And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his. — Exodus 21:33-34
A number of years ago, Pete Friesen attended camp meeting in Portland, Oregon, with the purpose of seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit in his life. Day after day he prayed, seemingly without much success. Then the Lord brought to his mind a man who lived in a city over sixty miles away — an individual from whom he had stolen something before he was saved. Restitution needed to be made. Pete did not just tell the Lord he would do it the next time he was in that area. He drove the sixty miles from Portland to Dallas, Oregon, to make the matter right that same afternoon! In the very next prayer meeting after his return to camp meeting, the Lord baptized him with the Holy Spirit.
Today’s text deals with the principle of restitution — making wrongs right. At first glance, the detailed examples given in this portion of Scripture may seem irrelevant to our day. For instance, consider the requirement established in our focus verses. It makes more sense when we realize that the ox and donkey were critical pieces of property for the Children of Israel: one was vital for the tasks of agriculture, and the other was necessary for burden-bearing. Even more importantly, all these requirements point to a clear principle of God’s Law: willful acts of transgression against our fellowman, for which we can make amends, must be righted in order for us to have a clear conscience before God and a good testimony before others.
Some will take issue with the fact that God requires restitution, and say that God’s forgiveness is so far-reaching He does not expect a person to take care of the past. However, God’s instructions to the Children of Israel indicate otherwise. Clearly, He deemed restitution of great importance. As He shaped a nation out of a group of former slaves, God was concerned with fairness, justice, and reconciliation. He still is! He wants His people to live together in peace, as examples of His law of love — and making restitution for wrongs is a vital part of that.
There are benefits that come to us when we obey God in this. Restitution brings His favor and blessing. We will have peace with God, and power in prayer. Pete Friesen found that out! Pete’s faith was able to take hold when he did what he knew God was requiring him to do, and he received the infilling of the Holy Spirit that his heart desired.
If there are wrongs in our past that need to be dealt with, God will gently remind us. More than that, He will go before us when we make things right. And once the past is straightened out, we will rejoice in the peace that comes with having a clear conscience!
Today’s text continues the application of God’s written law, giving further insight into the eighth commandment, which is “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). God’s Law for the Israelites acknowledged the right to own private property, and proper reimbursement was required whenever these rights were encroached upon. These verses have to do with the loss, injury, or theft of personal property, such as animals, fields, money, or clothing.
These laws show that God intended for the Children of Israel to own property once they arrived in Canaan. They also indicate that wrongs were to be handled with restitution, rather than with the violent retaliation that was common among ancient civilizations. This is the first time the word restitution is found in the Bible, and it is used in four different verses in chapter 22.
The first portion of the text (Exodus 21:33-36) deals with animals that were killed or injured. Often grain, water, or goods were stored in pits dug in the ground. Proper safeguarding of these pits was necessary, especially if they were located in public areas. The protection may have been a small wall around the pit, or the provision of some type of covering. A person was responsible for any pits he dug, and he was required to pay for an animal if it fell into his pit. If animals injured each other in the field, proper settlement procedures were outlined.
Chapter 22:1-5 addresses stealing. Much of the Hebrews’ wealth was in livestock. Oxen were work animals, and thus potentially of more value than other animals such as sheep. Breaking up in verse 2 means “to steal by breaking in.” No guilt was to be imputed if a thief was killed as he was committing the act of thievery. However, if he lived, he needed to pay full restitution.
Fire (verse 6) was a grave hazard, and each person was responsible for any fire he built. God was concerned about the safety of His people and their property, and He wanted them to be careful.
The last part of the text (verses 7-15) addresses goods entrusted to one’s keeping, and the matter of borrowing. The Israelites were to give conscientious attention to anything that was put under their care. If a dispute arose regarding ownership of items held in trust, the matter was decided by judges, and restitution was to be made. When animals were left for safekeeping or loaned to another person, any negligence called for restitution.
God’s laws were designed to promote peace and understanding among neighbors and fellow citizens. The focus was on preventing crimes rather than punishment for those who committed them.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
IV. The revelation of the Law to Israel
C. The ordinances
3. Concerning rights of property (21:33 — 22:15)
a. Loss or injury to animals (21:33-36)
b. Stealing (22:1-5)
c. Fire damage (22:6)
d. Use and safekeeping of others’ property (22:7-15)
The slate can be clean. The slate should be clean! What peace is ours when all is squared away with God and others!