You Shall Not

When we think of laws, we typically things in terms of legality. But when we think of commands, the sense becomes one of obedience or disobedience. Even though we obey laws, and there can be civil disobedience, we still don’t think of commands in terms of legal or illegal, only obedience and disobedience.

This section of Exodus has changed. It changed prior to this, around verse 18, but it was subtle, and the real change becomes obvious here, in verses 21 through 24. This feels more like the Ten Commandments, especially the first four:

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.

Exodus 22:21-24 NASB

It’s a command with an explanation, and then an added penalty. The penalty isn’t from the “elders”, or a court, the penalty is a promise of God of harm to disobedient. Ordinarily, we like promises of God. We make books of them, meditate on them, and pray them, as if they give us control over God. But do we include these sorts of promises, the ones that bring a curse upon the disobedient?

Sojourners, widows, and the fatherless (orphans) are the three primary classes of powerless people in Israel. They were powerless, so God takes up their cause. They are unable to defend themselves, so God defends them. They have no resources, so God becomes their resource. Or that is how it is supposed to work. In our day, those preying on the disadvantaged are many, and take many forms. One of the worst categories is made up of drug dealers. The epidemic of drug use among homeless people is guaranteed to keep them homeless and powerless.

But there are other classes of powerless people. There are children who are among the most vulnerable. There are those who suffer with emotional and mental problems. And there are those who have so compounded the mistakes in their lives, they see no hope, the hopeless. All of these classes of powerless people have enormous vulnerabilities, and each of them are plagued by our society, our culture, and many of us. The answer to these problems aren’t obvious, easy, or quick. Therefore many simply avoid them.

But the battle isn’t just for these people, it’s against their oppressors. And their oppressors can seem very powerful, they can seem right or just. Their oppressors can be those who believe they are trying to help. The problem isn’t solved by physical changes, although those help. The problem is spiritual, and ultimately is the same problem we all have, separation from our Creator. To fix that, they need what we need, our Savior.

It may be, that the good news of a Savior can’t get through the noise of their physical or emotional need. So, those do need to be addressed, as part of the process of delivering the message of Jesus as their Savior. And then, addressing those needs has to continue as they learn about life with Jesus as their Savior. This is part of the reason Jesus created churches, to meet these needs as He did in His ministry, to see people as He saw them, and have compassion as He had, and still has.

This “law” or commandment is still valid today, as is the curse for disobedience. The phrase, so popular in the middle of the 20th Century is still true, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. Those oppressing the disadvantaged will become them, eventually. It’s a promise of our Creator. Even it that’s not us, we still need to take steps to join with our Savior in reaching out to them.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Singular Attention

One of the common themes in the criticism of modern Western Christianity is how we’ve become idolatrous. Our society has come right out of the closet, and we now have a whole show and industry around being an American Idol. We even acknowledge that idols may not be that obvious. They could be insubstantial, like time in an activity or hobby. It could be social, like football teams, or golf, or associations. It’s an obvious problem, and, mostly, Christians acknowledge it.

But no one seems to be ready or willing to embrace a solution. One of my favorites among the excuses I’ve heard is that people don’t like to read. In our culture, that may be becoming more true than it was in my formative years. In those days, I read all the time. Now we seem to want headlines, and pictures. Communication is degenerating into memes. We want icons, symbols of things and activities we want or need. And, in the background, the ironic penalty looms over us.

He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed.

Exodus 22:20 NASB

There are two interesting ironies in this single verse. The first is the reference to “god”, and the second is the penalty itself. The first irony is missed in translation, because the literal Hebrew is “to the gods”. It’s ironic because “the gods” is also a common reference to God, singular. It’s used 366 times in Hebrew, and mostly to refer to God. In fact, in verse 8, it likely refers to God although it is often translated as “judges”.

The second irony is that the penalty for sacrificing is being sacrificed. It’s the “ban”, the complete and utter destruction instructed against God’s most heinous enemies. Everything is destroyed, nothing is left, not family, not possessions, not the house, nothing. It’s a “whole burnt offering”, in a sense.

I live under the second irony daily. As some of you may know from following this blog, I struggle with an addiction. Nothing is quite as idolatrous as an addiction. To choose to act out in my addiction is an act of transgression, a sin of rebellion against my Savior.

But, there is forgiveness. There is room for repentance. Jesus was asked by Peter how many times one should forgive another, and Jesus answered, “A lot”. But, we may forget that this is only true because we are forgiven a lot, by our Savior. That’s hard to remember, and sometimes accept, in the face of a failure.

What I deserve is complete destruction. What I want is life. The question is will I accept the forgiveness of a Savior, or will I persist my rebellion to my own destruction? And it’s not just about me, it’s my family, my friends, and whatever I have contributed to the Kingdom of Jesus that is at risk.

Think of that when you spot the idols in your life. Think of that cost when you consider your next choice, or how you will respond to your own failure. What will you do? Repent? I hope so. I’m working in that now. What are you working on?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Where Understanding Fails

The sheer volume of things I don’t understand is shockingly huge. The way I survive the looming mass is through ignorance. I honestly don’t know how much I don’t know. I know it’s a lot, but I have no concept for where the boundaries are. It blends into the horizon at some point, and I deal with it like I deal with the vastness of the ocean, I look only at the surface. I’m ignorant of the rest.

On the other hand, I don’t like to “not go somewhere” in my exploration of what my Master reveals in Scripture. Hold back your surprise, I know, you never saw that one coming. The result is this ever so slightly diminished ignorance, sliver by slender sliver. So small are these delves into Scripture, the vastness of my ignorance isn’t truly affected. But, I try not to skip anything anyway. And then we have lines like this one, one’s I would rather skip.

Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.

Exodus 22:19 NASB

Anyone who would do such a thing doesn’t want to hear that God condemns them to death. Anyone who wouldn’t do such a thing doesn’t want to hear that there are those who would. Either way, no one wants to read it. Let’s skip it, and move on. I would prefer to move on. But it’s there, it’s all by itself, like the condemnation of magic, like so many others that God points out singularly. No caveats, no extenuating circumstances.

So, it’s important for the people Moses’ day to know this, and to know it’s important. It’s like the law about a woman giving birth prematurely after being struck during two men fighting. That happens enough it needs to be mentioned? This happens enough it needs special attention? Do we even want to know that?

Here’s the thing, God hates it, so don’t do it. For our Creator, such a practice earns you being cutoff from socializing with anyone, ever. On the other hand, don’t comfort yourself that this one isn’t your issue. One what? This particular sexual sin. Our Creator takes them seriously. Very seriously. So should we.

Okay, that’ll do it. Next law…

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Unlike Magic

This post is going to upset some people. Others will think it’s much ado about nothing, and with a few it will resonate. Such is the message of our Master, falling like sowers seed on different types of ground. Oh, and there will be other who think I’m crazy, I don’t want to leave them out. I forget them because I think it’s crazy not to believe Scripture, so I find their response more ironic than valid.

It has to do with the validity of magic. I don’t think it’s valid as a practice, but valid as a demonic activity. What I mean by that is that magic is supposed to give control over the spirit world to those who can say the right things while doing the right things. It’s a formulary practice to circumvent our Creator, and gain spiritual benefits without Him.

So, this isn’t about prestidigitation. It isn’t about fringe or cutting edge lab-science. It’s about stuff like astrology, psychic, animism, and related practices, like necromancy. These practices are permitted in our society at large, but also ignored by churches at large. Some who attend church, and refer to themselves as followers of Jesus, practice such things. And that, to me, is crazy, frightening, and dangerous to an enormous degree. Here’s one example of why:

You shall not permit a sorceress to live.

Exodus 22:18 NASB

This sounds a bit extreme to us, and we may wonder what the fuss is about. Yet, before we look at such a practice in Moses’ day, let me remind you that Paul had some strong words for the practice as well:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 NASB

Right up there with idolatry and jealousy, two things we never struggle with in modern church-going Christianity…surely you see the problem? The list of Paul in Galatians are all things we find in modern churches, and yet none of those practicing such things will inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s a problem.

When God calls His people to not permit a sorceress to live, He is clearly taking the practice seriously. It isn’t the only practice of magic He takes seriously, but it is clearly one of them. What would it look like today though? What was sorcery then?

Sorcery seems to be the practice of divination through one of the following methods:

  • “familiar spirits” (Leviticus 20:27),
  • Entrails (Ezekiel 21:21)
  • Images (Ezekiel 21:21, 2 Kings 23:24)
  • Rods (Hosea 4:12)

There are specific terms for each of these, like necromancy for divining through the dead (familiar spirits), and so on. In Paul’s day, the practice included drugs and/or potions. The problem is best described by Isaiah:

When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?

Isaiah 8:19 NASB

The problem is that some considering themselves Christians will seek other things besides prayer, communing with spirits or stars instead of their Creator. And please notice, it’s not the desire to know, or to commune, that is denounced, but that we would seek to know or commune with anyone (or anything) other than our Creator and Savior.

In fact, in the law, Yahweh provides for communing through lots, and the umim and thumim used by the priest. David uses the priestly ephod, but he seeks Yahweh. The point is who we seek, not that we believe in “superstitions”. The problem is that we discount these superstitions as meaningless when they are actually demonic:

Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?

1 Corinthians 10:18-22 NASB

Paul connects the worship of gods to demons. I have theories about this, but the point is that the spirit-world is both real, and really dangerous. To dabble in anything spiritual that is not of our Creator and Savior is to side with His enemies in the spiritual conflict. It’s not a minor thing. It is a big deal. You can relegate it to superstition, but when you do, you go further than Paul, accepting a scientific cultural perspective over the warnings of Scripture.

Even so, denouncing these practices certainly is not the main point of Scripture. The main point remains our focus on our Creator and Savior. Such focus will protect us from deviating into these other methods of communing without worry or bother. But, seek to lead back those who accept these distractions. October is around the corner, and celebration of the dead is one of those things our culture is embracing way to thoroughly. Be an agent for life, “unlike” sorcery on social media. Encourage other believers to do the same.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Leftovers? Nope.

The final fifteen verses of chapter 22 of Exodus have a wide variety of “headings” in translations. The NASB has “Sundry Laws” for all fifteen. The HCSB breaks them up into four sections. The ESV uses the heading “Laws About Social Justice”. One of my favorites, the NET, calls them “Moral and Ceremonial Laws”, which is similar to the NIV which heads them as “Social Responsibility”.

All that to say that these laws are not easy to group together cohesively. But they all speak from the heart of Yahweh. They are social in that they are about how we treat each other (including how we treat those who worship other gods). They are moral in that several of them are about consequences for being immoral, or amoral. But they address very different situations. For this morning, let’s look at the first one.

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

Exodus 22:16, 17 NASB

This one is clearly moral. It seems taken right from the pages of the stories of our society. It’s “high school” between “kids”. It’s the scandals of teachers and students. It’s workplace drama. It’s the “farmer’s daughter” stories. We have had such stories for generations, and, because we have this law in Scripture, the “story” has clearly been around thousands of years.

So, at it’s core, is the behavior of a man seducing a young (probably implying naive) virgin. The word for “seduces” is based on an interesting word. You can find the Strong’s entry here. The basic meaning is to open or make spacious. In a sense, this is the charlatan ‘opening the mind’ of their victim, especially as the word is used here. From other uses throughout Scripture we can see that it refers to the “simple” being misled because they don’t understand. Afterwards, they may, but it is often too late.

The clear implication is that this immoral person lies to get this girl to have sex with him. This happens on TV all the time, and we understand it’s wrong, but only in a sense, and we’re not offended, not any more. The man promises great things, paints a vivid beautiful picture of an impossible future, and the woman succumbs. In that culture, it was the oppression of a powerless innocent. In our culture, it is the actually the same. Ironically, what outraged those people was that someone would deceive such a one, and what outrages us is that someone is that gullible.

The perspective of our Creator is that such a person is powerless, not broken. The person needs to be protected, not criticized. It’s possible, and a possibility I like to entertain, that this naive victim reflects more of what Adam and Eve were like prior to being deceived themselves. If so, then this crime is truly demonic and devastating. Something innocent is lost forever.

But the victim aside, she is a victim, and now the circumstances need to dealt with. What to do with such a person who would do such a thing? In our day, such a person would be considered a “player”, going from one sexual conquest to another, leaving a wake of devastated lives behind him. Not an admirable person, one clearly after the quintessential “one-thing” that all guys are supposedly after. He is the worst example of men’s treatment of women, or nearly.

The answer from God is marriage. Such an arrangement protects the woman. And, such an arrangement means that the man is done doing this again. He has his wife, and he has paid dearly for her. And that’s another element, he can’t pay less for her because she’s no longer a virgin, he has to pay the full dowry. This protects the reputation of the woman as well.

But marriage then isn’t like marriage now. Then it was more of an arrangement between families than between individuals. To join two persons in marriage was also to join two families. That’s hard for us to imagine in our day. So, it could be that the father of the defiled woman does not want such an arrangement to the family of the vile deceiver. This also protects the woman from being forced into an abusive relationship and into an abusive family structure.

In such instances, where the father refuses to give his daughter to such a vile deceiver, the man must still pay the full bride-price for what he has done. But what about the woman? What is her future? She may still be able to marry, but it’s not certain. He future is unclear, but she does have her dowry. Perhaps that will be sufficient for her, but it is unlikely. It’s a horrible circumstance, devastating to family and the local society.

Yahweh protects those who cannot protect themselves. He takes up the cause of the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner, those without status in society. This law seeks to accomplish this characteristic of our Creator. This isn’t the only law regarding this issue. In Deuteronomy 22:28, 29, we have another element, rape. In that instance, like this one, the man marries the woman, and it specifically states he cannot divorce her. She is protected from the ignominy of a rape victim. In a sense, this law would be about “statutory rape”, and the same rule (no divorce) would apply here.

Keep in mind that the perspective of Yahweh is to protect the powerless. Perhaps the best application for us is to be outraged when this happens, refuse to watch and support shows that depict it, and seek to protect those victims from such treatment. What can be done? Actually, it won’t be hard to find ways to support victims, and, more likely than not, you know a victim. Be outraged at the perpetrator, be supportive of the victim, and speak out against society’s acceptance of such behavior. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus, our Savior, would do.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Stuff and Things…and People

How do you know when your stuff has begun to define you, rather you defining your stuff? Perhaps you are one of those who prefer to be defined by your stuff. If so, you may not like what you read here. The One creating this universe, managing it, and bringing it to a climactic end, wants our attention. Sometimes “stuff” and our things can distract us. So, our Master set boundaries for us with regard to our stuff and our relationships with others. We’ve looked at two sets, and here’s a third “standalone”.

“If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution. If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire.

Exodus 22:14,15 NASB

Borrowing is a tricky thing. Have you met, or been, one of those people who hate to lend things to others? It’s kind of sad, and this is as one of those who doesn’t like lending. I tend to forget about it, and then, when I want to use the “thing”, can’t remember who I lent it to. Sometimes I’m okay with it, sometimes not so much. It depends on the thing. So, I hesitate to lend. I try to be generous though, because I know I should be.

This law has two surprising parts though. The first surprise is the exception if the lender is with the borrower when the item is injured or dies (or is destroyed). The idea I see here is that the borrow is using the animal or item, but, because the lender is present (merely as an observer?), no restitution need be made. I suppose the lender can, at that time, determine whether the borrower was at fault for how he used the animal/thing. But if the lender isn’t present, does it matter? Does the means by which the item was destroyed make a difference in a borrowing/lending sense? It’s weird when you think about it. The lender can still protect his property if he’s there, is my thought, but I also know how often that isn’t true. Still weird.

But what about the third phrase? What about “borrowing for hire”? Is it borrowing or hiring? This law encompasses both. And if it’s hired, that it. No restitution is made for “hired” things. Ouch. Could Yahweh be encouraging lending/borrowing instead of hiring. Maybe this helps protect the poor without requiring that that no “hiring” happen. Most often, nothing will happen, whether lent or hired out. If a poorer farmer needs the help of another ox, it’s more likely he’ll get the ox lent to him rather than rented to him.

There are a lot of unknowns about the cultural setting of such a law, but, along with the others we’ve seen so far, it seems possible that God is, once again, protecting those with less ability to protect themselves. Maybe we should have the same point of view. Perhaps loving our neighbor truly does fulfill the law.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

How Do You Know?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy which asks, “How do you know?”. It’s a bit more involved than the child asking the same question, but sometimes has way too many similarities. Still, many grudges held by people who once were friends could be resolved if this question were asked. How do you know your grudge is about something that actually happened? How do you know?

We hold grudges against our Master. We do. It sounds totally bizarre, but we sometimes have to forgive our Savior. Not for Him, or something He’s done wrong. We need to let something go we’ve been holding against Him. We more often, do the same thing with people, and it’s much easier to see there. These next two laws are about that:

“If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

Exodus 22:7-9 NASB

“Here, hold this for me.” We’ve all heard it, and/or said it. Has anyone had to watch your dogs? How about “house sitting” (such American things)? But in a day when locks were neither common, nor much use, who keeps the thief from your goods you don’t carry with you when you travel? Regardless of the circumstances, there’s a risk in putting your goods in the hands of another, even someone you trust.

Let’s say you do. You give your most prized possession, some thing, to your most trusted friend (not necessarily your best friend, but the responsible one – the boring one). You go away. You return. The item is missing, their house has been “burgled”. Or has it? If the thief is caught, the laws of thieving apply. But if not, if the thief makes his escape, then what?

Verse 8 says, in the New American Standard translation, that the owner of the house must appear before the “judges”. There is a footnote stating that the literal translation would be “God”. There are arguments on both sides of translating that, but, in the end, it literally says, God. Either way, imagine it, your trusted friend with the burgled house only has to appear before God (or His representative) and declare his innocence. There is an “examination” of some sort, but there aren’t details here.

So, if God decides that your buddy didn’t do it, your stuff is gone, and you don’t have any further recourse. Are you okay with that? Can you let it go? Will you and your “trusted friend” be okay? It gets back to the basic concept of “people-over-stuff” we saw with thieves.

Here’s the second rule where resentment may be an issue:

“If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, an oath before the Lord shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor’s property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is actually stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is all torn to pieces, let him bring it as evidence; he shall not make restitution for what has been torn to pieces.

Exodus 22:10-13 NASB

Here, donkeys and oxen are in view instead of silver or stuff, but the idea remains the same. They come before Yahweh (which is why I think the other law refers to God), and if the “protector” takes an oath, then the owner shall accept it. It sounds odd, but here again, God puts people over stuff. The relationship between neighbors, friends, or even family is greater than stuff, even stuff used in your livelihood. This law requires forgiveness, willing forgiveness.

The application is really about priorities; placing relationships as more important than stuff. That’s the point I believe Yahweh was making with His people, and the message we need to take away from it. There isn’t any thing that is more important than the relationships we have with those around us. Don’t let things divide us, not pets, not the ball game, not anything.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Who Took My Grain?

When talking about breaking and entering, we feel a certain sense of connection; it’s something we all fear, something that violates us. But when we talk about it in terms of the “farm”, we don’t feel so visceral about it. Not many of us may be farmers. I’m not, and my ignorance is vast regarding what it means to be a farmer. Yet much of Scripture deals with that life. Including these next two laws. The first one is about “grazing out of bounds”:

“If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.

Exodus 22:5 NASB

Essentially, anyone allowing his cattle or sheep to graze off his own property, and graze onto another’s, has to make it up from the best of his fields. Think through that for a moment. It makes sense only if the “victim” gets to pick what grain or other crop is used to replace what the guys sheep or oxen ate. The “free-range rancher” doesn’t get to hold something back from restitution. Isn’t it interesting that normally, the best of the fields are reserved for offering to Yahweh, but here are used for restitution.

Here’s the other “farm-life” law. This one has to do with fires:

“If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution.

Exodus 22:6 NASB

This law is interesting in one way, as it relates to the story of Samson. Look up what he did with foxes in Judges 15:1-8, and notice what the Philistines did in retaliation. It seems counter-intuitive to kill someone for the fire instead of seeking restitution. But it gives insight into the alternatives of the day. Other cultures would consider the destruction of the crops to be a capital offense, but for Yahweh, restitution would be made. Again, Yahweh prioritizes life over things, including crops.

In a sense, these two laws are about “stealing”, but in a sense which could be “accidental” or negligent rather than malicious. To be fair, Samson was malicious. But even so, the punishment was to make restitution of the loss of crops, not through the loss of human life. These laws work together to create harmonious and balanced society, instead of the oppressive societies surrounding Israel. These laws would have made them a unique group among their neighbors.

As disciples of Jesus, we’re supposed to be that unique testimony to the character of our Master. We’re supposed to hold life above the stuff around us, in hour houses, or out in our yards. We’re supposed to be willing to allow for restitution rather than revenge. We’re supposed to be like our Master in how we treat people, but more, in our priorities, especially other people.

I have to admit, I’m not good at that. I’m much more skilled at selfishness. Good things for others occurs to me, most often in retrospect; but I still remain impervious to being considerate of others. It has to sadden my Savior. And it has to change. How about you? How well do you do being considerate of others?

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Stop! Thief!

It’s one thing to tell people not to steal. It’s important to say, “don’t steal.” But, what happens when they do? What happens then? In the Ten Commandments, God tells the people not to steal. But, later on, in Exodus 22, He tells them the “or else”.

“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.

Exodus 22:1 ESV

Being caught as a thief is expensive. Since most thieves stole because they needed the money for their livelihood, this makes the practice less sensible. In our day, and in more urban areas, it’s more common. In a rural agrarian culture, not so much. It’s hard to hide a cow, maybe a sheep. To us, modern urban people, we couldn’t tell one cow from another, or one sheep from another. But these people lived their lives among them, and housed them, sometimes in the house.

But they had cities, even then. What would happen if the thief broke in and stole from the house? Do they still have to repay 4 or 5 times the value?

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 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. 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.

Exodus 22:2-4 ESV

I thought it was 4 or 5 times. First off, their “Castle Law” is somewhat different than most of the United States. There’s only permission to kill an intruder if it’s night. If it’s daytime, then the rules punishing thievery applies. They couldn’t kill someone for stealing, or just because they were in their house. But what does the thief pay for breaking into the house?

If the thief gets away with the goods, and sells it, then go back to verse 1. If he’s caught at night but is killed, that’s it, no bloodguilt. But if he’s caught “red-handed” during the day, he pays double. In other words, the owner doesn’t lose their goods in the first place, and even gains two more. If the thief can’t pay, which is very probable, then he is sold to repay (See Exodus 21:2-6).

These rules form an important limit to punishment. It seems, for our country, stealing a persons’ stuff is like threatening a life, you can kill someone for it. When, to our Creator, the stuff is nothing compared to the life of the thief. It’s a surprising truth I have let sneak into my own life. I point out the places that our society lowers the value of human life in our culture, abortion, euthanasia, and “medial-assisted suicide”. But I’m not so quick to admit where I’ve bought into it.

My house is not my “castle” to be protected at all times. It’s simply a warehouse for what my Master has entrusted to me. The lives of my wife and daughter, those are worth killing to protect. But all the rest are not more valuable than the thief. That’s so weird to say, and yet, it shouldn’t be. Shouldn’t we know our Master well enough by now to realize that would be the case? And yet, I still have so much to learn.