You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide yourself from them…
The precepts in these verses fairly anticipate the gospel love of one's neighbor, and even its inculcation of love to enemies (cf. Exodus 23:4, 5). Whatever authority the scribes in Christ's time imagined themselves to have for their saying, Thou shalt hate thine enemy (Matthew 5:43), they did not find it in the Law. Even towards the heathen - save in the sense in which each nation desires the destruction of its enemies in war - they were not taught to cherish feelings of bitterness and hostility. Deuteronomy 23:6 forbids seeking the welfare of Moab and Ammon, but this does not amount to hatred of these peoples (cf. Deuteronomy 2:9, 19), while the command to "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19) is, like the command to exterminate the Canaanites, grounded in special circumstances, and is to be regarded as exceptional. Those who express horror of the sanguinary spirit of the Mosaic code should study the precepts before us, and reflect how far the race is from having yet risen to the height of them. They forbid -
I. SECRET REJOICING IN ANOTHER'S MISFORTUNE. Such rejoicing may have its source in:
1. Enmity. The statute in Exodus particularly specifies the ox and ass of an "enemy" (Exodus 23:4). The enemy is further defined, not as one whom we hate, but as one who hates us (ver. 5). Yet if his ox, or sheep, or ass is seen going astray, we are not to hide ourselves or forbear help, but are to bring it back to him. So with all his lost property - we are to take it home and keep it for him. Or, if his ass fall under a burden, we are to help him to lift it up. How natural the disposition to act otherwise! No one knows that we have seen the stray beast. We may reason that we are not bound to interfere. A secret joy, even, may steal into our minds at the thought of an enemy's misfortune. The Law taught the Israelite to think and act very differently. It gave him the lesson of forgiving injuries, of loving enemies, of returning good for evil.
2. Envy. The precept in this passage speaks merely of a "brother." Through envy or some other wicked feeling, even where there is no enmity, we may be tempted to rejoice in the lessening of another's prosperity. But neither is this hateful principle to be allowed to sway us.
3. Malice. This is the disposition which delights in what injures another for its own sake. So diabolical a state of feeling might be deemed impossible did not experience of the world afford too many proofs of its existence. There are unquestionably malicious and spiteful natures who, irrespective of any personal interest in the matter, derive an absolute gratification from seeing misfortune overtake those around them. The faintest beginning of such a spirit ought surely to be most jealously guarded against.
II. SECRET RETENTION OF ANOTHER'S PROPERTY. What is found is not to be appropriated or concealed. If the owner is unknown, the beast or lost article is to be taken home, and kept till he can be discovered. Though he is an enemy, his goods are to be faithfully restored to him. This, again, is a form of virtue which only strength of moral principle will enable one always to practice. - J.O.
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.