How God Says to Punish Theft

February 11, 2019 Series: Scripture: Exodus 22:1-15 by Chris Strevel

Restitution Far Superior to Imprisonment

In the wake of what seems like the regular bust-boom cycle of modern planned economies, no great insight is required to see that the rich get richer, and regular investors are left holding the bag. One often finds that the CEO’s of banks and corporations knew that the bubble was about to bust, sold their interests for huge profits, and then walked away to their next lucrative post. And then, jails are filled with a growing percentage of our population, usually for theft and drug-related crimes. Increasingly jails are operated by private companies that sign lucrative contacts with state and federal governments, on the condition that they keep the prison occupancy rates at an agreed upon level. The losers are those who are locked up with bad company, usually going from bad to worse. The winners are the companies that own the prisons. The victims of these crimes rarely receive restitution, for monies go first to attorneys’ fees, then to state penalties, and if anything is left, the victim might receive some compensation. God’s wisdom is far superior to man’s. His prescribed penalty for theft is personal restitution for what is stolen. Imagine applying this to market manipulators, inside traders, corporate CEO’s, and shady politicians – that they have to give all the money they stole back to individual shareholders, with varying percentages of restitution, depending upon the circumstances of their thievery.

Restitution is far superior to imprisonment. First and most importantly, this is God’s prescribed penalty for theft. When he is longer feared as the Judge of the all the earth, the wisdom of his law will be ignored. Justice will then inevitably respect persons, corporate shields, and social status. And since God owns everything, he alone can tell us how it is proper to penalize those who steal property that does not belong to him. Second, in a just society, the thief would compensate the victim, not the state. This effectively puts the state out of the crime business, other than as an executer of justice against evildoers. Third, the thief would have to deal directly with his victim. Crime is personal; it is human lives that are taken, property that is stolen, pain and injury to men that result from negligence. Restitution makes the crime personal for the thief; restitution is made not to a calendar on the wall but to a fellowman whom he has defrauded. In such a system, fourth, the thief would continue to work while making restitution. His crime would be personally painful and costly. What men need most is to be held personally responsible for their actions – from highest to lowest in society – for this teaches them that God holds them personally responsible. And finally, restitution removes the burden of the entire incarceration scheme from the backs of taxpayers and places the cost of crime upon those who commit it.

The American penal system is based upon three false and dangerous assumptions. First, loss of personal liberty is the greatest of all penalties. This is simply not true, as is evidenced by the fact that a significant percentage of the prison population is repeat offenders who are in and out of prison for life. They are slaves to their sins and seem to prefer, albeit perhaps not consciously, the security of imprisonment. Second, loss of personal liberty is a justice recompense for crime. Whose justice says this? That of a state claiming omniscience, perhaps, but certainly not the victims of theft, who would much prefer to have back what was taken from them. A third assumption is that men need to be rehabilitated rather than make restitution, which is based upon false psychology. Men are never rehabilitated by being placed in confinement with the criminal element of society. They are rehabilitated by being made to pay for their actions. If we would take but a small portion of what is currently required to house millions of inmates nationwide and used that money to set up restitution work programs, the dignity of men would rise, the pinch of crime be felt more personally, victims’ rights receive due prominence, and God honored as the true protector and owner of men and property.

But there is another side to these laws, a spiritual side, for the Lord is not only concerned with his honor in the world and the good order of the kingdom of his Son among men, but he is also teaching us at least two higher truths by these particular laws. First, everything we have belongs to him, and therefore, whether the property is our own or our neighbor’s, we are custodians of God’s generosity. Because men are dead in sin and blind to all but their own interests, much public business is temporally ruined and will be judged by the failure to submit to his authority on this point. You and I have nothing that we have not received by God’s generosity (1 Cor. 4:7), and therefore we must not claim anything as belonging to ourselves. The second truth is that good intentions do not free us from personal responsibility for our actions. Young and old, we hear this excuse: “I did not mean to do this or that.” God’s voice then comes, “Yes, but you did it.” Many will come to his judgment seat and says quite sincerely, “I did not mean to come here. I did not mean for my actions to have this result, for my life to come to this doom.” God’s voice as the righteous Judge will then come and say, “Yes, but you did come here, and your sins have found you out.” Let us remember this as we study these laws. Let parents remember this truth when raising children. Each one of us is personally accountable to God our Maker and Jesus our King. We shall soon stand before him. Are we ready to do so?

Restitution God’s Justice for Theft (vv. 1-4)

Multifold, Twofold, Slavery

The laws for punishing thieves are straightforward and just. If their equity were followed today, it would be revolutionary for most western penal codes and an eternal mercy for many thieves. Intentional thefts, thefts that are carried through so that the stolen merchandise is destroyed or killed, must be repaid by multiples that reflect the intrinsic value of the property stolen and its usefulness to the rightful owner. Oxen had many uses – food, labor, sacrifice – and thus they were to be restored at a rate of five to one, while a sheep with less use at a lesser rate of four to one. This heavy restitution is not at a fixed rate, for these laws are general guides. A man whose television is stolen should not expect to have restitution made at the same level as the man whose work truck and tools are stolen. If the thief still has the merchandise on hand, then the required restitution is only twofold (v. 4). As an additional incentive to confess and restore quickly, if the thief confesses and returns the stolen property on his own, he is required to make only one-fifth restitution (Lev. 6:4-5). We might expect – “and he must go to jail…” But a man may fall into thieving for a variety of reasons, and incarceration will not deal with his heart and will worsen his circumstances. The stolen goods must be returned; he must learn to work for his bread (Eph. 4:28). The thief must be made to feel the pinch of his crime and take personal responsibility for his actions. If he has nothing with which to repay, he is remanded to servitude, so that while he continues to work for his bread, he may accumulate what he needs to make restitution.

Death Likely for Nighttime Burglary

The question naturally raises, “What if a thief is caught breaking into a house, and the owner kills him? Should the homeowner be punished? Not if the death occurred at night. It is expected that the owner of the house will defend himself and his family. In the darkness of night, there is no time to ascertain whether or not the burglar is armed or intends bodily harm. “Shoot first” is the natural and justifiable response, and the homeowner is not to be punished. He has in effect become an authorized agent of God’s justice. If the break-in and death occurs in daylight, however, the owner, while he may defend himself and family if life is threatened, may not adopt a “shoot first” response. A range of legitimate responses would be to scare the intruder away, quickly ascertain the true bodily threat, and perhaps wound or capture the thief so as to stop the incident, but in daylight, full restitution is made: life for life. To shoot first, as if a thief’s life is of less value than the homeowner’s, is false and unjust. Self-defense is permissible, for life belongs to God; reckless, unnecessary killing is to be met with execution, for life belongs to God. He alone can tell us when it is proper to take life. This truth is so much at the heart of God’s law that, to take but one example, a recovery of Christian faith through public repentance would result in widespread social changes in views about warfare, abortion, and vehicular homicide. Life for life is God’s rule, so that we are all taught to treat human life carefully. And if it is a question between defending my property and taking a human life, at least in the daylight, life comes first. Our homes are not our private castles in which we mete out judgment as we please.

Negligence and Property Damage (vv. 5-6)

In agrarian societies, loose animals and field fires were serious issues. A season’s produce might be lost due to another man’s animal or flock breaking in and grazing, perhaps for days before being noticed. Fires were a regular threat to life and livelihoods. The laws envisioned in these verses are based upon the personal responsibility of the perpetrator, even if the cause of the damage was accidental. The idea of negligence or reasonable care is undoubtedly at the heart of these laws – that I am responsible on a daily basis to make sure my animals are properly penned, and if there is any loss, I have to make it good from the best of my produce (v. 5). If I start a fire, I must make sure it is completely extinguished, for if a spark starts a fire and property is damaged, I am responsible to make good the loss (v. 6). If I start a campfire, think I have put it out, but then it blazes up when I leave and burns down other homes, I am personally responsible. I am responsible if the exhaust from my factory causes cancer to the local inhabitants, or poisons the drinking water. A corporate veil is one of Satan’s deception – along with many forms of insurance – that hide from men a basic truth about God’s world. I am personally responsible for my actions. That I did not intend to cause damage, harm, injury, or death by my actions does not free me from the consequences of those actions. Because we live in a fallen world, there will be accidents, but the human agents of those accidents are responsible, not because they are necessarily evil or criminal, but because what my hand takes away, my hand must make good.

Men will scream at the bar of human justice the same excuses they plan to try before God’s tribunal on that awful day – I did not mean to; this is not fair. But we see that God teaches us by this law not to evade personal responsibility for our actions. Consequences are painful and difficult to bear. What if a business has to shut down because it was determined that the exhaust from its manufacturing caused infertility through the area, and the costs of restitution were so high that the business should not continue? Most manufacturing concerns have liability insurance, but one must seriously question whether this is helpful or actually encourages the laissez-faire attitude that God condemns. If a company owner was ignorant that his operations were causing health issues, then his punishment is much less than for criminal, willful theft of his neighbor’s health. In both cases, there must be restitution. This would make everyone much more careful in the operation of their business, quick to repair broken steps, honest in their chemical analyses, transparent in reporting, and vigilant in taking every precaution to preserve life and property. And if men were held accountable for human health damage and deaths caused by manufacturing byproducts, food processing methods, pesticides, or water treatment practices, that no corporate shield could protect liars from God’s life for life principle of justice, I dare say that we should soon see a great change throughout society. Profit would still be sought, but not at the expense of human life. God holds us responsible, and civil justice must do the same. 

Taking Care of a Neighbor’s Property (vv. 7-15)

In the days before banks and other storage options, your neighbor was your best option. If you had to travel and could not take movable property with you, entrusting it to your neighbor’s care was often your only option. Fallen men necessarily value their own property more highly than their neighbor’s, but God’s law of love and liberty directs us to have the same solicitude for his property as we do for our own. Thus, if entrusted property is found to be stolen, the restitution laws apply (v. 7). If the thief is not found, suspicion will necessarily fall upon the man to whom the property was entrusted (v. 8). What is the property owner to do? Appeal must be made to the judges, who must investigate, with the guilty party liable for restitution (v. 9). In the case of an entrusted animal, if it is lost, dies, or driven away without any witnesses seeing exactly what happened, then the man to whom the property was entrusted must swear before the Lord that he has not stolen his neighbor’s property. The property owner must accept this, trusting that God is a good property owner and knows what has happened. If the property trustee is a thief, the theft and the false oath he will be repay (vv. 10-11). If a theft has occurred, double restitution is required (v. 12). If the entrusted animal is torn, the property trustee shall bring witnesses (the carcass of the torn beast?) and shall not be obliged to make it good (v. 13).

If an animal is borrowed (or a lawnmower, personal loan, or automobile), and the animal die or the engine quits while it is being borrowed, then the borrower must make it good. It was hurt or died while he had possession of his neighbor’s property, and he is responsible. If the owner is present when the accident occurs, the borrower is not held liable, for the owner was there to witness that his property was not being abused (v. 14). If a man hires out a car and it quits running, he is not held liable, for he paid for the use of the vehicle (v. 15). The tendency of these laws is clear. First, we must be careful with our neighbor’s property and are responsible for it while it is in our care. The same is true of investment fund managers, who again are allowed to speculate, take their cut, sometimes defraud investors, and are rarely held accountable. But loaned money to banks and investment firms are subject to the same provisions. We must treat others’ goods and monies as if they were our own. The liability that ensures for lost, stolen, or borrowed property, if it were made personal, as God’s law intends, would certainly keep down some of the fraudulent dealings we see in our nation, especially with monetary speculation. No amount of professional certifications or insurance policies should preserve men and companies from being held personally liable for their mismanagement, carelessness, and outright theft. Those entrusted with the property of others should be the last to be taken care of in the event of market crashes. The world may have changed somewhat since God gave these laws, but justice has not. Men have not. The duties of love remain the same. Against the murderous lies of Cain, we are our brother’s keeper, and the keeper of his life, his goods, and his wellbeing. This is one of the most basic principles of love and a necessary foundation for justice. Otherwise, evolutionary biting and devouring and theft will be institutionalized among us, with justice bought and sold to the cleverest thief.

The Gospel Rehabilitation of Thieves: Zacchaeus (Luke 19:9)

Repentance Proved by Restitution

In the famous conversion of Zacchaeus, we have a living testimony to the power of repentance. Far, far from the law being oppressive, this converted tax collector wanted to obey the requirements of the law. He had grown rich from underhanded dealings, probably keeping two sets of books – one for the government and one for himself – and I do not think this practice has perished from the earth! Why did Zacchaeus stop doing business this way? He was confronted by the glory of Jesus Christ. He heard the gospel, and his thieving heart was confronted and convicted. His profit-idol was cast down. Zacchaeus invited Jesus to his house, where he learned more. His repentance was proven to be genuine by the restitution he pledged to make. He promised to return 400% of what he had taken. Some have said that since the return of the stolen money was voluntary, he was only required to repay 120% (Lev. 6:4-5). But Zacchaeus knew the blackness of his heart. He was not trying to see how little he could repay and how much he could keep for himself. True repentance is like this – not how much it must confess, return, forsake – but how much it may love, thank, adore, and dedicate. And our Lord’s response: “This day has salvation come to this house” (Luke 19:9-10).

Love Restores More Than Required

Already Zacchaeus showed his repentance by his submission to the limits of the law, but true repentance does not look at the minimum. When our hearts are renewed by the power of the Holy Ghost, like Zacchaeus, we want to do more. He pledged to give half of his goods to the poor. We should not think he was being magnanimous or playing to his audience or currying favor with the Lord. He loved his newfound Lord. As the early believers willingly sold property and goods to provide for their needy brothers and sisters, so Zacchaeus, being released from deadly love of money, began to do what he had never done before. He looked around to those in need. Remember that this 50% would have been from what was left after he made the fullest possible restitution. And our Lord commended him for both – obedience to the law and freewill love from the heart. They are not opposed, as many say. Had Zacchaeus only given the 50% from his abundance, his gift would have been false charity, his largesse swollen by his ill-gotten gains, like many notable philanthropists of our day – making a bundle by questionable means, and then generously giving away what was not rightfully theirs to give in the first place! Not Zacchaeus: his generosity was legitimate because it sprang from obedience to God’s holy word. His love was legitimate because he first made restitution. He made many poor people happy. Even more, he humbly gained our Lord’s approbation, and is even now with him, with a true crown upon his head. This is the power of the gospel – it brings us face to face with our sins, shows us our only remedy in the blood of Jesus Christ, and then empowers our hearts to obey God by the indwelling Spirit.

Of all the positive lessons we take from the wisdom of God’s justice pertaining to restitution, perhaps the most eternal is taking seriously our personal responsibility to right our wrongs, pay for our mistakes, and accept responsibility for our actions regardless of our intentions. Consider our words – does it matter that we do not intend to hurt, when we actually do hurt? And yet, how many run roughshod over the feelings of others, even belittling those feelings, all the while saying things like, “Well, I cannot help the way you took what I said.” These laws on theft teach us a different lesson. Whatever our intentions, we are responsible for our words, accidents we cause, losses that others incur through our carelessness. What is most dangerous is that we take our responsibility evading ways straight into heaven, or we would if we were allowed to do so. It is not my fault. I did not mean to do it. God cuts right through that and teaches us to man-up, as they say, not arrogantly, but with great meekness. He holds us accountable for our words and deeds – every idle word, every careless hearing of his word, the smallest action. And his law is designed, therefore, to get us ready for his summons to the great assize in heaven.

Many think that because Jesus Christ has died for our sins, that no further accounting is to be made, but this is not the teaching of Scripture. There is a judgment of reward. The works of some will be burnt up (1 Cor. 3:15), although they will be saved. God’s children widely differ in their fruitfulness. The Lord bestows his grace and talents as he pleases. And yet, this is said to inspire us to faithfulness, to devote our heart to our Savior, so that whether he has given many or a few gifts, whether our measure of faith is great or small, we may do all to his name. Perhaps the first step to greater faithfulness is to take personal responsibility and to yield to God’s restitution justice. Begin in your homes and relationships within the church. Begin by taking serious stock of what you are doing with what the Lord has given to you. He has given you gifts on loan, and he will expect an accounting. Let us love him and use his gifts to promote his glorious gospel of grace throughout the world. Whether we have been thieves – time, money, gifts – let us begin to repay what we owe, with joy, like Zacchaeus – and enjoy our Lord’s salvation.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. What are some ways that restitution is superior to imprisonment – specifically for theft crimes?

2. How does the distinction in penalty in vv. 2-3 teach us to treat all human life carefully?

3. Who is responsible for accidents? Implication for business owners? Chemical plants?

4. What must be our remarkable attitude toward our neighbor’s property?

5. How was Zacchaeus’ repentance proven to be legitimate?

6. How do these laws get us ready for the final judgment?

7. How should these laws inspire us to faithfulness?



An Eye for An Eye

February 4, 2019 Series: Scripture: Exodus 21:12-36 by Chris Strevel

If you walk your dog in the park, and he runs away and bites someone, what is your obligation? If your dog kills a child, what should happen? How should the law treat those who kidnap or lure young girls and boys to become sex slaves? If a drunk driver strikes a vehicle carrying a pregnant mother, and she and her unborn child dies, how many persons have died and what should happen to the drunk driver? If a child wanders into a fenceless back yard with a swimming pool, falls in and drowns, what should happen to the owner of the property? These are not theoretical questions, for the news is filled with these kinds of tragedies. The laws God gave to Moses deal with these exact issues, but our justice is increasingly determined by political allegiances and what is called social justice, which is usually mob vengeance and covetousness masquerading as true justice. In the church, we should know better, for God has given us his word to guide us. He is concerned about our life in this world. Our founding Christian fathers understood this, and many of their original colonial charters incorporated the provisions found in these very lies. Why did they do what today is viewed as blundering prejudice and religious bigotry?

It was not because they thought that the church should rule society (ecclesiocracy) or that there was no separation between church and state. They read the Bible comprehensively. Church and state have separate and distinct missions, governments, and sanctions, but each is to see itself as being under God’s authority. Thus, they understood that God gave these social and case laws to Moses as a guide for all nations (Deut. 4:6-9). Our wisdom is to learn humbly in his school of justice. It is not that our laws must conform in every detail to what he gave Israel, but the principles of justice, the meting out of punishment, belongs to him. He is the only Governor of the nations (Ps. 22:27), and he expects “the powers that be” to function as his servants, or they rob him of his honor and assume to themselves an authority he has never given to them. We are not free to make up our own version of justice. The earth is his; all the nations belong to him. Jesus Christ is now the King of every king, and the Lord of every Lord (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 1:5). Earth will never be heaven, but he is the Righteous King and will establish his righteous peace and justice on the earth (Jer. 23:5). The church in the West once believed this, but we have abandoned the wisdom of our fathers. And justice is fled far away because truth is fallen down in the streets (Isa. 59:14). Let us pray the Lord will have mercy and revive us again.

God’s Principle for Justice

The Principle Stated (vv.24-25)

When it comes to crime and punishment in life and property issues, the justice God requires of us is stated in vv. 24-25: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. This is sometimes called the lex talionis, which means the “law of the same,” and by extension, the “law of retribution.” Some say “retaliation,” but the intent is not personal vengeance, as if justice is exercising restraint when God says “punish like this.” This principle is often dismissed as barbarism, but it was very advanced for its time, when minor offenses and theft was punishable by debt. It remains very advanced today! Until not too long ago, theft of a sheep was punished with death, and this was truly barbaric, even in merry old England. God is much wiser. He says in effect, the punishment must fit the crime. Penalties should not go past the crime, for then you are retaliating, and justice becomes personal or political vengeance, as we see today. Thus, it is unjust for a jury to award vast sums of money to a plaintiff for injuries he receives from misusing lawn equipment or making personal lifestyle decisions in the use of products that he knew might harm him. When justice is aimed at making the rich pay, whether rich men or rich corporations, Lady Justice does not have her eyes covered and her sword pointing down to the Bible. Instead, she has a smirk on her face and dollar signs in her eyes. This is not God’s justice but the tendency of man’s, especially where there has been some gospel light that was abandoned in favor of deadly Enlightenment theories of man, society, and justice.

The Principle Maligned (Matthew 5:38-45)

Some in the church bring forward our Savior’s word to denounce the lex talionis as a relic of more primitive times, but this betrays great misunderstanding of the times in which he lived and the intent of his words. The Pharisees utilized Exodus 21:24-25 as justification for personal vengeance. You could love your friends, but hate your enemies – for they hate you. Their rule was, “Do unto others as they do unto you, and try to do it before they do it to you!” If someone accuses you of a sin, you should defend yourself by hurling counter-accusations at them – as we see in many marriages and church courts today! Thus, his “you have heard that it was said” no more renounces the authority of God’s law in this case as when he used the same language to preface his teaching about the 6th or 7th commandments. How could he whose delight was God’s law (Ps. 40:6-8) and who had a few minutes earlier upheld its authority until the end of the world (Matt. 5:17-20)), almost with his next breath do away with it? He did not. He recovered God’s precious word. The lex talionis is not justification for personal vengeance. Its sphere is public justice, the upholding of God’s authority over life and property. In our personal relationships, we are to forgive one another and cover sins with love, extending mercy as we have been shown mercy. Our enemies may hate us, but we are to love them. If they treat us meanly and unjustly, we are to do them good and extend every courtesy to them, like our Father treats his enemies, that we may be his children. In matters affecting public justice, God’s principle for justice remains clear. The punishment must fit the crime; true justice keeps its eye upon his holiness and authority over us, and it is not to be the puppet of the political issues of the day or respect persons based upon social standing, power, or wealth.

Crime and Punishment (vv. 12-27)

Murder and Manslaughter (vv. 12-14)

God makes a distinction between willful murder and unintentional killing, or manslaughter. A life has been taken in both cases, and justice must be meted out, but the penalty is different. Willful murder must be punished by death. That we have added all kinds of other steps before murder becomes capital murder is a perversion of justice. A murder must be put to death. God owns life. All murder is a direct attack against him as the Lord of life and an attack against his image in man. Allowing a murderer to rot away in prison is not justice but man yielding to other concerns rather than fearing and obeying God. Nothing can deliver the willful murderer from being put to death – not even holding on the horns of the altar, as Adonijah did when he tried to save himself from Solomon (1 Kings 1:50-51). The murderer might be forgiven for his crime, but God’s mercy upon his soul does not deliver him on earth from criminal liability for his actions. If the murderer seeks refuge at God’s very altar, he must be dragged away and put to death. The land is defiled by the shedding of blood. All the earth belongs to God and his Christ, and therefore this remains God’s will.

If a man kills another man accidentally, the land is still defiled, which is the reason he must flee to the nearest city of refuge (Num. 35; Josh. 20:2-6). There his case will be heard and the avenger of blood, likely a close family member, must not kill him as long as he is there. If it turns out that the killing was indeed willful murder, the elders of the city must give up the man to the avenger. If he is not guilty of willful murder, he must remain in the city of refuge until the high priest dies – likely a symbol of the death of the great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood alone cleanses men of their sins. Thus, all taking of human life, willful murder or manslaughter, is serious. If a man was innocent of willful murder, his life was nonetheless fundamentally altered. In our day, perhaps one application of the manslaughter provision is that if the killing is proven to be truly accidental, there should be weeping and prostration in the community, public confessions of faith in Jesus Christ, and appropriation of his blood through community leadership-led prayer for the forgiveness of the community.

Parricides, Kidnappers, and Parent Haters (vv.15,17; Matt. 15:4)

Objection is often given to studying these laws, that we now live in a secular world and that the church has more pressing concerns. Even one sermon on such topics is a wasted hour. What? Do we not wish at least to know how what course and standard our Savior’s justice in the earth will follow? Will there be any other standard for him whose delight is his Father’s law than that which he gave once to Moses (Deut. 4:6-9)? Admittedly, only a thankful people made righteous by God’s grace in Christ and wanting to please him in their social arrangements will take this part of God’s word seriously, and let us pray that day is not too far off. Perhaps the Romans were not that barbaric after all, for whom the prescribed punishment for killing a parent was to sew up the killer in a leather bag, together with a cock, a dog, and a viper, and then throw the bag in the nearest river. Parent-killing is God-killing. If his authority is not respected in the home, it will be respected nowhere else. God prescribes death for the parricide. The same penalty is assigned to the one who curses his father or mother – not a curse uttered in a moment of frustration but a long-standing despising of parental authority, harsh outbursts against parents, and refusal to listen to their commands and entreaties. This punishment is aimed at older, adult children, as later legislation will make clear (Deut. 21:18-21). God will have parents honored. Our Savior affirmed this very penalty against the Pharisees, who thought nothing of dishonoring parents (Matt.15:4). The apostles said the same (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2). Bitter is the alternative to God’s family structure – parenting by pleading and compromise, pacifying through entertainment, and controlling through medication.

As for kidnappers, death is the penalty. This would apply to the slave trade of the 18-19th centuries, which brought such death and destruction to our society. Perhaps many died from 1861-1865 because God inflicted us with a national death penalty, North and South, for our perpetuation of this abominable practice. And if we want to end sex-trafficking, we should heed God’s wisdom – public executions. O, but we have become too enlightened for that. The death penalty is barbaric. It does not deter. God is not as interested in deterrence, although it will deter, as in upholding his authority over men and nations, as well as protecting the most vulnerable, usually children, from the clutches of evil men. True barbarism is when men prefer their versions of justice to that of the Lord of heaven and earth. The lives even of those who do not know him belong to him. Human life is not cheap but dear to him, but our lives become cheapened and precarious when we do not yield ourselves to be governed by him.

Cases of Personal Injury (vv. 18-21)

Men sometimes fight and inflict bodily injury upon one another. If a fight results in death, then death is the penalty for the murderer. If a non-lethal injury results, then the attacker must pay his victim for the loss of his time, i.e., the wages that he would otherwise have earned. Punitive damages are unjust and vengeful. Servants are also protected from violent masters. It is assumed that the master has a right to corporally correct his servant, but if he kills his servant, he must be put to death. If the servant does not die immediately but later, then the loss of the servant’s life is a pecuniary loss to the master, and he must bear it as his punishment. This may seem unjust, for even if the servant dies later, it would seem that a murder has been committed. God respects the property rights of the master, and it is assumed not that a slave’s life is worth less than other lives, for this would go again v. 20. It is assumed that there may be circumstances in the death of the slave – already existing health conditions, poor care for his wounds, as well as the fact that few masters would intentionally kill their servants – that make the loss of his servant sufficient punishment for his cruelty. And since in Israel the master-servant relationship was voluntary, what man would engage himself to be the servant of a master reputed for violent dealings. Thus, the master’s entire livelihood would be ruined. By this law, violent masters were given a warning, for if they directly killed a servant, they would be put to death. And if they chose to correct corporally, they must do so with moderation – much like a father must not provoke his children to anger or frustrate them by his harsh ways (Eph. 6:4). Masters, like fathers, were to exercise tender regard to their servants – a far cry from Greek and Roman and Caribbean slavery, and, sadly, a far cry from today’s impersonal corporatism that treats employees like cattle.


Mothers and Unborn Children (vv. 22-23)

This law also exposes the unfeeling barbarism that many in our day have toward unborn children. God, however, considers unborn life to be life. If two men fight and a pregnant woman is stuck so that her child is born prematurely, the wife’s husband may lay upon the assailant a monetary penalty as determined by the judges. If her unborn child dies, assumedly either in the womb or after birth as a result of the blow, then the assailant shall be put to death – life for life. The implications of this law are profound for our permissive abortion practices. First, the unborn child is a human life and comes under legal protection. No trimester is delineated, which is a but a clever way for Satan to murder by deceiving men into thinking they are wiser than God in knowing when life begins. Second, by application, an abortion doctor would be subject to the death penalty in a godly society, as would the woman who intentionally kills her unborn child. That so many think this is unjust and ludicrous only exposes that Satan has deceived so many millions, who in their thinking upon this point have more in common with the eugenics murderers in the early 20th century, population control devils, and the evils of Stalin and Hitler. When men embrace evolutionary views of man, in denying God, they kiss the devil. His dance is death. Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools – murdering fools (Rom. 1:22).

Servants Protected from Violence (vv. 26-27)

A servant’s life belongs to God, not to his earthly master, who has but a claim upon his work, not upon his life. The additional laws protecting the servant’s life and his ability to provide for himself show God’s tender regard for the most vulnerable in society. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, apply not only to the life of the unborn child, over whose life God proclaims himself a vigilant protector and avenger, but also to the servant. If a man strikes the eye of his maid or manservant, and the eye is lost, the servant goes free. The same penalty ensures for knocking out his tooth. Are eyes and teeth equivalent? No, but the master’s violence is equally restrained and punished. The tendency of this law put all masters on alert – treat your servants leniently and carefully. It is difficult enough that they are servants, but make their burdens easier to bear – for love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10). From this we learn that those who have authority and legal right in the labor of others must nevertheless treat their servants or employees with dignity and kindness. Servitude is not degrading if masters treat their servants with gentleness, and servants obey their master unto the Lord, as the gospel teaches us to do (1 Tim. 6:1-2; Tit. 2:9).

God’s Protection of Man’s Life (vv.28-36)

When Your Animal Injures or Kills Another (vv. 28-32)

When men turn from God’s law, their society becomes truly dystopian. Thus, a man who kills a rodent or a dog is treated with contempt and sometimes punished with fines or imprisonment for cruelty. Behold, the logical conclusion of evolution – step on an ant, go to jail. But if a dog wounds or kills a child or bystander, the owner pleads for his animal to be isolated for a time and then released, and treats his animals as if it were a human being. Surely, a “merciful man kindly regards the life of his animal “(Prov. 12:10), so that cruelty to animals, while not criminal, is certainly evidence of a corrupted nature. But if a man’s ox (or his dog) kills a man, the animal must be put to death. The owner is not punished (v. 28). But if it is known that the ox was prone to gore, and if the owner was told but did not restrain him, then that owner must be put to death; he is accessory to murder (v. 29). He might save his life by paying an agreed upon price, which must have been very high (v. 30). If the victim was a family member, the same penalty was required (v. 31).  If a servant was gored by the animal, the animal must be killed, although the owner could be recompensed for the life of his animal – assuming that the provisions of v. 29 were not in play. The purpose of this law is to teach us that we are responsible for the lives of those around us, and we are responsible for the injuries caused by our animals: life for life, tooth for tooth, eye for eye. One unpopular application of this law would pertain to dog breeds known for violence. If someone must own one of these dogs, then he must keep it carefully penned. If the dog breaks free and bites, the owner must pay. If his particular dog is known for escaping and attacking, and he is warned but does not restrain the animals, and it does further damage, he may be liable with his life.

Preventive Measures (vv. 33-36)

In Egypt, the life of an Israelite was cheap. Throw the baby boys in the river! Beat the slaves! The Lord taught his people a very different lesson, and one that should have encouraged their hearts, that he holds precious the life even of a slave. And this lesson extends to our immovable property. If you dig a pit, cover it up (v. 33). If you do not, and an animal falls into it, the owner has to pay damages (v. 34). If a man’s ox caused injury to his neighbor, the animal must be sold and the proceeds split between the owner and the injured (v. 35). If the ox was known to gore, and the owner does not pen it carefully, if it kills another man’s ox, then he must cover his neighbor’s loss. Most of us no longer own large livestock, but some of us do not repair our rickety steps, or do not properly fence or secure animals or power equipment, or do not lock up our firearms. We must love one another more fervently, and a large part of our love is removing potential dangers to others. This does not justify government bureaucracies creating a host of laws to prevent potential dangers, and then penalizing those who do not comply. God’s law is more personal than this, even in its social functions. Each one of us has the duty to regard life as his gift, to preserve it as far as we can from injury or death, and to take personal responsibility for any consequences that might occur as a result of our negligence.

 Profiting from God’s Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. How do these laws reveal the need for a clear, objective standard for civil justice?

2. What is the lex talionis? What does it teach about God’s principle for civil justice?

3. How did Jesus correct the Pharisees’ abuse of the lex talionis? What did he not do with the principle?

4. What is God’s prescribed punishment for murder? For what reasons?

5. How would society change/improve by obeying Exodus 21:15,17, and Matthew 15:4? Why is this so shocking for us to consider?

6. What happened to a master that kills his servant? Implications????

7. How does God’s law view an unborn baby?

8. How does God’s law protect servants? Warn and restrain masters?

9. What are the implications of the ox-goring laws for pet ownership, i.e., dog bites, mauling, etc.?