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Exodus 21:33-22:17 – Restitution – Making Wrongs Right

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:

Psalm 119:7 I will praise you with an upright heart,

when I learn your righteous rules.

12 Blessed are you, O LORD;

teach me your statutes!

62 At midnight I rise to praise you,

because of your righteous rules.

68 You are good and do good;

teach me your statutes.

137 Righteous are you, O LORD,

and right are your rules.

142 Your righteousness is righteous forever,

and your law is true.

156 Great is your mercy, O LORD;

give me life according to your rules.

164 Seven times a day I praise you

for your righteous rules.

171 My lips will pour forth praise,

for you teach me your statutes.

175 Let my soul live and praise you,

and let your rules help me.

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.

pit laws

At the end of chapter 21 we have the pit laws and the goring ox laws

Exodus 21:33 “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his. 35 “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

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.

Exodus 22:1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

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

5 “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. 6 “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

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.

7 “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. 8 If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. 10 “If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn. 14 “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.

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.

bride price

The next section deals with the high value of purity in the covenant community.

16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride–price for her and make her his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride–price for virgins.

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

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”

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.

8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

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:

John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

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. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

October 23, 2011 Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , | Leave a comment