28 May 2023
Passage Exodus 21:33-22:17
Speaker Chris Haley
Series Exodus: The Redeemer
It’s not whether it applies, it’s how it applies. Old Testament laws are notorious difficult when it comes to looking at the Bible, not least because there’s a strain of thinking that says that Old Testament laws don’t apply at all. Even with some excellent Bible teachers, there’s this tendency to split the law in three: moral, ceremonial, and judicial. Moral stands, ceremonial is fulfilled, and judicial ended with the nation of Israel. There’s some merit to that way of doing things, but:
- A) The law itself doesn’t split itself up that way. B) The New Testament doesn’t talk about the Law that way. C) If you do that, you end up with vast swathes of Scripture essentially being pointless. Like vestigial organs, they become vestigial scriptures, about as useful as an appendix! (Yes, I do know appendixes have their uses - just run with it!)
But we believe, don’t we, that ALL Scripture is God-breathed, and… useful! Not just that God said it, but that He said it for our good, our growth, our benefit. As we come to sections like this one, we must bear in mind what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:
1 Corinthians 9:9-10 ESV For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the ploughman should plough in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
This morning we’ll read about oxen, but it’s not for the oxen that God is concerned ultimately, it’s us! These are things we apply to ourselves. These don’t just have relevance to others in a judicial sense. They don’t just have relevance for lawmakers. The closest we’ve got is Richard and Sarah, who are town councillors, but they’re in Japan, not at the G7! But it’s about understanding the principles that underlie the examples of laws and applying them to ourselves. If we miss that, then we’ll end up Pharisees, attempting (unsuccessfully) to apply the letter of the law to others and missing out on the spirit of the law for ourselves!
So what is the spirit of our passage all about this morning? Well, the thread that links all this section together is restoration, amends, restitution. The good old King James has ‘to make good on it’. All these words attempt to put across one word in Hebrew ‘Shalam’, which is related to the Hebrew word for peace and wholeness. It’s to restore, make whole again. Restoration is a good word for it. I tried looking for books on it on popular Christian book websites. Lots of books on shalom - peace. No books on Shalam - restoration in the ways that it means it here. No books on amends. No books on making restitution. I tried one that was a bit broader theologically speaking and I found three: one that was very ‘out there’, one that was for recovering drug addicts, and one for men which was out of stock! I’m going to try reading it if I can get hold of it! To put that in context though, I searched for books on peace and found 2680! 3 vs 2680! This is not something as Bible-believing Christians that we talk about. And yet we’ll see that it is something that intersects with us, sometimes in very profound ways, in our walk with Christ and our walk with one another. This is showing us how to love our neighbour.
This is showing us how to love our neighbour, how to love our brother or sister. After all, that is what the law is really about.
Galatians 5:14 ESV says, "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'"
What the law is teaching us is that when we wrong someone, we are to make restoration to that person. It's not whether it applies, it's how it applies. In fact, knowing the law helps us know how to apply the command to love our neighbour. So our first point…
A Heart with the Law Written on it will seek to Make Amends v33-36
The first two examples given here are essentially accidents. An ox or a donkey falls into a pit and dies. An ox butts another ox, and it dies. It's an accident, but there is a degree of responsibility.
The man who dug the hole didn't cover it. The ox who butted the other ox has an owner, and the terms change if the ox has done this kind of thing before. There's no hint of maliciousness or evil intent, but damage has been done, and restoration is in order.
In the case of the animal in the pit, the one who dug the pit must pay for the animal that died. He essentially purchases its dead body, like at one of those expensive shops— you break it, you pay for it!
In the case of the ox butting the other, they go halves. They sell the ox, and they get half each. They get half of the carcass too. Rib steaks all around! If the ox has a track record, though, he has to give the owner an ox to replace the dead one. His negligence is greater, so his restoration is greater. We'll revisit this again in point two.
But can you see in these cases, even when it was not intentional, if harm was done, restitution must be made. And that is a general principle in the law. Let's make it really simple and basic.
We enforce it in our home. If one of our boys hurts the other one, even if it was an accident, he still needs to say sorry, and they still need to hug and make up. There needs to be restoration, even when it was an accident.
But really, as believers, shouldn't this be our default position? If you have hurt someone, by your words, by your actions, even if it was not intentional, you need to make amends, you need to make restoration.
Really, in these cases, it's carelessness, not callousness, that causes the big problem. But believe me, that's so often the case in life, isn't it? How many relationships have been broken because of a careless word? No harm intended, but much harm received.
We should be those who seek to make the first move, who seek to make up for the hurt received, even if it was not intended. It might just be saying sorry for your carelessness. It might be buying them a bunch of flowers. It might be writing them a card. It might be mowing their lawn or fixing their shed or something like that if you're not a card and flowers person. Whatever it is, though, we should be those who are eager to make amends.
If the law is written on our hearts as the New Testament says it is, this should be our go-to response in a situation like that. A heart that automatically seeks to make amends is a regenerate heart, a new heart.
What we mustn’t do is turn this into a sort of payment system for sin. This is not the false doctrine of Penance, where we’re told to say prayers or give to the church to essentially pay for what you’ve done. No amount of money, no amount of good works, no amount of vain repetition of prayers can make up for sin before God! The eternal consequences of our sin are paid for by Christ alone! His death paid for it all! We cannot pay the price of sin! The price is too great! It cost the life of the Father’s beloved son! How can we think a couple of hastily recited Lord’s Prayers can possibly match that? No amount of amends can do that! No number of cards, and flowers, or even tears can do that. ‘Could my Zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, thou must save, and thou alone!’ Only Christ can save. He did it by his death on the cross to pay for sin, and make it good with God the Father, so to speak. So doing acts prescribed by a priest, making it good with the person, does not make it good with God. And that’s not even what’s suggested here. That’s not even something that changes from Old to New Testament. What is going on here is person to person. Decreed by God, but it doesn’t undo before God what we’ve done. Our amends might appease a person, restore our relationship with them, but there are no amends we can pay to restore our relationship with God! No, only Christ can do that! But person to person is still important, we are to love God, and neighbor. So how can we know what we are to do when it comes to someone we have wronged? What can we do humanly speaking? So point two…
Different Intention needs Different Amends v1-6
The cases given here begin to differ from what we saw. There is still the idea of carelessness of negligence with the fire breaking out in verse 6. At least hopefully that’s what that is! But the others here are to do with deliberate theft of something from someone else. Cattle-rustling and sheep stealing in v1-4 and illegal grazing on someone else’s land in v5. In the case of the deliberate theft of animals, if the animals are found alive, the thief must give back double what they have stolen. But if they’ve already slaughtered them, if there’s no chance the sheep had simply wandered into their field, or they were just borrowing them, in that case it’s five oxen for every ox stolen, and four sheep for every sheep stolen. With increased malicious intent comes an increase in restoration needed. The same is true on an attack on the thief. If it’s night time, and you don’t know what’s happening and there’s all that confusion, you’d not be liable for the death of the thief. If it was daytime though and you could see what was happening you couldn’t kill the thief with impunity, you’d be held accountable. It’s more likely that you did it on purpose than at night time. With increased malicious intent comes an increase in restoration needed. In this case their own life.
As an aside if the thief couldn’t pay back the required amount of livestock he would be sold as a slave to pay his debt. Someone asked me last week whether slavery in Israel was always voluntary. Well, we see here, no. But it wasn’t arbitrary- you couldn’t just be picked as a slave and be made to be one. But the principle of the bigger point here is that if you’ve done something on purpose, then you need to make bigger restitution to the person you’ve done it to.
When we’ve hurt people deliberately, when we’ve sinned against someone openly, then the need for amends is greater—and again, it should be our nature as a Christian to do it.
Our best example of this is Zacchaeus. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story, but think about it with our passage in mind:
Luke 19:6-10 ESV So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, 'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.' And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'
Zacchaeus gives back four times what he stole from others. I must admit I’ve always thought that was a bit extreme. Why not just give back what he stole? That would be good enough, surely? But he shows that the law is written on his heart. He takes this law about oxen and sheep and applies it to his own circumstances, to his own restitution to others. And it serves as evidence of his true repentance before God. 'He also is a son of Abraham.'
What about ourselves? Do our hearts show that same eagerness to make restitution, to make restoration? I’ve been really challenged by this this week. So often, forgiveness can be used as an excuse not to make restoration. 'God’s dealt with it!' Yes, He has. He sent Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, including any thefts, any hurtful words, any attacks on others. Our account with God is closed in that sense. But that doesn’t mean we're off the hook for restoration to human beings we’ve wronged.
Let me give you an extreme example, and then think about the principle. If you murdered someone and then became a Christian, that would not remove your obligations to the legal system and your victim’s family. In fact, surely now you’ve become a Christian, you’d want even more to make things right? Surely then, the truth of the Gospel doesn’t and shouldn’t take away our responsibility to make restoration to others—instead, it gives us an increased desire to do so.
Come back to Zacchaeus. Nobody told him he had to give back fourfold. It was that he now wanted to give back fourfold. Christians should be those who are bending over backwards to make restoration when we’ve wronged someone. Some of you may be thinking, 'I wish so and so were here! They wronged me, they should be bending over backwards to make it up to me.' But that’s to have this the wrong way round—this is about our hearts, not theirs. That’s not the attitude that Jesus wants his followers to have.
Matthew 5:40-42 ESV And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
A regenerate heart seeks to make amends, but it doesn’t demand it from others. A follower of Christ is one who forgives and gives more back, not one who harbours a grudge and demands more back. And that can be hard! Especially in these cases like in chapter 22 when hurt has been done intentionally. But isn’t that what Christ did? Forgive and give back. Make a way for restoration without demanding it from us? Christ doesn’t want you to pay him back for what He did! We could never come close anyway! But he does want you to go and do likewise for others! Are we letting the example of Christ permeate our lives? Are we seeking to make amends when we do wrong to someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally? Are we seeking to forgive those who have wronged us, whether they did it intentionally or unintentionally? Forgiving others doesn’t earn us forgiveness, but it shows that we’re forgiven.
Matthew 6:14 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Equally, restitution doesn’t earn us forgiveness, but it shows we genuinely care about the wrong we’ve done and the person we’ve wronged. But sometimes it’s not always that clear-cut. Who wronged whom? Did they do it on purpose or accidentally? Is full restitution needed or just a heartfelt apology? And so our last section…
Leave it with God v7-17
Starting with the last scenario first: Let someone borrow your power drill, and they break it trying to drill through solid metal—it's their fault—they need to buy you a new set! But if you’re with them while they’re doing it and don’t step in—it's your fault. They don’t need to buy you a new set. That’s not legally enforceable, but it is common sense! Moving then to the last scenario v16 & 17.
I originally didn’t have this in this section. Most Bibles separate it out and put it with the next one, which is more social and religious laws. The thing is, though, it fits better thematically with what we’re talking about here. A woman is not property, but marriage did involve a dowry, a bride price as it calls it here. It still does in many parts of the world. And here, if things were not done according to the law, a cost was incurred. If a man seduced and slept with an unmarried, unengaged woman, he would have to marry her. This is not rape; that’s dealt with elsewhere. But it’s an unmarried couple who’ve strayed into things that are only for married couples. The answer is that they are to get married, and the dowry is to be paid. Presumably, the girl is okay because she slept with him! But if the father of the girl will not have this man as his son-in-law, then the guy still has to pay the dowry, even if they don’t marry. Amends must be made for what has happened. He can’t just sleep with this girl outside of marriage and it not have any consequences. He either ends up married or with a massive financial headache. We find out in Deuteronomy the dowry is set at 50 shekels of silver! That’s about seven months' wages, depending on your job! Sex does and should have consequences. It is something special and holy and set apart for marriage. We can wrong others sexually, and that causes immense hurt.
I know that many of us carry baggage from these kinds of things. As with the other cases here, we need to show forgiveness if we’ve been wronged and make amends if we have hurt others. However, as with the cases that follow, often it’s not that simple. We both wrong and are wronged, and in those situations, we need to leave it with God. If there are reasons we need to pursue it, we should, as sin thrives in darkness and needs to be brought to light. But in our hearts, we need to be going for forgiveness.
The other two scenarios in the middle are a bit more mundane, but as I mentioned before, a bit more ambiguous. In the first scenario, we have a man who left something at his neighbour’s house for safekeeping, and the item is stolen. In those days, it was hard to keep things safe if you went away, and it still happens. For example, my dad used to park his car at a friend’s house when we went on holiday so they could watch it. People leave their pets with others so they can take care of them, which would make sense if you were leaving sheep or donkeys or oxen.
But what happens when you get back and the car’s not there? Or when your prized Chihuahua disappears, and your friend claims it was taken during the night? If you find the thief, it's easy, and the rules of recompense come back in—you get yours back and the thief’s as well, whether it's a car or a dog! But what about when you don’t find the thief? There’s that lingering suspicion. Did he sell my car? I know he’s had money worries. Did she sell my dog? There’s a man I’ve seen walking one that looks really similar to mine!
The second scenario is similar, except now the friend claims the animal ran away, and there were no witnesses. The same suspicions arise. In both scenarios, the answer is essentially the same: bring it to God. In the first case, it was probably the Urim and the Thummim that are in mind. Exodus 22:8 ESV states, "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 neighbour's property." No one knows exactly how they worked, but they were God’s instruments for deciding a verdict. If the friend was found to be lying, he had to repay double. If the original owner had accused him falsely, he had to pay double! Either way, they would bring it before God, and God would settle the matter.
In the second case, it was an oath before God. Exodus 22:11 ESV states, "An oath by the Lord shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbour's property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution." If the friend could swear before the Lord that he had not taken it, the owner would have to take it as proof that the man was not lying and let it go. No restitution would be made.
Now, we don’t have Urim and Thummim, and Jesus tells us not to make oaths anymore. He tells us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. But the principle of taking it to God and leaving it with God still applies. There are some situations where we just can’t know who’s to blame. Did they do it on purpose? Were they just being careless? Could they have stopped it? We just can’t know! But in those situations, we can leave it with God. In the end, God is the judge in those situations, and we need to learn to leave it with Him. And it’s not whether He does, it’s how He does: Sometimes He will make it clear what’s happened. Sometimes He will work in the conscience of the other, so that they are moved to tell the truth. Sometimes He works on our own hearts, enabling us to forgive, even when we didn’t think that possible. So let’s take the lesson of the law seriously. Let’s be a people who are quick to forgive when we’re wronged, and quick to make amends when we’ve wronged others. Perhaps there are people you know you’ve wronged and you need to do something to sort it out. Perhaps you’ve been wronged by someone and you know you need to forgive.
I’m just going to give us a minute to think and pray and consider what we’ve heard, before we pray together.