If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.
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.
If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.
Verse 2. - If a thief be found breaking up. Rather, "Breaking in" - i.e., making forcible entry into a house. The ordinary mode of "breaking in" seems to have been by a breach in the wall. Hence the word here used, which is derived from khathar, "to dig." There shall no blood be shed for him. Rather, "the blood-feud shall not lie upon him" - i.e., the avenger of blood shall not be entitled to proceed against his slayer. The principle here laid down has had the sanction of Solon, of the Roman law, and of the law of England. It rests upon the probability that those who break into a house by night bare a murderous intent, or at least have the design, if occasion arise, to commit murder.
If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
Verse 3. - If the sun be risen upon him. If the entry is attempted after daybreak. In this case it is charitably assumed that the thief does not contemplate murder. There shall be blood shed for him. Or, "the blood-feud shall hold good in his case" - i.e., his slayer shall be liable to be put to death by the next of kin. For he should make full restitution. Rather, "He shall make full restitution." The punishment of the housebreaker, who enters a house by day, shall be like that of other thieves - to restore double. If he have nothing. Rather, "if he have not enough" - i.e., if he cannot make the restitution required, then he shall be sold for his theft. It is somewhat fanciful to suppose, that this punishment aimed at enforcing labour on those who preferred stealing to working for their own living (Kalisch). Probably the idea was simply the compensation of the injured party, who no doubt received the proceeds of the man's sale.
If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
Verse 4. - If the theft be certainly found in his hand. If he be caught in flagrante delicto, with the thing stolen in his possession, "whether it be ox, or ass, or small cattle," he shall restore double. The law of theft in the Mosaic legislation is altogether of a mild character, as compared with the Roman, or even with the English law, until the present century. Double restitution was a sort of "retaliation" - it involved a man losing the exact amount which he had expected to gain
If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.
Verses 5, 6. - LAW OF TRESPASS. - Next to theft, and not much behind it, is the wanton damage of what belongs to another - as when a person injures his neighbour's crops, either by turning beasts into his field, or by causing a conflagration in it. To turn beasts in was the more determinedly malicious act, and therefore the damage done was to be compensated by making over to the injured party a like quantity of produce out of the best that a man was possessed of; whereas simple restitution, was sufficient when fire had spread accidentally from a man's own land to his neighbour's. We may conclude that if the trespass of the cattle were accidental, simple restitution sufficed; and if the fire were kindled of set purpose, the heavier rate of penalty was exacted. Verse 5. - If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten. - Rather "to be eaten of," or "to be browsed upon." And shall feed. - Rather, "and it shall feed." Of the best, etc. - This means that, without reference to the quality of the crop damaged, the injurer should forfeit an equal amount of his own best produce.
If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.
Verse 6. - If fire break out. - It is usual in the East (as in England) to burn the weeds on a farm at certain seasons of the year. When this is done, there is always a danger, in the dry parched-up Eastern lands, of the fire spreading, and carotid watch has to be kept. If this watch were neglected, a neighbour's sheaves or standing corn might be seriously damaged or even destroyed. The law punished such carelessness, by requiring the man who had kindled the fire to make restitution.
If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man's house; if the thief be found, let him pay double.
Verses 7-13. - LAW OF DEPOSITS. - Deposition of property in the hands of a friend, to keep and guard, was a marked feature in the life of primitive societies, where investments were difficult, and bankers unknown. Persons about to travel, especially merchants, were wont to make such a disposition of the greater part of their movable property, which required some one to guard it in their absence. Refusals to return such deposits were rare; since ancient morality regarded such refusal as a crime of deep dye (Herod. 7:86). Sometimes, however, they took place; and at Athens there was a special form of action which might be brought in such cases called παρακαταθήκης δίκη. The penalty, if a man were east in the suit, was simple restitution, which is less satisfactory than the Mosaic enactment - "He shall pay double" (ver. 9). Verse 7. - Stuff. - Literally "vessels" - but the word is used in a very wide sense, of almost any inanimate movables.
If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods.
Verse 8. - If the thief be not found. - It is not clear what was to be done in this case. Kalisch supposes that it came under the law of the oath (ver. 10), and that if the man entrusted with the deposit swore that he had not embezzled it, he was let go free. But as stolen cattle were to be compensated for to the owner (ver. 12), it would seem to be more consistent that stolen money or chattels should also have been made good.
For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
Verse 9. - For all manner of trespass. - It has been supposed that this refers to "every case of theft;" but Kalisch is probably right in restricting it to cases where a person was accused of having embezzled property committed to his care. He was in that case to appear before the judges (Exodus 18:23), together with his accuser, and to clear himself if he could. When he failed to do so, and was "condemned," he was bound to restore double. Which another challenges to be his. - Rather, "which a man challenges to be the very thing" (that he deposited). The case is supposed of the depositor being able to point out that the person to whom he entrusted the deposit has it still in his keeping.
If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it:
Verses 10, 11. - If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass or an ox, etc. - The deposit of cattle is unheard of in classical antiquity; but it might well be the usage of a pastoral race (Genesis 47:3). The parallelism of the verse with verse 6 indicates that a deposit of the same kind is intended. If it die, or be hurt, or driven away. - The deposited beast might "die" naturally; or "he hurt" by a wild beast or a fall; or be "driven away "by thieves, without anyone seeing what had happened. In that case, if the man to whom the animal was entrusted would swear that he was no party to its disappearance, the owner had to put up with the loss.
Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.
And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof.
Verse 12. - If it be stolen. - If, however, the case was not an ambiguous one, but certainly known to he one of theft, restitution had to be made, since it was supposed that with proper care the theft might have been prevented.
If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.
Verse 13. - If it be torn in pieces. - If again there was evidence that the creature had been killed by a wild beast, this evidence had to be produced, before the owner or the judges, for the trustee to be exonerated from blame. A similar proviso is found in the laws of the Gentoos (Rosenmuller, Orient. vol. 1. p. 148).
CHAPTER 22:14, 15
And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good.
Verses 14, 15 LAW OF BORROWING. - The act of borrowing is connected with that of depositing, since in both cases, the property of one man is committed to the hands of another; only, in the one case, it is at the instance and for the benefit of the man into whose hands the property passes; in the other case, it is at the instance and for the benefit of the other party. This difference causes a difference of obligation. The borrower, having borrowed solely for his own advantage, must take all the risks, and in any case return the thing borrowed, or its value, unless the owner was still, in some sort, in charge of his own property. Things hired are not, however, to be regarded as borrowed. If harm come to them, the owner must suffer the loss. Verse 14. And it be hurt or die. - The thing borrowed might be animate or inanimate; either might be "hurt;" the former might not only be hurt, but "die." Whatever the damage, and whatever the cause, unless in the single rare case of the owner being in charge, the law required the borrower to make good the loss to the owner. This law must have acted as a considerable check upon borrowing.
But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.
Verse 15. If the owner thereof be with it. - By "with it," we must understand, not merely present, but in charge of it, or at any rate so near it that he might have prevented the damage, had prevention been possible. If it be an hired thing. - If anything were paid for the use of the thing, then it was not borrowed, but hired; and the owner was considered to have counted in the risk of loss or damage in fixing the amount of the hire. He was entitled therefore to no compensation Our own law does not rule this absolutely, but takes into consideration the proportion of the sum paid for hire to the value of the thing hired, and the general tacit understanding.
And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
Verse 16. - If a man entice. Rather "seduce." He shall surely endow her to be his wife. In the East a man commonly pays money, or money's worth, to the parents in order to obtain a wife. The seducer was to comply with this custom, and make over to the damsel's father the sum of fifty shekels of silver (Deuteronomy 22:29), for his sanction of the marriage. If the father consented, he was compelled to marry the girl, and he was forbidden to repudiate her afterwards (ibid.).
If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
Verse 17. - If her father utterly refuse, etc. There might be such a disparity between the parties, or such an ineligibility of the man for a son-in-law, that the father might refuse to reestablish his daughter's status by the alliance. In that case the offender was to pay such a sum as would form a handsome dowry for the injured female, and enable her to enter with proper dignity the house of whatever man might be selected for her husband.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Verse 18. - Law against witchcraft. Witchcraft was professedly a league with powers in rebellion against God. How far it was delusion, how far imposture, how far a real conspiracy with the powers of evil, cannot now be known. Let the most rationalistic view be taken, and still there was in the practice an absolute renunciation of religion, and of the authority of Jehovah. Wizards (Leviticus 19:31) and witches were, therefore, under the Jewish theocracy, like idolaters and blasphemers, to be put to death.
Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
Verse 19. - Law against unnatural crime. The abomination here mentioned is said to have prevailed in Egypt, and even to have formed part of the Egyptian religion (Herod. 2:46; Strab. 17. p. 802; Clem. A1. Cohort. ad Gentes, p. 9; etc.). Though regarded by the Greeks and Romans as disgusting and contemptible, it does not seem to have been made a crime by any of their legislators. It was, however, condemned by the Gentoo laws and by the laws of Menu (11:17).
He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
Verse 20. - Law against sacrificing to false gods. Sacrifice was the chief act of worship; and to sacrifice to a false god was to renounce the true God. Under a theocracy this was rebellion, and rightly punished with temporal death. In ordinary states it would be no civil offence, and would be left to the final judgment of the Almighty. Utterly destroyed. Literally, "devoted;" but with the meaning of "devoted to destruction."
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Verse 21. - Law against oppression of foreigners. It may be doubted whether such a law as this was ever made in any other country. Foreigners are generally looked upon as "fair game," whom the natives of a country may ridicule and annoy at their pleasure. Native politeness gives them an exceptional position in France; but elsewhere it is the general rule to "vex" them. The Mosaic legislation protested strongly against this practice (Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33), and even required the Israelites to "love the stranger who dwelt with them as themselves" (Leviticus 19:34). For ye were strangers. Compare Leviticus 19:34, and Deuteronomy 10:19. In Exodus 23:9 the addition is made - "For ye know the heart of a stranger" - ye know; i.e., the feelings which strangers have when they are vexed and oppressed - ye know this by your own sad experience, and should therefore have a tenderness for strangers.
Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
Verses 22-24. - Law against oppressing widows and orphans. With the stranger are naturally placed the widow and orphan; like him, weak and defenceless; like him, special objects of God's care. The negative precept here given was followed up by numerous positive enactments in favour of the widow and the orphan, which much ameliorated their sad lot. (See Exodus 23:11; Leviticus 19:9, 10; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12, 13.) On the whole, these laws appear to have been fairly well observed by the Israelites; but there were times when, in spite of them, poor widows suffered much oppression. (See Psalm 94:6; Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:3-6; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Matthew 23:14.) The prophets denounce this backsliding in the strongest terms. Verse 22. - Ye shall not afflict. The word translated "afflict" is of wide signification. including ill-usage of all kinds. "Oppress," and even "vex," are stronger terms.
If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;
Verse 23. - And they cry at all unto me Rather, "Surely, if they cry unto me." Compare Genesis 31:42.
And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.
Verse 24. - I will kill you with the sword. It was, in large measure, on account of the neglect of this precept, that the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and destruction of its inhabitants, was allowed to take place (Jeremiah 22:3-5). Your wives shall be widows, etc. A quasi-retaliation. They shall be exposed to the same sort of ill-usage as you have dealt out to other widows.
If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.
Verses 25-27. - The law of lending money and borrowing. It is peculiar to the Jewish law to forbid the lending of money at interest by citizen to citizen. In the present passage, and in some others (Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 15:7), it might seem that interest was only forbidden in the case of a loan to one who was poor; but the general execration of usury (Job 24:9; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:13; Ezekiel 22:12), and the description of the righteous man as "he that hath not given his money upon usury" (Psalm 15:5; Ezekiel 18:8), seem rather to imply that the practice, so far as Israelites were concerned, was forbidden altogether. On the other hand, it was distinctly declared (Deuteronomy 23:20) that interest might be taken from strangers. There does not seem to have been any rate of interest which was regarded as excessive, and "usurious," in the modern sense. In Scripture usury means simply interest.
If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down:
Verse 26. - If thou take at all thy neighbour's raiment to pledge. Lending upon pledge, the business of our modern pawnbrokers, was not forbidden by the Jewish law; only certain articles of primary necessity were forbidden to be taken, as the handmill for grinding flour, or either of its mill-stones (Deuteronomy 24:6). Borrowing upon pledge was practised largely in the time of Nehemiah, and led to very ill results. See Nehemiah ch. 5. Thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down. The reason is given in the next verse. As it could not have been worth while to take the pledge at all, if it was immediately to have been given back for good, we must suppose a practice of depositing the garment during the day, and being allowed to have it out at night.
For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.
Verse 27. - Wherein shall he sleep? The outer garment worn by the ancient Hebrews was like that of the modern Bedouins - a sort of large woollen shawl or blanket, in which they enveloped the greater part of their persons. It serves the Bedouins, to the present time, as robe by day, and as coverlet by night. When he crieth unto me. Compare ver. 23. If the law is broken, and the man cry unto the Lord, he will hear, and avenge him.
Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.
Verse 28.- Law against reviling God, or rulers. It has been proposed to render Elohim here either
1. "God;" or
2. "The gods;" or
Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.
Verses 29, 30. - Law concerning first-fruits. God required as first-fruits from his people,
1. The first-born of their children;
2. The firstborn of all their cattle; and
3. The first of all the produce of their lands,
whether wet or dry; wine, oil, grain of all kinds, and fruits. The first-born of their children were to be redeemed by a money payment (Exodus 13:13; Numbers 3:46-48); but the rest was to be offered in sacrifice. The phrase, "thou shalt not delay," implies that there would be reluctance to comply with this obligation, and that the offering would be continually put off. In Nehemiah's time the entire custom had at one period fallen into disuse. (Nehemiah 10:35, 36.) The first of thy ripe fruits. Literally, "thy fulness." The paraphrase of the A. V. no doubt gives the true meaning. The first-born of thy sons, Compare above, Exodus 13:2, 12.
Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.
Verse 30. - Seven days it shall be with its dam. See Leviticus 22:27. The main object is that the darn may have during that time the natural relief derivable from suckling its off-spring. On the eighth day thou shalt give it me. Some analogy may be traced between this proviso and the law of circumcision. Birth was viewed as an unclean process, and nothing was fit for presentation to God excepting after an interval.
And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.
Verse 31. - And ye shall be holy men unto me. Ye shall not be as other men, but "an holy nation, a peculiar people;" and therefore your separateness shall be marked by all manner of laws and regulations with respect to meats and drinks, designed to keep you free from every uncleanness. One such law then follows - Law against eating the flesh of an animal killed by another. The blood of such an animal would not be properly drained from it. Some would remain in the tissues, and thence the antrum would be unclean; again, the carnivorous beast which "tore" it would also be unclean, and by contact would impart of its uncleanness to the other. Ye shall cast it to the dogs, is probably not intended to exclude the giving or selling of it to an Mien, if one were at hand, according to the permission accorded in Deuteronomy 14:21; but points simply to the mode whereby the flesh was to be got rid of, if aliens were not at hand, or if they declined to eat the animals. Dogs were so unclean that they might be fed on anything. Their chief use was to be scavengers (2 Kings 9:35, 36).