Exodus 22:1-4 God’s Law was given to Israel that they might understand and walk in a holy way. God is Holy and His children are called to be holy. This is true in both Old and New Covenants. This chapter deals with personal property. God recognizes our right to own things and calls us to respect the possessions of others. These laws may seem out of place in our world today but like everything else in Scripture, they are “profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The first section deals with theft which relates to the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). These are laws based on the moral law. All that we have has been entrusted to us by the Lord and stealing affects how we are able to serve the Lord, our families and others.
In a case of theft, the victim was to be compensated, the amount depended on what was stolen and what happened to it afterward. In v 1 an ox was the equivalent of a tractor today. It took years to train and its loss was hard to replace. If the thief sold or slaughtered it, there was no way of recovery. God required the thief, when caught, to repay four or fivefold restitution. Less would be required if the animal was still alive then compensations would be double its value.
Instructions concerning breaking and entering is in v 2-3. A thief easily could break into most earthen made homes. The homeowner had the right to defend his property. If the thief was killed in the process, the homeowner could not be charged with murder. However, if a criminal broke in during the day, he could not be killed outright. The homeowner would be better able to discern the threat and be able to bring the thief to justice. God’s gave certain protections even to thieves.
Exodus 22:5-6 Deals with negligence that led to the loss of property. Both of these cases were accidents. Sometimes livestock would stray into a neighbor’s field and eat their neighbor’s grass. When this happened, restitution was to be made. The same was true with wildfires. Farmers set their fields on fire to clear ground. But there was the danger that a neighboring field would catch fire as well. This was not arson, but accidental. Torah provided that the one who started the fire had to make restitution for what was lost. Legal liability is a Biblical principle, even in accidents. We are responsible for our actions, whether we intended to damage someone else’s property or not.
Exodus 22:7-15 Israel was to be a holy nation and honesty and integrity is a characteristic of God, and we are to be like God. Trust is a foundation of a godly community. If neighbors can’t trust each other, life becomes difficult. Israel was called to be brothers as family to one another. If asked to care for money, material things, or animals, family should be trusted to do their job. If I have acted in faith and a thief steals what I was entrusted with, if he’s caught, he has to restore double. If the thief isn’t caught, then I need to be able to prove to the court that I wasn’t careless and that I was not responsible in some way for the theft. Three options for proving innocence are cited: presenting witnesses who can vouch for my conscientiousness; showing evidence in livestock to prove they were killed by wild animals (Gen. 31:39); or, taking an oath of innocence before the Lord (1 Kgs 8:31–32). The judges were God’s representatives to the nation and were appointed and charged to discern whether or not a person was telling the truth. If it was proved that my neighbor’s animals died, strayed, or were stolen because of my negligence, then I’d have to make proper restitution. If I borrow one of your animals for doing my farm work, and the animal is injured or dies while in my care, then I must compensate you for your loss. If you’re with me at the time, guiding your own animal, I’m not obligated to pay anything. If I hired the animal from you and paid you the fee, then the fee covers the loss.
Exodus 22:16-17 God’s law provides that unmarried girls are under the covering or authority of their father, a girl who was not a virgin was not desired, in most cases, as a wife, the loss of virginity meant a loss in dowry. The dowry was to be held in trust by the father to provide for the bride if the groom divorced or abandoned the wife and children (Gen. 31:14-16). The offender was required to marry the girl, but if the father didn’t want him as a son-in-law, the man could pay the dowry and be set free. If the girl was betrothed, the rape was considered adultery, and a different law applied (Deut. 22:23-29).
Exodus 22:18 We live in a day when dabbling in the occult is considered a novelty and harmless. God saw it as evil and demonic directing Israel away from God. Israel was commanded to stay away from everything associated with the occult (Lev. 20:6; Deut. 18:10, 14; 1 Sam. 28; Isa. 47:12-14). In the New Covenant, Galatians 5:20 links witchcraft with idolatry.
Exodus 22:19 speaks of bestiality which was also part of the religious practices of the Canaanites and condemned by the Lord (Lev. 18:23; 20:15-16; Deut. 27:21) such acts perverted God’s gift of sex between a man and a woman.
Exodus 22:20 Sacrifice to other gods was a capital offense. Idolatry was a constant source of temptation in the journey from Egypt and would remain so after they entered the Land. God called them to destroy the pagan temples and altars (Deut. 4:14-24).
Exodus 22:21-27 This was a call to hospitality to strangers and aliens, widows and orphans, and the poor. God reminded Israel that they too had been strangers in Egypt and for many years were treated kindly. Widows and orphans are the special concern of the Lord throughout Scripture (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 14:28-29). The rich are commanded not to take advantage of the poor but help them in their need (Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 15:7-11). God hears the cry of the afflicted and judges their oppressors.
Exodus 22:28 We are called to honor the Lord with our lips, treating the Lord’s name as holy. Israel was to honor her leaders and this is reinforced in the New Covenant. To blaspheme God with their lips includes not keeping His commands which were given for their good. Blaspheming God was a capital offense (Lev. 24:10-16). It was against the law to speak evil of a ruler (Prov. 24:21-22; 1 Peter 2:17). Paul sought forgiveness when he inadvertently spoke evil of the high priest (Acts 23:4-5; 1 Kings 21:10). God has established human government (Rom. 13), there are times where we can resist evil authority as in the Egyptian midwives (Exod. 1:21) and Peter and the Apostles (Acts 5:29).
Exodus 22:31 This law is both religious and hygienic. The bodies of animals slaughtered incorrectly would still contain blood, and the eating of blood was forbidden (Lev. 17:11; 22:8). A carcass lying in the field could quickly become spoiled and spread disease. God’s holy people are called not to touch it, let alone eat it.