In this chapter, we continue ploughing through the ordinances, beginning with property issues.

  • If someone steals an ox or sheep and either kills or sells it, he must pay five oxen for one ox, or four sheep for one sheep.
  • If he can’t pay his fine, the thief is to be sold as a slave.
  • If the thief still has the animal alive, he must pay back double.
  • If a thief is killed while in the process of breaking in to someone’s home, there is “no bloodguilt for him” (Exod. 22:2)
  • If, on the other hand, “the sun has risen upon him, there shall be bloodguilt for him” (Exod. 22:3). I interpret this to mean that killing a thief in the act is okay, but coming after him later is not.
  • If someone lets his cattle loose and it feeds on someone else’s field or vineyard, the cattle owner must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.
  • The Sin of Witchcraft by William Brassey Hole

    The Sin of Witchcraft by William Brassey Hole

    If a fire breaks out and burns stacked or standing grain, the person who started the fire must make full restitution.

  • If someone asks his neighbour to hold money or goods for him and it gets gets stolen and the thief is found, the thief must pay double.
  • If the thief is not found, the person holding the money or goods must “come near to God” (Exod. 22:8) and swear that he isn’t the thief. In other words, they must approach an altar and swear that they didn’t cheat their neighbour
  • For “every breach of trust,” both parties must “come before God, he whom God shall condemn shall pay double to his neighbor” (Exod. 22:9). In other words, an oracle is used to determine guilt.
  • If someone gives cattle to someone else but it dies, is injured, or is lost before it gets there, he must swear that it was unintentional. If he refuses to swear, he must make restitution.
  • If someone borrows something from a neighbour and it’s harmed or dies, the borrower must make full reinstitution
  • If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and he “lies with her” (Exod. 22:16), he must pay his “marriage present” and marry her.
  • If the father refuses to give her to him, he must pay the equivalent of the “marriage present” anyway.

Rape isn’t specifically addressed, although we saw from Dinah’s story that no distinction seems to be made between rape and consensual sex. Either way, a crime has been committed against the girl’s marriageability and, therefore, against her family.  Interpreted this way, Exodus 22:16 may well be suggesting that a girl be forced to marry her rapist unless she happens to have a empathetic father.

Cultic Laws

  • “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exod. 22:18).

Much suffering has this little sentence excused! Of course, no instructions are given for telling the difference between magic and miracle. As we saw in Exodus 7, the difference cannot be assumed to be obvious. So what causes a sorceress to be put to death but Aaron and Moses to be hailed as leaders?

  • Bestiality is deserving of the death penalty.

In light of the rape issue mentioned above, it seems that raping a cow is taken more seriously than raping a girl.

  • Anyone who makes a sacrifice to a god other than God “shall be utterly destroyed” (Exod. 22:20).

Social Laws

  • Israelites are not to harm strangers. Nor to harm widows or orphans. My study bible calls these groups the “legally defenseless.” If such a person is harmed and they cry out to God, his “wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless” (Exod. 22:24). There’s some divine humour for you.
  • If an Israelite lends any money to “any of my people” who is poor, he must not “be to him as a creditor” (Exod. 22:25). He must not exact interest.
  • Further to the lending, if he takes a garment in pledge, he must give it back “before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering” (Exod. 22:26-27).
  • “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exod. 22:28). Hear that, Tea Partiers?
  • Israelites should not delay to offer “from the fulness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses” (Exod. 22:29).
  • “The first-born of your sons you shall give to me” (Exod. 22:29).

God is clearly asking for child sacrifice. In his An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins points out that “it is difficult to believe that any society would systematically require the sacrifice of the firstborn sons, but it may have been proposed as an ideal in early Israel” (p. 72).

  • Further, the first-born among the oxen and sheep must also be given in sacrifice. It should sray with its dam for seven days, but on the eighth day, “you shall give it to me” (Exod. 22:30).
  • And, finally, the Israelites must not eat any flesh that has been “torn by beasts in the field” (Exod. 22:31). Such meat was, apparently, considered unclean because it wasn’t properly drained of blood.