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.


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