Sunday, January 18, 2015

God’s Laws Regarding Theft -- Exodus 22:1-5

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.  If the thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account.  But if the sun has risen on him, there will blood guiltiness on his account.  He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.  If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.  If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.”

Exodus chapter 22 begins with laws on how those that are involved in various types of theft are to be treated. To begin with, contrary to what liberal minds may think, stealing is not a God-given right regardless of one’s circumstances.  Responding in forgiveness may well be encouraged, but the activity that initiates the need for forgiveness, is not.  The Bible calls for some restitution or repayment for theft.
We note in verse 1, that God calls for different amounts being paid as restitution for a stolen (and killed or sold) ox versus the amount paid for a stolen sheep.  Expositor John Gill (who preached in the same church as C. H. Spurgeon over one hundred years earlier) says this about the reason for the difference:
“ . . . because the one was more valuable than the other, as well as more useful, and also more easily stolen, and therefore the greater mulct or fine was laid upon the theft of it, to deter from it: the Targum of Jonathan expresses the reason of the law thus; five for oxen, because the theft of them hindered from ploughing, or made to cease from it; and for sheep but four, because there was trouble in the theft of them, and there was no tillage or agriculture by them: and Saadiah Gaon observes, that the damage that comes to the owner of the ox is more than that by a lamb, because with it, the ox, he ploughs, which is a creature that was used in those countries to be employed in that service, as well as in treading out the corn: Maimonides accounts for it thus:
“The restitution of the theft of oxen is increased by one, because the theft of them is easy; sheep are fed in flocks, and are easily kept and watched, and can scarcely be taken away by theft but in the night; but oxen are fed scattered here and there, and therefore cannot be so easily kept by the herdsmen; hence also their theft used to be more common:”
“Fourfold restitution was in use with the ancient Persians, with whom it was a rule,
“Whoever took any substance of another, in retaliation they took fourfold from him, and if he restored it, he gave fourfold of the same.''”

The text then turns to a matter of great debate of late.  What happens when the owner of the property kills the thief during his attempt to steal?  Or put another way, “do I as a guardian of my home and family, have the right to attack and perhaps kill an intruder in my home or on my property who is clearly stealing?”  I do not venture to answer the question from a legal standpoint – as I not a lawyer.  I will leave that to my friends.  But the Bible clearly states that in such a case, “there will be no blood guiltiness on his (the dead thief’s) account”.  John Gill explains it this way:
“There shall no blood be shed for him: as for a man that is murdered; for to kill a man when breaking into a house, and, by all appearance, with an intention to commit murder, if resisted, in defense of a man's self, his life and property, was not to be reckoned murder, and so not punishable with death: or, "no blood" shall be "unto him"; shall be imputed to him, the man that kills the thief shall not be chargeable with his blood, or suffer for shedding it; because his own life was risked, and it being at such a time, could call none to his assistance, nor easily discern the person, nor could know well where and whom he struck.”
This interpretation of the verse goes far into outlining some of the key considerations one must look at today in such cases, including: What would have been the intention of the thief if and when his/her action was resisted? Was anyone’s life at risk? Was other help available? Did the one that kill the thief know what he was doing? Etc.  (I am reminded of the case of Oscar Pistorius, the famous “Blade Runner” who is charged with killing his girlfriend in the bathroom because he thought the person in there was an intruder. He went to prison for five years at the end of 2014.)
Matthew Henry on the other hand, suggests the following on the interpretation of verse 2:
“He that does an unlawful act bears the blame of the mischief that follows to others, so likewise of that which follows to himself. A man's house is his castle, and God's law, as well as man's, sets a guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril.”
But God’s rules on this now add another dimension – that of time of day.  If the attempt to steal took place during the day, the “blood guiltiness” referred to above would be paid by him (supposedly the owner of the property, or perhaps a servant) who killed him.  The idea is that we must be considerate of all life, even of those who we know or believe to be evil.  Our reparation must not come from our vengeance, but from the legal system, and especially for Christians, from our God.  When we take the law into our hands beyond that, we start to stand on shaky ground.
So, where possible, we are to “catch the thief” but not kill him.  And then in that case, as he is still alive, he must make restitution for all he has stolen.  And if he can’t afford it, he then is to be sold (one assumes into slavery) and the money goes to the owner of the property he stole.
And still more twists to the law: if he stole animals and they are found alive, that is the thief is caught red-handed with the goods, he shall pay double the amounts he otherwise would have paid.  Interesting, but why? Matthew Henry explains it like this:
“Thus he must both satisfy for the wrong and suffer for the crime. But it was afterwards provided that if the thief were touched in conscience, and voluntarily confessed it, before it was discovered or enquired into by any other, then he should only make restitution of what he had stolen, and add to it a fifth part, Leviticus 6:4,5.”
So, there is clearly an advantage to admitting and pleading guilty if indeed it is a true confession, rather than a forced confession.
Finally, we are told that if one simply uses things that are not his to use, without permission (a form of stealing one might say), then he repays from the best of his own possession or equivalent.  I live with two of my granddaughters.  They borrow each other’s stuff (clothes, accessories, etc.) without each other’s permission.  Needless to say that the volume of discourse rises greatly depending on whether the owner wanted to use it that day herself, if the borrower misplaced it, or if the borrower damaged it or worse still, lost it.  Whereas my solution would be to ban all so-called “borrowing”, God’s approach seems to indicate that the ‘owner’ could then help herself to the best of the ‘borrower’s’ goods.  But then again, my ways are not necessarily His ways.
For us, the facts remain: we are not to steal, we are to know how to deal with those that do, and in all cases, we are to make restitution for things we have taken or misused or lost that belong to others.

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