Book of Exodus Chapter Twenty-Two Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Law And Faith
These verses provide a back-in-time look at a legal system of 3,500 years ago. The people of that time were like we are now, which is why we need courtrooms, judges, police, and lawyers. And we need the Lord who gave these rules, tailor-made for Israel and its citizens in that time and place, and for us also. Verse 1 makes crime expensive, which it is: "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 you steal, you ultimately pay for it...and the cost is going to be more than you expect or want.
Here in Verse 2 is another important price of criminal activity: "If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account." The term "breaking in" was actually "to dig" in the Hebrew language, suggesting the culprit was digging through a wall. The law is not so different today in most places: If you suddenly discover him in your house, you likely are not guilty if he is killed in the fight that will follow. Verse 3 is not quite the same: If he breaks in and "...if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft." Both verses involve a burglary, the first at night under cover of darkness when he hopes to get in and out without detection, but the second is in broad daylight when resistance by the property owner should be expected. If he hurts someone, there will be blood for blood, and if not, he must "surely make restitution," but if he has no money, he was to be "sold" into slavery for what he did—which is not unlike going to prison and being forced to make something like license plates.
Israel's wealth at that time was invested in flocks of domestic animals and Verse 4 recognizes that the key aim of a thief would be to steal such an animal. "If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double." To be "caught with the goods" was expensive.
At the time God made these rules known to them, the people of Israel had no fields or vineyards as yet, which makes Verse 5 especially interesting: "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." Verse 6 continues establishing rules where the need was in the future. They had no fields, yet in Verse 6, "If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution." It's a good rule and also a demonstration that God knew their future, along with yours and mine. We are to have faith in Him, our Provider, who always was, is right now, and is our future.
We should see in these verses that those of Israel owned no houses at that time, but several decades later, they would because God made it so. Verses 7-8: "If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. 8 If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property." Instead of two hotheads who likely would kill each other, the matter was to be decided by a not-involved third party or parties, deciding through law instead of anger. Many don't like the law, but the world would be worse without it, and note that honest, impartial judges are essential for Verses such as 9 to work: "For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor."
Verses 10-13 are very similar to borrowing your neighbor's rake and it breaks while in use...or you walk his dog and it's hit by a car...what should happen? "If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, 11 an oath before the Lord shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor’s property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is actually stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is all torn to pieces, let him bring it as evidence; he shall not make restitution for what has been torn to pieces." The one who kept the animal might be just hiding it, while claiming it is gone or dead, and so they must swear before the Lord and produce the corpse if there is one. All in that culture were to see that liars and thieves will be severely judged by the Lord.
We are expected to care for our neighbor's property as though it was our own, as seen in Verse 14: "If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution." There are often exceptions in the law and that's the case in Verse 15: "If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire." If the animal's owner was present, he was responsible to care for it, and if "hired," it is assumed the owner was already paid for its use. No further liability is indicated.
God loves marriage as an opportunity for us all to learn to love another, and receive love as well. It is intended as an exclusive, lifetime relationship between a man and a woman, helping us to catch a glimpse of God's holy intention for Christ and His church, as seen in Ephesians 5:22-29. Verses 16-17 present the human tendency to circumvent God's law: "If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins." This law was designed for that culture, in which the payment of a bride-price, a "dowry," was the norm. Romantic love was almost unheard of, and it should be noted that the divorce rate was extremely low, compared to just about everywhere today.
What offenses merit capital punishment? It's interesting to get God's viewpoint on what qualifies in Verses 18-20: "You shall not allow a sorceress to live. 19 Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. 20 He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed." If God is really our Creator, and He is, then we are His, and He has more rights over us than we have over ourselves. We were designed for Him and for His purposes. A "sorceress" is someone who steps in between you and God, claiming rights that are His. God intends that we will worship Him alone. We were created to worship Him, and He takes a breach in that area very seriously indeed. "Someone who lies with an animal" in a sexual manner is simply disgusting and most would want them out of polite society. God wants them off the earth altogether. In this permissive society, by the way, you have to wonder: What's next?
While reading the following verses, consider God's view of who might be called the "less fortunate" in our midst, as seen in Deuteronomy 10:17-19 and many other places—"The Lord your God...shows no partiality...He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing." And that truth about God is clearly seen in the rules stated here in Verses 21-22—"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not afflict any widow or orphan." And to let Israel know how absolutely serious God is about the disadvantaged in society, He continues in Verses 23-24: "If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24 and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless." Our faith in the Lord includes trust in Him that we can share with others and still have enough for our own needs.
The world's economy today rests largely on the banking industry and the stock market. Indebtedness makes the financial world "go around." But Verse 25 suggests that God is not so pleased with our loans and interest rates: "If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest." From our perspective, it's hard to imagine such a culture, but if you can get out of debt, it's a very good idea. Verses 26-27 continue, "If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious." God cares about you, but He also cares about your neighbor, the relative you don't like and the one who doesn't like you. In relation to the needy, He says, "I will hear him (or her), for I am gracious." Indeed our Lord is full of grace and He expects us to treat one another with loving concern.
To carelessly express God's Name as profanity places you at great risk, and to foolishly defame your leaders is a great mistake. The Law teaches, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in Vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless..." (Exodus 20:7). And Romans 13:1 is clear that "the authorities that exist are appointed by God"...even the bad ones. Verse 28 encourages us for our protection: "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people."
Scripture is clear that we are to give to God what is already His, from "the firstfruits of all your increase" (Proverbs 3:9). When you pay your bills, give to the Lord first...He will bless you. Verse 29 carries that thought: "You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage," and it continues by reminding Israel of their deliverance from Egypt and the protection placed on their firstborn: "The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me." The firstborn domestic animals of Israel were also spared in Egypt, and so in Verse 30: "You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me." And note that whatever you faithfully give to the Lord, much more will be given back to you, now and in eternity.
The chapter concludes with Verse 31: "You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs." You do not need to grab at every seeming opportunity that comes your way. If food appears right next to you, it's not essential to take it and run with it. If you find someone's money, you can safely return it to them. The lesson here is that you needn't get everything you can—you can have faith in the Lord who is watching out for each one of us.
Lord, I see that everything I have and am belongs to You. I trust in You for all that I need, recognizing that my ability to think and act is Your gift to me. Thank You, Lord. Please forgive my sins and help me to live a clean life, respecting the rights of others. I place my faith in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.