1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore 5 oxen for an ox, and 4 sheep for a sheep.
Sending people to prison merely imposes a higher tax burden on the community!
It requires more criminal impudence in a thief to carry off an ox than to steal a sheep, beside which, the loss factor was greater. Thus the crime was visited with a heavier penalty. Five oxen had to be restored for one stolen. Such a penalty would be quite profitable to the one suffering loss - if the thief were discovered.
"four sheep for a sheep"
This penalty of the law applied when David was faced by Nathan in the case of of a poor man whose "one little ewe lamb" was stolen by a ruthless rich man. In legislating upon the case (in fact against himself) David declared that such a man was worthy of death, but, in any case, he should pay fourfold according to the Law (2Sam. 12:6).
In giving this decision, David adjudicated upon his own sin, and in a tragic way paid for the stealing of Bathsheba by the lives of four of his own children - though they deserved to die.
The children in question were the unnamed son of Bathsheba (2Sam. 12:18), Amnon (ch. 13:29), Absalom, (ch. 18:14), and Adonijah (1 Kings 2:25). This same law was invoked by Zacchaeus when he promised the Lord that he would "restore fourfold" anything that he had wrongfully taken from others (Luke 19:8).
The Christadelphian Expositor
2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.
...there was no guilt...the avenger of blood was not entitled to proceed against the slayer.
The Christadelphian Expositor
3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
In the treatment of theft, how much more excellent was the Mosaic than the British law. In Britain, thieves are maintained at the expense of the State for a certain number of years...True, the thief's maintenance is not of a liberal character, and personal liberty is abridged; but still, as a fact, the thief is maintained and waited on by guardians, while the victim of the theft may suffer loss and heartbreak, for which there is no compensation. The criminal law of England benefits the thief more than anyone else.
The community benefits by the thief's restraint for a time, for which, however, the community has to pay. The only sufferer is the hapless victim of the crime. Carlyle bewailed the tendency of such a system to breed a class of professional law breakers, whose business it is to prey upon other people, either in prison or out of it.
Under the law of Moses, the thief had to make good his theft to the person from whom he had stolen. If he stole an ox, he had to pay to him five oxen; if a sheep, four sheep (the difference between four sheep and five oxen probably representing the different degrees of injury inflicted upon the community--the ox being used in the cultivation of the fields, while a sheep was only so much wool and mutton). "Very good", says the modern legislator, "very good" with a smile of superiority; "but suppose the thief has neither ox, nor sheep, nor money, how is such a law to be carried out?" The law says in that case, "he shall be sold for his theft", and the loser of the stolen ox or sheep would be compensated out of the proceeds of the sale.
Think what a punishment this would be. The thief would be taken away by the person buying him, and used as a bondservant for the most menial work. He would be known on the farm as a sold thief, which would ensure a quite sufficient stigma on the criminal, while at the same time being made to pay for his own keep by labour, and turning his wretched existence to better advantage than by cooping him up in a jail.
It will be seen at a glance that more than one good purpose would be served by such a mode of dealing with him. His sale would compensate the parties injured by the theft; the community would not be burdened by his maintenance; the development of professional thieves would be prevented; while as regards the thief himself, judgment with mercy would temper his lot, for as the member of another man's establishment he would find his punishment in his want of liberty, and the hard service belonging to his position as a bond-servant, and at the same time the fullest opportunity of retrieving his character by faithful service among those by whom he was surrounded.
"Ah, very good, very good", again remarks our modern philosopher; "but suppose the fellow should refuse to work; suppose he should prove an incorrigible thief and vagabond?" Well, the law had a remedy for that--simple, but effectual. Though shocking to mere modern scruples, incorrigibles were to be brought before the judges and stoned.
Carlyle was in raptures over this method of dealing with the criminal classes. The more it is thought over, the more it will be found a perfect solution--delivering the community from the plague of professional spoilers, and the burden of their costly maintenance, the individual sufferers from loss, and the thief from the incurable taint of criminality attaching to him under the British institutions.
:Law of Moses Ch 10.
Antislavery sentiment has clouded judgment here. It is no more dreadful to sell a thief than to sell a man to military bondage for a shilling a day. The difference is in form and sentiment merely. It may be said the soldier chooses his avocation, while the thief under Moses was sold against his will. True, but is an offender against the law entitled to choice?
If a man who has done no wrong may voluntarily sell himself to the Crown, there is nothing very monstrous in an evil-doer being sold against his will. A murderer is hanged without compunction or consultation. Why should it be more dreadful for an evil-doer to make some reparation for his crimes by a profitable sale to some cultivator of the land?---specially bearing in mind that all forms of service were governed by the septennial year of release, and no decent human being doomed to hopeless slavery.
There is no place in the Mosaic system for the brutal traffic in flesh and blood, characteristic of modern slavery. Man-stealing was a crime under Moses, punishable with death (Exod. 21:16); at the same time, subject to prescriptions of justice and humanity, it was lawful under Moses to possess and control human service (Exod. 21:2). Man might possess anything, provided he used it, in mercy and truth, as other parts of the law required.
:Law of Moses Ch 10.
4 If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
If the thief was caught before he had killed or disposed of the animals stolen he could restore double instead of fourfold as in v. 1. He thereby lost the amount he had expected to gain, and so felt the power of divine justice (see Isa. 40:2; Jer. 16:18; Rev. 18:6).
The Christadelphian Expositor
5 If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.
Negligence and inconsiderateness of any kind were to be penalized according to a legal sentence, the normal restitution being like for like.
9 For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
In everything the rule was that the gravity of the punishment should be proportionate to that of the crime. Yet justice was never to be rough and ready. All punishment was to be legally enforced by the appointed judges (22 : 9). They alone were to calculate the compensation due for any mischief done by one man to another and give to every transgression and disobedience its just recompense of reward.
The value of a lost eye in terms of cash would naturally vary from victim to victim, and so with any other part of the body maimed or lost through another's fault. Only in the case of a servant -presumably Hebrew and foreign alike-was the value fixed: Loss of any member - say, eye or tooth-due to the master's cruelty secured his immediate freedom (21 : 22-27)· *
18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
It does not in the least follow from the passage that the lawgiver in any way believed in the existence of such an art as that which we in modern times term witchcraft. The command sprang out of quite a different train of ideas. It is connected logically and essentially with a number of other passages which represent the eternal as the only God of the universe at large, and of Israel in particular.
The wizard, the witch, the magician-call these by what name you will-maintained, if not by word at least by act, that there was some other being of equal power with God to perform what we now call supernatural acts, or that they, the persons pretending to occult art, had the power themselves of compelling the only God to forego His own will and do theirs; in other words, that they could circumscribe the might of God, who, therefore, could not be omnipotent.
...If, therefore, the Jew acknowledged any being as equal to or surpassing God in power, he was guilty of high treason. And the punishment for high treason then, as now, was death.
...If in after ages the idea of Moses came to be overladen with ideas brought in through the heathen, and if the original notion became so perverted as to lead to beliefs that were purely superstitious, this ought not to be laid to the charge of the Divine Lawgiver, who nowhere utters a single word indicating his belief in the occult power claimed to be exercised by wizards and witches.
Ambassador of the Coming Age, Feb 1869
23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;
The life of man is exceedingly precious: that was the principle which regulation after regulation urged upon the recently liberated slaves, who had themselves been habituated all their lives to cruelty and injustice, and with whom the Covenant was to be made. *
25 If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury (NRV: interest).
The principle of taking interest on money is a very vicious, evil principle. It is the principle by which the rich get richer and the poor poorer. It is the foundation of the world's evil, fleshly, selfish, grasping economic structure. There is very deep spiritual wisdom in the Law of Moses.
This principle is obscured by our translation. To us, the word "usury" means excessive and oppressive interest. There is no such distinction in the original.
In Neh. 5:10-11, for instance, the term "usury" is applied to interest of l% per month-well below today's legal limit. Nehemiah condemns it, and urges the exacters to restore it.
In Hebrew, the words for "interest," "buying on credit," and "deception" are all the same basic word.
All this is out of harmony with the mind of Christ, and the Law-if Israel could only have seen it-beautifully reveals that spiritual mind.
Bro Growcott - The spirit of Christ in the law
26 If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down:
We find that in God's infinite love and wisdom, the Law set up a necessary system of national order and regulation, but by gentle, kindly loopholes, it took away all the real sting and harshness.
If a man were poor, and had to pledge his last garment, it must be given back each night for him to sleep in. Actually, this took all the meaning out of the pledge, and made it more of a nuisance than a security, especially as a creditor, however powerful, was not allowed to go into a man's house, to claim a pledge, but must stand outside until it was brought to him. The wise and godly lender would see the point. So must we.
Often, for practicality and the self-respect of others, we must go through certain forms, but we must be very careful that the restraint is measured and gentle and does not become oppressive and destructive.
Bro Growcott - The spirit of Christ in the law of Moses
27 For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.
29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.
...naturally this ritual sanctification of child and animal was to have its proper moral counterpart v31.*
31 And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.
Holy unto me
This precept again was reinforced with a ritual ordinance...Corrupting flesh was a diet for dogs, not the holy; so moral corruption was to be eschewed as unbecoming for the Covenant People.
That principle held good for all the nation - judges and people alike. *
*Law and Grace Ch 6