yes, hear.” This is the figure of speech polyptoton, which occurs when the same word occurs twice in succession in a sentence but the word is inflected in different ways. [For more on figure polyptoton and the way it is translated, see commentary on Genesis 2:16, “eat, yes, eat”].

Exo 22:24(top)
Exo 22:25(top)
Exo 22:26(top)
Exo 22:27

“for that is his only covering.” In the biblical time clothing and blankets were hand-made, and therefore it was common for people, even people who were not considered “poor,” to only have one outer cloak, which they would use as a blanket and covering at night. God is so merciful that He commands that if such a person has to give his cloak as collateral for a loan of some kind, even if something unexpected happens and he cannot repay the loan by nightfall, his cloak must be returned to him so he can have a restful night’s sleep. But it is likely that the man would have to give the cloak back to the lender again the next day as security for the loan—the loan is not forgiven just because the poor man could not pay it back immediately.

As part of the Torah, God’s “instruction book,” this record should teach us that God cares for the poor and needy and that just because a person cannot repay a loan or debt does not mean that we should not give the person extra time to repay the loan.

Exo 22:28(top)
Exo 22:29(top)
Exo 22:30(top)
Exo 22:31(top)

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