Exodus 22:4 (HCSB)
4 If what was stolen—whether ox, donkey, or sheep—is actually found alive in his possession, he must repay double.
Even though this passage includes three pericopes, as divided in the HCSB translation, I have chosen to cover them all together since they all relate to personal property. When I first read through these laws my initial thought was, “Why is this in the Bible, why does God care about this stuff?” I think though, that these are wonderful examples of God’s equity, His protection, His justice, and His concern for His people. Overall, I think there are some key things to take away from this collection of laws:
- God is concerned about intent. We see in Exodus 22:4 that if the stolen property is actually found in the possession of the thief, then his penalty is double! So obviously it is not just about restitution, but honesty and intent comes into play as well.
- God is not as concerned about making sure our “stuff” is safe, but more concerned about guiding us to make decisions that are in line with Him and His nature. This is closely aligned with the previous point. These laws are certainly not all-encompassing, definitive in every nuanced situation that could arise. Instead, they provide guidance, not only in how we are to correct sin, but how we should relate to each other in circumstances where we have opportunities to take responsibility. Again, God is more concerned with the heart, and protecting it, then He is in making sure our stuff is safe and replaced.
- God is the authority. Again, these laws are handed down by God, not man. We see the mention of judges (Exodus 22:8-11). God has ordained a legal system, and presumably will guide His people in uncharted territory through appointed judges. But even then, God is still the authority.
Lord, thank You for guiding us via Your laws. On our own we mess stuff up. The proof being that laws were required to address theft! I pray we see Your guidance as just that: guidance, rather than rules that keep us bound. You provide us true freedom, and by aligning ourselves with Your ways and nature we tap into that. Amen.