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Go to Bible: Exodus 22
“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.(top)
|Exo 22:2||- (top)|
“A thief.” The Hebrew is literally, “he,” but that might cause confusion in the flow of this context. It refers to the thief.(top)
|Exo 22:4||- (top)|
|Exo 22:5||- (top)|
“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.”(top)
|Exo 22:7||- (top)|
|Exo 22:8||- (top)|
|Exo 22:9||- (top)|
|Exo 22:10||- (top)|
“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.(top)
|Exo 22:12||- (top)|
|Exo 22:13||- (top)|
|Exo 22:14||- (top)|
|Exo 22:15||- (top)|
|Exo 22:16||- (top)|
|Exo 22:17||- (top)|
“sorceress.” A sorceress (or “witch”) is a woman who seeks to control things in the natural world by summoning or controlling supernatural forces. Exodus 22:18 mentions sorceresses, females, and not sorcerers, males, because there were many more females involved in witchcraft than males. The norms of ancient society were one reason for that. While men could often dictate their choices and destiny, women in the ancient world were generally at the mercy of the men in their lives. There was almost nothing they could do without getting some man to allow it or make it happen. So it was more natural for them to seek the help of invisible supernatural forces to get what they wanted. There were male sorcerers also, and by extension this law would apply to them too; the masculine form of the word occurs in Deuteronomy 18:10.
The Hebrew phrase “not…to live” is unusual and is therefore especially forceful. The more normal expression in the Hebrew text is “put to death,” which occurs in Leviticus 20:27. The sorcerer was to be put to death because of their intimate involvement with demons, who are the avowed enemies of God and are hurtful to all of God’s creation. There are only two ultimate supernatural sources: God and the Devil. Anyone who is working with supernatural powers that are not from God is working with God’s enemy and is genuinely harmful to God’s creation. There is no such thing as “good” witchcraft. Demons do come as angels of light, “helpful” angels (cp. 2 Cor. 11:14) but in the end they always turn “good” into evil.
In the times of the Old Testament, the average believer did not have the gift of holy spirit that was poured out upon every believer on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and so they had to deal with spiritual wickedness in a physical way, by putting the evil person to death. Today every believer has the gift of holy spirit (Eph. 2:13-14) and so we wrestle against evil forces with spiritual weapons (Eph. 6:10-20).
A lesson we can learn from Exodus 22:18 is that it is very dangerous for a person to disobey God and get involved with the demonic realm to get information and power instead of turning to God for information and power. Not only does it help the Enemy, it harms the person in many ways, particularly from a Day of Judgment perspective. Christians who work with the Enemy mar themselves and the Church, and will be marred for it (1 Cor. 3:17).
[For more on God’s prohibitions about working with demons in different ways, see commentary on Deut. 18:9-14. For more specific information about sorcery, see commentary on Deut. 18:10].(top)
|Exo 22:19||- (top)|
|Exo 22:20||- (top)|
|Exo 22:21||- (top)|
|Exo 22:22||- (top)|
“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”].(top)
|Exo 22:24||- (top)|
|Exo 22:25||- (top)|
|Exo 22:26||- (top)|
“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.(top)
|Exo 22:28||- (top)|
|Exo 22:29||- (top)|
|Exo 22:30||- (top)|
|Exo 22:31||- (top)|