Conscience Money
Numbers 5:5-10
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…

This precept is a continuation of the one laid down in the preceding verses, and, like it, admonishes the people regarding the purity which ought to prevail in a camp honoured with the presence of the Holy One. Since the Lord dwells in the midst of the camp, there must not abide in it anything that defileth - any leper, any one having an issue, any one who has been in contact with the dead. Nor is it bodily defilement only that entails this disability. The man "that doeth hurt to his neighbour" is unclean in God's sight. Fraud is as defiling as leprosy. Even if it is such as the criminal law cannot reach, God's eye sees it, and is offended with it; and the wrong-doer must regard himself as excluded from the camp till he has made restitution to his wronged neighbour, and brought a sacrifice of atonement to the Lord. I. Keeping in view the scope of the law as I have described it, you will without difficulty master the particulars laid down, especially if you read along with it the law in Leviticus 6:1-7. It is essential to observe that this injunction is not a part of the criminal code. It is not laid down for the guidance of the judges, but for the guidance of a man's own conscience. The restitution enjoined is similar to that known among ourselves as CONSCIENCE MONEY. Take an example. A man finds a pruning-hook by the highway-side, evidently left there by mistake. He takes it home. "An excellent pruning-hook; the very thing I was in need of. I need not make a noise about the lucky find; I will keep it to myself." A few days after, the loser turns up, and makes inquiries about his hook. But the finder denies all knowledge of it, and it remains in his possession. Among us the criminal law would have something to say to this dishonest finder. The meshes of the Hebrew criminal code seem to have been wide enough to let him go. But the holy law of God speaks to his conscience.

1. He is to confess his fault. Even in matters belonging to the criminal law, the Jews laid great stress on confession. It was a maxim among them, that if a man brought an offering for his offence, but omitted to confess the evil he had done, his offering would not avail for atonement (cf. 1 John 1:9).

2. He is to make restitution to the person wronged. In the instance supposed the pruning-hook must be restored, or its equivalent in money, with one-fifth part added. This, let me observe in passing, shows that the trespass contemplated is not a trespass such as fell within the scope of the criminal law; for the restitution enjoined in the criminal law was much ampler A thief restored double; a sheep-stealer fourfold; a cattle-lifter fivefold (Exodus 22:1-4). Mild penalties certainly, but more severe than the restitution enjoined here.

3. A ram is to be brought to the Lord as a trespass offering for atonement.

4. If the person who was wronged is dead, the restitution is to be made to the next heir, - the kinsman, or goel (verse 8), - whom failing, it is to be made to the Lord in the person of the priest. In connection with this, the people are admonished that all gifts solemnly dedicated to the priest fall under the same rule as conscience money paid by way of compensation for fraud. Omission to pay them will defile the camp.


1. When a man does wrong to his neighbour he sins against God, and must crave God's pardon for the wrong. There have been religious systems - the old Greek and Roman paganism, for example - which completely disconnected religion from morality. A tendency in the same direction, who that knows himself has not caught a glimpse of in his own heart? Against that fatal divorce the whole word. of God is a protest and warning. Read Psalm 15:2. When a man does wrong to his neighbour he must make compensation to his neighbour. It will not do simply to confess the wrong to God, and beg his pardon. That is only one half of what the case demands. Satisfaction must be made to the person wronged. In many cases the civil magistrate will see to this. In many other cases the wrong-doing is of a kind which his sword cannot reach - fraudulent bankruptcies often elude the law. In all cases alike, God commands the person who has wronged his neighbour to repay him with increase.

3. The wrongdoer who omits to repay as required is admonished that he is an unclean person, whose presence defiles God's sanctuary. In God's sight the camp is defiled by the presence of a man who defrauds as much as by a leper. If you would see how deeply this aspect of the precept before us impressed itself on consciences in Israel read Psalm 15, a psalm fitted surely to suggest alarm to those amongst us who in business habitually violate the golden rule, and yet claim a place in God's sanctuary.

4. In the complications of modern life it will happen far more frequently than in ancient Israel that satisfaction for fraud cannot be made directly to the parties defrauded. In this case the money is to be devoted to charitable and pious uses. To be sure, ill-gotten wealth is a very undesirable source of income for either Church or charity. I much doubt whether God honours it to do much good. But if the fraudulent person is truly penitent, and has done his best to make compensation to his victims, he may hope to escape the defilement and curse that cleave to dishonest gains by bestowing them where they may possibly do some good. - B.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,

Confession and Restitution
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