2 Tim 3:16 states that all Scripture is breathed out by God and therefore useful. This surely applies to these verses we are about to study, What came to mind as you read these verses and case laws? Were you lost? Did you wonder why these thorough stipulations are here in the Bible? How does it work?
These are common and good question and we hope to see how restitution, or compensation works and what it means for us today!
(A) Context: God provides for His people, and gives the moral law to anchor the civic life (Exo 21:33)
The use of the word “shall” in Exo 21:33 helps us to understand that this was a part of the law. What this meant is that God intervened in time and rescued a people for himself but that was not all. He also wanted to show, shape and influence how they are to live as God’s own possession.
What did the law state?
This is a very specific case, and it might not have been too surprising considering how the people of God lived together in community. Exo 12:35-36 tells us where they got these animals from. Israel obtained compensation from their former masters and left Egypt with some capital. This is why it is important to know the context when we read the Bible! Israel left Egypt and was on their way to Canaan. They are now still on the way, and God gave them the law at Sinai.)
What kind of a God is this? This is a God not just about the big things. He is also concerned about every decision and action we make. It should cause us to think, “What does my God require of me?”
This is also a God that is fair, somewhat demanding or stingy, righteous, just, structured and does not accept excuses. God is telling His people that they are not like the Egyptians, Assyrians and Amalekites. They are people of YHWH and they are to be different. He is also the provider of these animals. In the society that He wants for Himself, He wants this kind of justice.
What does this mean for us? A donkey or sheep in this context is either food or resource-producing capital. For one to lose a donkey or a sheep, it doesn’t mean a loss of a meal. It means the loss of income.
Later on in Deut 5:1-5, 22-33 Moses recounted the Sinai experience and reminded them that they were so scared, they didn’t want anything more than the 10 Commandments, the moral law God gave to His people. They sent Moses to receive the rest of the law on their behalf. The rest of the law was to be practiced once they entered the Promised Land (Deut 5:33). These laws were to form the basis of their governance .
But what is the relationship between the 10 Commandments and the rest of the civic law? The moral law guides the civic law. The moral law lived out in society is described in the civil law.
This section in Exo 21 is anchored on the 8th Commandment. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) describes the 8th commandment as: “God forbids not only outright theft and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money and usury, we must not defraud our neighbour in any way whether by fore or by show of right. In addition, God forbids all greed and abuse or squandering of His gifts.” The 8th commandment is not just about stealing!
The Catechism’s Question 111, which asks “What does God require of you in this commandment?” has the following reply: “I must promote my neighbor’s good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would like others to deal with me, and work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need.”
One way we can practice the 8th commandment is to work hard to give it away. (Eph 4:28) The NT takes the 8th commandment and applies it in society, in church. We work in order to give.
(B) But life in a fallen world includes loss and the godly do not shirk responsibility (Exo 21:33-36)
After laws on slaves (21:1-32), who are an important part of economic life and manpower, the law turns to focus on property. There are 2 scenarios presented in these verses:
“When one man's ox butts another's, so that it dies”
“Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in”
What is God holding us accountable for? God holds us accountable for the sins that are unintentional. In some liturgical practices, there are prayers also for confession for the things that we know we are supposed to do but did not do.
What kind of a God is this? When we talk about the sins of omission, not just the sins of commission, the heart automatically runs to “but it is not my fault”. Is God being unreasonable? Our heart is prone to justify. Just like the young lawyer in Luke 10:29, we are quick to ask Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” The phrase “you don’t understand” is used so often as we try to get around what God is trying to say. This is our heart. But before you follow that line of logic, read this passage again. This passage tells us simply that God holds us accountable for something caused by our negligence. God holds us responsible for the hurt we’ve inflicted on others and the godly do not shirk.
(C) God and His gospel make us eager to restore to others what we have taken (Exo 22:1-15)
The meat of the restitution laws deals with four types of loss.
What does this mean for us practically? When God’s people cause loss even by not doing what we ought to do, we owe one another restitution. Is there someone or something that you caused or unintentionally caused? You may not have stolen anything directly but perhaps by your actions and words, you have caused your neighbour some loss.
Are you a thief? What are some ways that we could be robbing God and stealing from others?
Do you not put anything in the offering bag? Mal 3 tells us that we are robbing God when we give Him nothing from what He has given us.
When you take money from a brother or sister with no intention of giving it back, that is also theft. A careless “I’ll buy you lunch” is theft.
Downloading things off the internet that you did not pay for is theft.
What does God require in the 8th commandment? We are to promote our neighbour’s good wherever we can and may, at every opportunity present. In what ways have you stolen?
We end off this study with the account of Zacchaeus in Lk 19:10. Zacchaeus’ story is our story, and shows us what Jesus did for thieves such as us! It’s not about his size and stature, but the size of his guilt before a holy God.
One of the kindest things Jesus did in this passage is to call Zacchaeus down and sought to visit him in his house. Jesus did not demand for him to change! And when he heard this, Zacchaeus (who knew the law), sought to give more than what was required. Zacchaeus knew that having Jesus, knowing Him is more than everything he had! He didn’t need to hold on to that ill-gotten profit because he has so much more in Christ!
Christian person, do you really believe that Jesus came into this world to call us down from that tree and came into our house? If it is so, it will be the cry of our heart to readily give what we have because we know that we have so much more in Jesus! Is there someone you have caused hurt too? Go and restore what you stole and go in the fullness of what you have received in Christ!