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Deeper Commentary


Exo 22:1 If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it, or sells it; he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep-
We note that the Mosaic law had no concept of prisons or custodial sentences, even though this was practiced in the surrounding world. We think of Joseph in prison in Egypt. God wanted issues to be decided immediately, forgiven and resolved- and "play on". And this is reflected in the law of Moses. Prison seems not to really reform many people. And that is why we are to immediately reconcile with our brother. 

Exo 22:2 If the thief is found breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt of bloodshed for him-
The original text here is difficult. GNB suggests: "If a thief is caught breaking into a house at night and is killed, the one who killed him is not guilty of murder. But if it happens during the day, he is guilty of murder". The idea would then be that if a man kills a thief while he is in the act of breaking in to a home, this is not to be counted as murder. But if some time passes and then the owner as an act of revenge murders the thief, this is seen by God differently. Surely this reflects the fact that God is more lenient to sins committed in hot blood than those more premeditated. Yet on the other hand, sin is sin. His law, as law, can appear to make no distinction between sins of passion and premeditated sins, if the same act is committed in the end. However, this and other examples indicate God’s willingness to concede to human weakness, and recognize sins of passion more leniently than others. And our judgment in ecclesial life should reflect this too.

Exo 22:3 If the sun has risen on him, guilt of bloodshed shall be for him; he shall make restitution-
See on :2. There was perhaps the possibility of making restitution with money even when guilty of murder.

If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft-
This presumably speaks of the thief, if he survived; whereas the first part of the verse speaks of the person who killed a thief.

Exo 22:4 If the stolen property is found in his hand alive, whether it is ox, donkey, or sheep, he shall pay double-
The way God restored double to Job at the end has echoes of how a thief had to restore double (Ex. 22:2-4)- as if God in His love for Job wished to show Himself as having been somehow ‘guilty’ for taking away from Job what He had? Is. 40:2, in the context of Israel's punishment by the Babylonians, says that their judgment had been double what it ought to have been; and yet Ezra says it was less than the promised proportionate recompense for their sins. Here we have the utter, inconsistent grace of God; almost taking guilt for punishing them (cp. how God likewise takes the blame in Is. 54:6-8, as if He had forsaken Israel as a sweet innocent young wife).

Exo 22:5 If a man causes a field or vineyard to be eaten, and lets his animal loose, and it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field, and from the best of his own vineyard-
There was to be no excuse in claiming that an animal had done this, and not the owner. The abiding principle is that we are not to manipulate others of diminished responsibility, such as an animal in this case, and claim we did nothing wrong.

Exo 22:6 If fire breaks out, and catches in thorns so that the stacks of grain, or the standing grain, or the field are consumed; he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution-
"Breaks out" implies it gets out of control, burning beyond the intended area within one property, catching thorns on fire and thereby burning up harvested grain in time of harvest. The principle is that we may unintentionally begin something which then ignites a third party, the thorns, and this then causes huge damage. The fire in the standing grain had in fact been kindled by the man who first kindled the fire in his own territory. What we begin can have huge repercussions, because it is spread further through a third party. And we must bear some responsibility, even if the consequences were not envisaged by us initially. Thus a relationship breakdown between two people within their own home may ignite another person, who in turn spreads the breakdown on a massive scale, with large scale damage. And thus many church divisions have come about. 

Exo 22:7 If a man delivers to his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it is stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief is found, he shall pay double-
But Zacchaeus paid back four times what he had stolen (Lk. 19:8). The existence of God’s law shouldn’t inculcate a spirit of minimalism in us, doing the letter of the law and no more. Rather if we perceive the principles behind it, we will do far over and above what the letter of the law requires. 

Exo 22:8 If the thief isn’t found, then the master of the house shall come near to God, to find out if he hasn’t put his hand to his neighbour’s goods-
"God" is the elohim, the judges or priests who represented God. In the context of these situations which required a yes or no decision, it could be that the urim and thummim were used. These two stones in the breastplate flashed out binary answers to requests, so truly the case came "to God".  We note how the law given in the wilderness envisaged Israel soon living in houses in the promised land.

Exo 22:9 For every matter of trespass, whether it be for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any kind of lost thing, about which one says, ‘This is mine’, the cause of both parties shall come before God. He whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbour-
‘God’ here refers to the judges or elders; to come before God’s representative is to come before God. Hence GNB "the two people claiming the property shall be taken to the place of worship". LXX "according to every injury alleged... and every alleged loss".

Exo 22:10 If a man delivers to his neighbour a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep, and it dies or is injured, or driven away, no man seeing it-
This again is a commandment particularly relevant to the infamous quarrels between herdsmen, which would have been common in the wilderness journey. For Israel left Egypt with much cattle, whom they herded through the desert. We think of the various conflicts which the patriarchs were involved in. God shows Himself absolutely aware of and sensitive to such very common human situations. Truly man is not alone, but God knows and is aware. And seeks to guide us through them.

Exo 22:11 the oath of Yahweh shall be between them both, whether he hasn’t put his hand to his neighbour’s goods; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution-
The initial intention was that Israel would so fear Yahweh that an oath before Him was assumed to be sufficient. But the Lord Jesus saw that there was a strong tendency to swear falsely, and so He urges us not to take such oaths, but to make our "yes" or "no" mean just that. This was in fact demanding an even higher level of truthfulness.

Exo 22:12 But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner-
The man who had his neighbour's animal with him was responsible for it if it were stolen, but not if it were killed by wild animals (:13). This might imply that the person was held responsible for finding the thief and getting restitution from him.

Exo 22:13 If it is torn in pieces, let him bring it for evidence. He shall not make good that which was torn-
The brothers allowed Joseph to be stolen away (Gen. 40:15), and then presented his garment as evidence that he had been "torn in pieces" by wild animals (s.w. Gen. 37:33; 44:28). So again we see that the essence of the Mosaic law was known well before, but was now being codified formally.

Exo 22:14 If a man borrows anything of his neighbour’s, and it is injured, or dies, its owner not being with it, he shall surely make restitution-
We see the internal consistency of the Biblical record in the concern over the loss of the axe head (2 Kings 6:5), which was a situation directly envisaged in the law here.  See on :15.

Exo 22:15 If its owner is with it, he shall not make it good. If it is a leased thing, it came for its lease-
The requirement to restore the lost or damaged borrowed item (:14) was only if the owner wasn't present. If the owner were present when it was lost or broken, then he would know that the item had not been stolen. It was the kind of loss which anyone who hires things out must be prepared to bear. The intention of :14 was therefore to cut off any possibility of suspicion that the item had not in fact been genuinely lost, but rather had been stolen. By all means, we too should seek to develop situations whereby the possibility of suspicion is removed.

Exo 22:16 If a man entices a virgin who isn’t pledged to be married, and lies with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife-
Here again we have a law which spoke directly to the personal conscience of the individual Israelite. If a young couple slept with each other and she didn't get pregnant, then it was only up to their conscience as to whether they were obedient to this. We notice that there was no unduly heavy condemnation for consensual premarital sex. That is not at all to justify it, but we should note that the New Testament's heavy condemnation of "fornication", Greek pornos, is not generally referring to this. Rather is the reference often to the casual sex which accompanied idol worship. 

Exo 22:17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins-
The amount of this dowry isn't defined. The father would have to set the amount; but if he had refused to let the man marry his daughter, it would surely have had to be fairly small. See on :16. 

Exo 22:18 You shall not allow a sorceress to live-
The feminine form shows that a particular kind of female sorceress was in view. "To live" is literally "to revive, to live again". If the idea was simply that she must be killed, then the phrase used in :19 would be used. Hence LXX "Ye shall not save the lives of sorcerers". It seems something specific was in view which may not be immediately apparent to us.

Exo 22:19 Whoever has sex with an animal shall surely be put to death-
Such was God's desire to teach that we are made in His image, and must not act as animals, bringing ourselves down to their level as if we are equal only to them. So the message for us is that we are to respect ourselves as made in God's image, and not act on a purely animal level.

Exo 22:20 He who sacrifices to any god, except to Yahweh only, shall be utterly destroyed-
"Utterly destroyed" is haram, the word used for devotion to Yahweh. The person who didn't want to devote themselves to Yahweh was to be devoted to Yahweh through execution. So we see the choice which remains before us for all generations- to either totally devote ourselves to Yahweh, or be devoted to Him through the second death of condemnation at the last day. 

Exo 22:21 You shall not wrong an alien, neither shall you oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt-
Israel were to be motivated in kindness to others by the recollection that they had been redeemed from Egypt; the memory of our redemption through the waters of baptism [cp. the Red Sea] should have the same effect upon us.

Exo 22:22 You shall not take advantage of any widow or fatherless child-
"Take advantage" is the word used of how the Egyptians had afflicted the Hebrews (Ex. 1:11,12). Repeatedly, Israel were taught that they were to remember their redemption from affliction; and redeem others from their affliction on that basis, and never to afflict people as Egypt had done to them.

Exo 22:23 If you take advantage of them at all, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry-
As discussed on :22, "take advantage" is the word used of how the Egyptians had afflicted the Hebrews (Ex. 1:11,12). And God had heard the cry of the afflicted Hebrews. It is absolutely natural that the abused seek to abuse. But God is here asking His people to consciously break that natural cycle, and to not abuse others even if we have been abused. Only the experience of grace can motivate us to do this.

Exo 22:24 and My wrath will grow hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless-
We see here God's extreme anger against all taking advantage of others (:22,23). And there are many ways in which we can do this; by not paying bills on time, or paying low wages to workers. What we do to others in this way will in some form have to be our experience.

Exo 22:25 If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor; neither shall you charge him interest-
In some ways, Moses became more demanding in Deuteronomy, whilst at the same time there emphasizing grace and love. Thus under the Law, Israel were not to lend to their poor brother upon usury (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:37); but in Deuteronomy Moses forbids them to do this to any Israelite (Dt. 23:19).  

Israelites weren’t to lend to each other for interest. Yet Jesus tells the rejected man that he should’ve done at least this (Mt. 25:7)- as if to say that the man should’ve done at least something with what God had given him, even if it wasn’t the ideal, and even if it technically infringed God’s law. Indifference and selfish laziness with God’s gifts is therefore highlighted as being so reprehensible to Jesus.

Exo 22:26 If you take your neighbour’s garment as guarantee of a loan, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down,-
Moses does not repeat every single commandment in the Law. Rather are there several themes of Moses in Deuteronomy presented. His choice of which ones he does repeat indicates his feelings towards Israel. His sensitivity towards the weakest and poorest of Israel comes out in this. He was reaching the spirit of the Lord Jesus, who said that the weakest of his brethren represented him (Mt. 25:40 Gk.). Thus Moses stresses how they were not to go into the house of a poor man to take back his pledge (Dt. 24:10); Moses could enter into the sense of shame and embarrassment of the poor man when a richer man enters his home. The Law in Exodus 22:26 did not stipulate that the house of the poor man should not be entered; by making this point in his farewell speech, Moses was showing his sensitivity, his ability now to enter into the feelings of the poorest of God's people. Indeed, the whole passage in Deuteronomy (Dt. 24:6-17) about pledges is quite an expansion upon what the Law actually said in Ex. 22. And this from a man who could have been the king of  Egypt, who could have had the world. What marvellous similarity with our Lord! 

It was forbidden by the Law to keep a man’s outer garment overnight (Ex. 22:26,27). But the Lord taught whilst the law was still in operation that we should be willing to give it up, and even offer it (Mt. 5:40). The threatened man could have quoted the Law and kept his clothing. But the Lord bids us go to a higher level, beyond using God’s law to uphold our own rights. And in this He raises a vital if difficult principle: Don’t always enforce what Biblical rights you have against your brother. Don’t rush to your own defence and justification even if Scripture is on your side. Live on the level of true love and non-resistance to evil.


Exo 22:27 for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What would he sleep in? It will happen, when he cries to Me, that I will hear, for I am gracious-
Israel had cried to God in Egypt, and had been heard, by His grace. And they were to respond likewise. They were to give nobody any reason to cry to God because of how they were being oppressed by their brothers. And yet many are those who have cried to God in pain at how their brethren have treated them, through excluding them or judging them. God is extremely sensitive to the suffering of the abused; He could imagine the poor man shivering at night because his warm jacket was being held by his creditor.

Lev. 25:38 reasons that because of Israel's experience of the Red Sea redemption, therefore they were to have a generous spirit to their brother. Because the Egyptians were hard taskmasters, and Israel had been graciously saved from them, therefore they were not to be hard on each other (Lev. 25:40). If the oppressed [as Israel were oppressed] cry out unto you [as Israel cried out for their affliction], you must hear them, otherwise God will hear them and punish you, as if you are the Egyptian taskmaster (Ex. 22:24-27). Indeed, the whole Law of Moses is shot through with direct and indirect reference to the Red Sea experience. It was as if this was to be the motivator for their obedience and upholding of the culture of kindness which the Law sought to engender (Lev. 23, 24; Dt. 17:7; 24:19-24). And our experience of redemption from this world ought to have the same effect.

Exo 22:28 You shall not blaspheme God, nor curse a ruler of your people-
Clearly the elohim, rendered "God", were the rulers of the people. The two are here placed in parallel. Paul understood 'cursing' as threatening a person with Divine judgment and calling them names like 'hypocrite' (Acts 23:3,5).

Exo 22:29 You shall not delay to offer from your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. You shall give the firstborn of your sons to Me-
"The outflow" refers to liquid products. When you perceive an opportunity to do the Lord's service, respond immediately. Say yes straight away. See it as another opportunity for "redeeming the time". This is a major Biblical theme. Israel were not to delay in offering their firstfruits to God (Ex. 22:29), lest their intentions weren't translated into practice. The disciples immediately left the ship, simply put their nets down and followed (Mt. 4:20,22); Matthew left his opened books and queue of clients in the tax office and walked out never to return (Lk. 5:17,18 implies). There is a marked theme in the NT of men and women hearing the Gospel and immediately responding by accepting baptism.

Exo 22:30 You shall do likewise with your cattle and with your sheep. Seven days it shall be with its mother, then on the eighth day you shall give it to Me-
This implies that there would be local sanctuaries (as Ex. 20:24); the intention was not that they should travel up to Jerusalem every time an animal gave birth to its firstborn. Animals often died after birth, and it was only by the eighth day that it was apparent whether or not it was deformed. This was to remind them that they were to offer the best to God, and not to offer that which cost them nothing (2 Sam. 24:24).

Exo 22:31 You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh that is torn by animals in the field. You shall cast it to the dogs-
This command wasn’t only for hygienic reasons. God wished to encourage His people to have a healthy work ethic, not taking short cuts, but eating animals they had raised themselves for that purpose. We live in a society where laziness and trying to live for free has become almost an art form. We cannot ultimately get around the curse, that we shall eat only as a result of the sweat of our own labour. We have to accept our humanity and our fallen condition, looking for the lifting of the curse in God’s future Kingdom.