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

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