|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
22; 1 - 31 Judicial laws. - The people of God should ever be ready to show mildness and mercy, according to the spirit of these laws. We must answer to God, not only for what we do maliciously, but for what we do heedlessly. Therefore, when we have done harm to our neighbour, we should make restitution, though not compelled by law. Let these scriptures lead our souls to remember, that if the grace of God has indeed appeared to us, then it has taught us, and enabled us so to conduct ourselves by its holy power, that denying ungodliness and wordly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, Titus 2:12. And the grace of God teaches us, that as the Lord is our portion, there is enough in him to satisfy all the desires of our souls.
Verse 1. - If a man shall steal an ox. The principal property possessed by the Israelites in the wilderness was their cattle; whence this occurs to the legislator as the thing most likely to be stolen. It required more boldness in a thief to carry off an ox than a sheep or goat; and so the crime was visited with a heavier penalty.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep,.... In which the substance of men chiefly lay in those times, and particularly the people of Israel, who were now come out of Egypt, with their flocks and herds, and these lying near together, were the more liable to be stolen; and hence also the laws in the preceding chapter concerning oxen and damages done by them, and oxen and sheep are only mentioned; perhaps chiefly because used in sacrifice, as well as serviceable for other things; not but that stealing other cattle and other things were criminal and forbidden, and to be punished in proportion:
and kill it, or sell it; either of which cases would plainly show that he took it away with an intention to deprive the owner of it, and to convert it to his own use:
he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep; the reason of this difference, five being obliged to be given for the one, and but four for the other, is, because the one was more valuable than the other, as well as more useful, and also more easily stolen, and therefore the greater mulct or fine was laid upon the theft of it, to deter from it: the Targum of Jonathan expresses the reason of the law thus; five for oxen, because the theft of them hindered from ploughing, or made to cease from it; and for sheep but four, because there was trouble in the theft of them, and there was no tillage or agriculture by them: and Saadiah Gaon observes, that the damage that comes to the owner of the ox is more than that by a lamb, because with it, the ox, he ploughs, which is a creature that was used in those countries to be employed in that service, as well as in treading out the corn: Maimonides (u) accounts for it thus,"the restitution of the theft of oxen is increased by one, because the theft of them is easy; sheep are fed in flocks, and are easily kept and watched, and can scarcely be taken away by theft but in the night; but oxen are fed scattered here and there, and therefore cannot be so easily kept by the herdsmen; hence also their theft used to be more common:''four fold restitution was in use with the ancient Persians, with whom it was a rule,"whoever took any substance of another, in retaliation they took fourfold from him, and if he restored it, he gave fourfold of the same (w).''
(u) Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 41. (w) Lib. Shed-dar, apud Hyde Relig. Vet. Pers. p. 472.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Ex 22:1-31. Laws concerning Theft.
1-4. If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep—The law respects the theft of cattle which constituted the chief part of their property. The penalty for the theft of a sheep which was slain or sold, was fourfold; for an ox fivefold, because of its greater utility in labor; but, should the stolen animal have been recovered alive, a double compensation was all that was required, because it was presumable he (the thief) was not a practised adept in dishonesty. A robber breaking into a house at midnight might, in self-defense, be slain with impunity; but if he was slain after sunrise, it would be considered murder, for it was not thought likely an assault would then be made upon the lives of the occupants. In every case where a thief could not make restitution, he was sold as a slave for the usual term.
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