Exodus 21:33-22:17 ~ 20111023 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/23 Exodus 21:33-22:17 Restitution; Making Wrongs Right
We are studying God's rules for people in his community. These are the things that make his people distinct from the cultures that surround them. So, when we hear these laws, the first thing we think should not be 'wow, we need to change the laws of our country to be more just'; instead we should think, 'wow, if God's people really lived this way, our culture would take notice and ask what makes us so different.' Our lives should reflect the power of God's life-transforming grace in the gospel message. God tells us to be holy because he is holy. God is totally other, totally different, totally distinct. We as his people are to be holy. Holiness is not how high you raise your hands or how loud you sing. Holiness is not something that happens on Sundays. Holiness is seen in our common everyday interactions with other people.
As we hear these laws, they should cause us to reflect on the law-giver, who 'loves righteousness and justice' (Ps.33:5). Our hearts should be drawn to worship the one whose righteous character is reflected in these, his laws. As the Psalmist says:
Our hearts should be stirred with admiration for our great King who is so passionate about justice and equity.
The section of God's law we will be covering today deals primarily with issues of restitution, making it right when you have harmed someone economically. It covers issues of negligence that causes harm, repayment of theft, responsibilities in lending and borrowing, and the obligations that result from premarital sex.
At the end of chapter 21 we have the pit laws and the goring ox laws
You might be thinking, 'I've never dug a pit, and I don't own an ox. What does this have to do with me?' Well, as we will see in the next few verses, if you don't own an ox, don't take someone else's! We must understand that these laws are paradigmatic, they give a specific example or paradigm that demonstrates the principle of justice, and that principle can be used to decide what to do in any number of various situations, including our specific situations today.
Negligence, not only malicious intent, has consequences. If your carelessness causes harm to another person, you are obligated to make it right. If you create a dangerous situation and it brings the loss of someone's property, you must pay. Notice, the penalty doesn't ignore the property rights of the owner – the other man's animal shouldn't have been wandering around near his well. He has to pay for the loss, but he gets to keep the dead animal – as if he simply bought it.
The butting ox law recognizes the inherent unpredictability of animals. It would be nearly impossible to determine who was at fault, so they sell the live animal and split the value, and also split the meat of the dead animal. Both owners share the loss equally. But if there was history that the animal had showed itself dangerous in the past, the negligent owner of the dangerous beast pays restitution. This might have application in our day to automobile accidents.
The next section deals with intentional financial injury to another person.
If your negligence causes someone financial injury, you pay them back one for one. But if you intend to do them financial harm, you pay back four or five times the value of what you stole. This would serve as a severe deterrent to theft as well as making sure the one who was stolen from is paid back quickly and fully. Stealing an ox would be like stealing a tractor – and would cost the owner not only the value of the ox, but the value of lost time using his equipment.
The property owner has the right to defend himself. Lethal force is justified at night, but during daylight hours, even the life of the thief is valued and protected. Theft is not a capital crime. But the one who is stolen from is to be immediately repaid. The thief either pays or enters into a service contract so that the loss can be restored immediately.
Again, the issue of negligence is addressed, this time with damage to crops rather than livestock
Restitution is not to be second-rate, grudgingly given. Restitution is to be full, and from the best. If you inadvertently cause loss to another person, you make it right. You give of your best to make it right.
Trust in lending, borrowing and renting
The next section deals with trust. Trust within the community of God's people is essential. We must be trustworthy people. We must be able to trust each other.
Notice that the repayment for stolen goods or money is double rather than the four or fivefold payment for stolen livestock. Of course, if the thief is caught, he must make restitution. The focus of this section is when the thief is not caught. I entrust my possessions to my neighbor for safekeeping. When I return, he claims that it was stolen, but no thief has been caught. Suspicion may develop that my neighbor stole my stuff. Trust in the community is in jeopardy. But who can settle this kind of dispute? 'You took my stuff. No I didn't. Yes you did...' Trust has been breached. How can this be made right? This kind of case is to be brought before God. God saw. God knows. God is the one who has perfect knowledge of what happened and can settle the dispute. Taking an oath before God is a serious thing. Remember, these laws were for the covenant community, those who were following God. To swear by the name of the LORD that I have a clear conscience and if I took your stuff, God will judge me – that is something that would not be taken lightly. That settles the matter. Better to make restitution than to fall into the hands of God having lied in his name. Trust is restored, and the one whose goods were stolen can rest knowing that if there is guilt, God will make it right.
The next section deals with the high value of purity in the covenant community.
This deals specifically with a girl who is not engaged, and this is consensual, not rape. Deuteronomy 22:22ff make it clear that rape or sex with an engaged woman was a capital offense. The bride price was a large amount that a man would save up and give to the father of the bride. This would help compensate the family for the loss of a worker, and a wise father could put this away as a sort of insurance to provide for his daughter if anything were to happen to her husband. This demonstrated the high value of purity. Sex is God's gift to be enjoyed exclusively within the covenant commitment of marriage. A man who wants to play without paying will surely have to pay the price and risks the refusal of father.
Love Your Neighbor
So what do all these laws have to do with us? Jesus summed up the whole law under the two greatest commands; Love God and love your neighbor (Mt.22:37-40; cf. Rom.13:9; Gal.5:14; James 2:8). This is some nitty gritty practical daily life application of what it looks like to love your neighbor as yourself. Treat your neighbor's stuff better than you would treat your own. Look out for the interests of your neighbor. Compensate fully and quickly when you have harmed your neighbor. Make restitution. Make it right.
Let's look at a New Testament instance of restitution, from Luke 19
Tax collectors were considered the lowest scum of society. They were sell-out Jews who had traded their reputation for a lucrative career in the employment of the Roman government. Caesar specified how much tax he was to be given. Anything collected above that amount was pure profit. Tax-collectors were unashamed thieves that got rich by robbing their own countrymen under the authority of Rome. Jesus took flack for going to the house of such a low-life. But Jesus was intentional in inviting himself over to this man's house. Jesus was after his heart. And we see genuine transformation.
We don't see Jesus saying to Zacchaeus 'you're going to need to make things right if you want to have a relationship with me.' No, we simply see Jesus extending grace – undeserved kindness – to this sinner. Of all people this man was lost – lost to his greed and given over to self-centeredness, rejected by society and beyond hope. But Jesus came to seek and to save people like this. And Jesus extended his fellowship to this man. In response to Jesus' extravagant grace, this man voluntarily decided to give half his goods to the poor and make fourfold restitution – twice what the law we have been looking at required. 'If I have defrauded anyone of anything' he says; imagine the line at his front door when word got out about this! And remember, under Roman law, which is who was in authority, Zacchaeus wasn't obligated to pay anything back. He worked for the government. What he had done was expected in the eyes of Rome. This is evidence of a transformed heart – truly loving his neighbor as himself.
There are somethings we just can't make restitution for, even if we want to. We can never make full restitution for all the wrongs we have done to our fellow man, let alone to God. But this is the good news. Jesus came to fulfill the law. Jesus came to fulfill every part of the law perfectly for us. Jesus came to make all things right again. Jesus came to a lost sinner's house because that is the only kind of person there is. We are all lost sinners in need of a Savior. And he came to seek and to save us. Jesus, who had invited himself to Zacchaeus' house, said 'today salvation has come to this house.' I have come. Salvation has come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have come to save you from the debt you could never pay. To forgive your sins before God. When Jesus hung on the cross, he said:
The Greek word translated 'it is finished' (tetelestai; tetelestai) can literally be translated 'paid in full' It is what was written across a bill that had been fully satisfied. Jesus, taking our sin on the cross, paid our debt in full.
'The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.' I have come to so transform your heart, that you go beyond merely making things right as far as you are able, but transforming your heart so you love. You truly, genuinely, from your heart, love your neighbor as yourself.