“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 [b] If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He[c] shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.
5 “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.
6 “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.
7 “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. 8 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. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.
10 “If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath by the Lord shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.
14 “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee. (Exodus 22:1-15)
So many of the laws of our society reflect the fact that we have rejected our Creator. We have turned from Him, thus we have turned from His divine revelation. When man rejects our Creator, the result is always harm brought upon those who bear the image of God – people. Man has fashioned laws after himself and the result is injustice everywhere. The laws in our text today deal mainly with the issue of theft, or rather, how restitution is to be made in various cases. Consider what is happening in our nation – certain cities have called upon officers to stand down and allow stores to be robbed in broad daylight without recourse. And where theft is still prosecuted, the punishment hardly fits the crime. The victim of theft is left at a loss, most often, or reliant upon insurance policies to cover him. The criminal, instead of making it right with the victim, makes repayment through fines and prison time to the state, while the victim is left footing the bill through taxes for the criminal’s prison time and provision. Where has justice gone?
Now of course this is not to say that laws will save us, or that laws will change the human heart. The reason our system is so often backwards in justice is due to the fact that we have rejected Christ as savior. And if man has rejected Christ as savior, why would they care about His laws? It is not laws that will save us and change the sinner’s heart, it is Christ in the gospel. But our Great Commission task doesn’t stop with the preaching of the gospel in its simplicity. It is certainly not less than that, but we are commanded by our Lord to teach them ALL that He has commanded us, which goes into how we treat our neighbor. It goes into what righteousness and justice looks like in how we relate to others, how we relate to the civil authorities, and they to us.
The major principle of justice before us in our text today is the principle of restitution for theft, or harm brought upon our neighbor’s property. Our society has abandoned the principle of restitution to the victim and transferred restitution to the state – which is not just restitution.
So, what is restitution? It is very clearly displayed in the case laws of Exodus 22, but to define it simply, restitution is restoring what was lost and also compensating for losses entailed with the theft. Restitution is not always the same amount. It is not a set amount, and the cases before us today show the variation in restitution.
An important aspect of restitution is that it is repayment from the criminal who has committed the crime, to the victim who he has committed the crime against. It should be plain to see that this is how true justice and reconciliation can happen. In our system where the victim ends up paying time or fines to the state, true reconciliation for the crime cannot happen. You see, we have a system in which the state has put itself in the place of God, and thus sees itself as wronged in every crime. But when God is acknowledged as the ultimate authority, the state then recognizes that it is NOT God, and so is freed from needing to be repaid for every crime, and can allow true restitution between individuals to happen. When we are submitted to God, the state is restrained to a much smaller size, and individuals are restrained to harm their neighbors and property much less. Almighty God does not need our repayment like the Messianic state claims that it does. And the reason is not because we haven’t sinned against God when we rob from our neighbors – we certainly have. It is because we cannot repay God for our sins, and the only way we are restored and reconciled to God is through God’s payment, of His own dear Son. God Himself has made reconciliation with man through Jesus, so that we are freed to reconcile with our neighbors that we wrong.
The other element of biblical restitution is that it is oftentimes more than simply exact repayment or restoration of what was stolen. It usually is to be paid back at a greater cost. In this text we have fourfold, fivefold, double, and full restitution. This obviously de-incentivizes theft by making it actually costly to the thief. If all a thief has to do is give back what he stole, then he may actually find it profitable to steal, as he could use the stolen animals or items for his own benefit until he had to give them back. But, crime does not pay. With the example of the stolen sheep or oxen that is four or five fold restitution, a thief would not be able to profit by stealing an ox or sheep and then selling it for more than he has to pay back. No way could he sell it for more than four or fivefold. He will always be at a loss.
Now, someone might ask, how is paying back MORE than what you stole, just? Well there is obviously an element of punishment for your crime, not just giving back what was stolen. But you have also cost someone productive time, especially by taking property like ox, which are productive property. You have not only stolen your neighbor’s animal, but you have stolen his means of production, and have cost him production value over that time you stole his beast. So fivefold restitution for the ox, for example, helps justly make up for that.
This is one of the principles for us to consider when we think about how restitution might be applied in our world today. Stolen productive property like animals, or tools, or equipment, or computers, are more costly than mere possessions. There may be a greater value or price in making restitution for those types of things that may be applied.
And certainly in our day, there may be different levels of restitution that are reasonable depending on the situation. How much restitution for someone’s computer? Or car? Or cellphone? Those aren’t listed for us in the Bible. And should it be the item restored, or should it be an equivalent dollar amount plus more? I would say there is liberty and wisdom that is to be involved in the application of these principles in every society and case. While societies and times differ greatly, these principles may be applied in various different ways in each society and time.
And as we read in our text, restitution is not only applied to straight up theft, but also to cases of negligence to the harm of your neighbor’s property. Such as if your animal grazes over and feeds on another man’s vineyard or field, you are responsible for that animal and thus responsible to make restitution to your neighbor from the best of your field. Or if you start a fire on your property and it gets out of control and burns your neighbor’s field – you are responsible for that fire and must make restitution. Anyone starting a fire should know that fire is a dangerous tool that may easily get out of control, thus proper care and control of fires are to be maintained whenever you must start one. So restitution is for the theft, destruction, or harm of someone’s property, whether intentional or through negligence.
If a Thief is Killed
Now in the middle of these laws concerning theft and restitution is a case about a thief who breaks in and is killed. If a thief breaks into someone’s property at night, and is killed by someone in the household, there is no blood guilt. You have the right to fatal self-defense in such a case. The obvious reason is because at night, it is dark, it is when the household is sleeping, and you are not able to tell in the dark most often whether the trespasser is dangerous or not, so it is properly assumed that they are and that they have ill-intent. This is a serious warning and deterrent to thieves to NOT break in at night.
However, if it is daylight, if the sun has risen, then there is blood guilt, should a trespasser be killed. The idea is that you cannot just kill someone who trespasses onto your property in the day. Obviously if they are threatening life and bodily harm, that is a case of self-defense, and killing would be justified. But if the man is just a trespasser or a thief who means no physical harm to any person, it is not justified to take him out. The idea is that he is not a threat to life or well-being, and the punishment for trespassing and stealing is not death – that is not a worthy sentence. The punishment does not fit the crime in such a case. So this is an important principle to consider in our own lives should someone trespass or break into our own property. You cannot simply shoot on sight. It has to be legitimate self-defense, or night. And we obviously should not want to use lethal force against someone unless it is absolutely necessary.
In verses 7 and following we have cases concerning caretaking and borrowing. What happens when a farmer goes out of town and he entrusts his neighbor to take care of his animals while he is away? Or what happens if you are dog-sitting and something happens to the dog? If something happens to it, like it escapes or another animal breaks in to kill it, or it escapes by no negligence of the caretaker, then it is God’s providence and there is no restitution to be made. If it is an item or animal that is stolen, then obviously the thief will make restitution, as in a normal case. It is the thief who pays restitution, not the caretaker of his neighbor’s goods. If the thief cannot be found, then the caretaker may come under suspicion, and an oath before God is made, and without proper witness, the caretaker cannot be condemned. God will judge him if he has lied, deceived, and defrauded his neighbor. This is a reminder that men are not omniscient. Some people will get away with crimes in this life. And we have to rest in God’s sovereignty in that. They will not get away with it forever. God will judge them.
Now, if it is a case where you have asked to borrow something from your neighbor, the borrower is taking responsibility. And if something happens to that thing in his care, the borrower is to make restitution. This is different than if your neighbor asks you to watch his things while he is away. In that case, the owner is asking something of you, and retains responsibility for normal accidents and losses. But if you ask to borrow, you are the one taking responsibility. However, if the owner is present and something happens, no restitution needs to be made. So for example, if you need some trees cut down and you ask your buddy to bring over some chainsaws, and he’s there with his two chainsaws helping you, and the chainsaw of his that you are using breaks down while you are working together, that is not on you, if it is through normal use.
Ox & Sheep Killed or Sold
Now, I want to go back and consider for a moment the five and fourfold restitution of the ox and sheep in verse 1. Why fivefold for an ox and fourfold for a sheep? And why not other productive animals like the donkey, which is mentioned in verse 4? On the one hand, it is important to remember that this is a case law, which takes a specific case and sets a precedent, so that the principle can be distilled from it and applied to other similar cases. So it is possible that similar animals may receive similar restitution.
Yet, it seems there is something more going on here since there is a distinction between the fivefold restitution of the ox and the fourfold of the sheep. Many commentators will point to the economic and productive value of the ox for the reason why it is given fivefold restitution. Certainly the ox was the most important work animal for an agrarian society. It was powerful and strong and incredibly valuable. However, seeing this case law as simply a reflection of the market value of ox and sheep is problematic because market values can and do change. So the five and fourfold restitution has to be more significant than simply the market value of the ox and sheep.
Some would say that while the sheep could not quite bring as much production as an ox, they were highly important in that society, and played a special role with Israel, as a sacrificial animal, and as the sacrificial animal of the Passover meal. If that is the case, that should help one be able to see the unique aspects of the case laws.
The other thing to remember is that both sheep and oxen are very important to the symbolism of the Bible. Often, in the Bible, ox and sheep are representative of people. For example, “we are the sheep of His pasture, the flock He surely feeds.” Jesus is the Lamb of God.
The ox, on the other hand, was a great work animal. A strong beast of the field. If an ox represents a man, it represents a laborer, or a slave, or servant. In fact, the Apostle Paul compares certain elders in the church to oxen in 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the gran,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” So the fivefold restitution for stolen or dead oxen could have something to do with the fact that the ox represents the laborer who deserves double honor, or his wages. In other words, the laboring ox is an animal worthy of double honor.
When it comes to the fourfold restitution of the killed or sold stolen sheep, we see two examples of this in the Bible. One is in 2 Samuel 12:1-6. This is where the prophet Nathan goes to King David to confront him about his sin in killing Uriah and taking Uriah’s wife.
And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms,[a] and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
So in this story from the prophet Nathan, it is the poor man’s lamb that is taken and slaughtered. And the rich man who took it deserves to pay fourfold, in accordance with the law. Keep that in mind. Now, you may recall a couple months ago I preached a sermon on Zacchaeus from Luke 19. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector known for defrauding the poor. When he repents, one of the things he does is declare that he will pay back fourfold those whom he has defrauded. The picture you get is that Zacchaeus is applying this law of fourfold restitution for the slaughtering of lambs to his defrauding of the poor. He has defrauded the poor sheep of Israel and made fourfold restitution. So the oxen are the laborers worthy of wages and double honor and the sheep are a picture of the helpless who are subdued by the stronger, greater thief. So there is protection for the laborer and protection for the helpless – the ox the laborer, the sheep the helpless. So it is that Jesus provides for His servants, and protects His sheep. The more that the enemy attacks the church, the more the enemy attacks God’s servants and people, the more they multiply and prosper. Christ will not ultimately be defrauded. Satan cannot ransack God’s Kingdom. The more he may try, the more are added to the fold.
Laws of Restitution are to Deter Crime
So with all these laws about restitution, they serve to not only protect everyone’s property and person, but they also serve as deterrents to crime. Should we have such a system of justice, less crime would occur. Just punishments restrain the outward crimes of sinful men. Crime continues to increase because we do not have a society that practices just restitution.
Similarly, the New Testament is filled with warnings of eternal judgment for unrepentant sinners. The Bible’s warnings of eternal judgment and hell are legitimate warnings meant to cause sinners to turn from their evil ways and go to Jesus Christ as the only Savior from eternal punishment and wrath. There are many critics of such warnings, who disguise their disgust for so-called “fire and brimstone” preaching in a fake piety by saying that you can’t scare someone out of hell. Jesus, the only Savior of men, repeatedly warned against hell, and warned sinners with the threats of a final judgment and eternal torment. It is a legitimate use of the law to drive men to find refuge and salvation in Christ. And it is no coincidence that in a day when you rarely ever hear such sermons, that more and more lawlessness and debauchery increases. Where there is little to no warnings of the lake of fire, sinful men will have little restraint in sin. It is no coincidence that preaching on hell decreased along nearly the same timeline as secularism has increased in the past century. Proper punishment is a deterrent to crime. The lake of fire is an eternal crime deterrent.
It was the sermon of Jonathan Edwards titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” that was a catalyst used by God in the Great Awakening to awaken many sleeping sinners to repentance and life in Christ. It was a sermon filled with vivid illustrations of the severity of hell and the utter closeness sinners are to falling into it forever at any given moment. And it is true. I would encourage you to go and read that sermon and read it to your family if you haven’t.
Speaking of fire, I want to close in consideration of verse 6. A man starts a fire that gets out of control, gets away from him and sets his neighbor’s field aflame. He is responsible to make full restitution. The text mentions fire catching in the thorns, which if you recall from Genesis 3 is a sign of the curse, that thorns and thistles come up from the ground. It was the first Adam who let the fire of sin loose and destroyed the “field” so to speak. But the first Adam had no ability to make restitution for what he had done. What can save us from the fire that ravages the world because of Adam’s sin, and our sin in him? Only the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who came, and who makes full restitution for our sin against our Maker. His refining fire of righteousness burns up the thorns – overcomes the curse, as it were. We have sinned against the Living God, and with what can we make restitution? Only through the second Adam, Jesus Christ. He makes full restitution for sons of Adam, for us. He took responsibility for what He did not do. He pays what we could not repay. He makes us right with a Holy God. He reconciled us to God when we were enemies. He makes right what we have done wrong, through His perfect life, and sacrificial death. Our sin debt is a debt we cannot repay, but only through Jesus is it paid. This is grace. He did not commit our sins, but He took them on Himself, and became sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Civil laws of restitution are for the good and benefit of our neighbor and peaceful living with them. But we are not able to make restitution to God for our sins. So God gave us the gospel. He took the hit and paid for them in His Son so that we might live at peace with God.
We don’t have fourfold sheep to repay with, but God provided the Lamb, sufficient for all, to be right with God. All sin will be paid for. Ultimate justice will be done. Either Jesus paid for them in His death, or you will pay for them in the lake of fire. So come to Jesus today, repent and give Him all of your sins, believing His death to be for you, and His cross to be sufficient for you, and have peace with God, and be made right with Him. God provides the restitution in His Son, so receive it today.