You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them…
We have here such express directions given as should have made of the Israelites a most neighborly people. The finding of lost oxen, or sheep, or asses, or raiment, is here made to carry with it the obligation of brotherly kindness; the animals or lost property must be restored to the owner, if he be known, or kept until he makes himself known. It is the law of love in practice.
I. THERE IS A NATURAL INCLINATION TO SHIRK ALL POSSIBLE TROUBLE. There is a drop of laziness in all of us, and, if indulged, it will lead to many an unbrotherly act. In the case supposed there is no witness present; the lost property is unexpectedly found; how much trouble it will save to pass on and leave it to its chances in the hands of others! And so we are tempted to array ourselves in the cloak of selfishness, and to spare ourselves all possible trouble.
II. THE CASUAL DISCOVERIES OF DAILY LIFE CONSTITUTE DUTIES LAID BY THE OMNISCIENT ONE TO OUR HANDS. There is no such thing as chance so far as God is concerned. Much has the appearance of chance to us, but, when reconsidered, it is the all-wise arrangement of God. "For what is this chance?" says a very able writer. It either has a real existence or not. If it has no existence, then when you say that a lot is determined by chance, you say that it is determined by nothing; that is, you say, Here is a sensible effect produced by no cause at all. This is pure nonsense. If your chance is a real being, what sort of being? Either it has life, intelligence, and power, or not. If not, then you say that millions of effects (for there are millions of lots in the world) are produced by a cause which has neither power, nor intelligence, nor life; that is, you say that millions of actions are performed by an agency which is essentially incapable of any action whatever. And this is as pure absurdity as the former. If you say that your chance is a living, intelligent, and active being, I ask who it is? and how you get your knowledge of it? You certainly imagine it to possess omnipresence and omnipotence; for you suppose it capable of producing, at the same moment, millions of effects in millions of places; and thus you have found out a being that displays perfections of God, and yet is not God. This conclusion is as blasphemous as the others are insane. There is no retreat. Survey the subject in any possible light, and you are driven to this issue, that the lot is, by the very nature of the case, a direct appeal to the living God, as Governor of the world (Dr. J. M. Mason's 'Considerations on Lots'). Hence discoveries, however casual, which throw us into new relations to persons, animals, or things, should be accepted as Divine duties laid to our hands. God's call is in them to be faithful and brotherly.
III. THE SHIRKING OF RESPONSIBILITY AND TROUBLE IS REALLY REBELLING AGAINST AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. If we have found the missing property, we have really been sent of God to be its stewards. To hide ourselves in our self-care is to rebel against his ordinance, and do despite to his gracious arrangements. It is to make self-pleasing the rule of life, instead of the pleasing of God. And as a rule it will be found that the person who thus candles himself and passes on trouble to others becomes heir of unexpected vexations himself.
IV. A THOROUGHLY OBLIGING AND HELPFUL SPIRIT HAS A WORLD OF COMPENSATION IN THE APPROVAL OF HIS OWN CONSCIENCE, IF NOT IN THE GRATITUDE OF MANKIND. Benevolence is its own reward. The kindness lavished on man and beast carries its own compensation with it. The sense of being brought to the opportunity of brotherly kindness by a gracious God, and of being his servant in showing his spirit, is surely worth all the trouble our kindness costs. So that, even supposing the recipients of our kindness were ungrateful, the kindness would still be well worth doing for its own sake. But then gratitude is not so rare a thing as people would suppose. It is entertained often when not very eloquently expressed. It is sometimes too deep for utterance. And to think that we have become creditors of our fellows, so as to deserve their gratitude, is satisfaction indeed.
"For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee." If we have any wisdom, therefore, we shall gladly cultivate the brotherly kindness here inculcated, for life becomes by it more blessed and more noble. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.