Sermon on Exodus 21:33-22:15 – “Making Restitution”

Sermon for Sunday, October 17th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 21:33 – 22:15 ESV] 33 “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his. 35 “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. 36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his. 1 “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. 2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, 3 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. 4 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. 5 “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. 6 “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution. 7 “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. 8 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 neighbor’s property. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. 10 “If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. 12 But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13 If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn. 14 “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.

New Testament reading:

[Heb 6:13-20 ESV] 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 19:1-10 ESV] 1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Introduction

A friend was once helping me move across town, and he put my mattress on his truck. When we arrived at my new place, there was … no mattress. Somewhere, off the side of some highway or byway in North Carolina my mattress found its eternal resting place. My friend, a good chap he was, bought me a new mattress. He made restitution for his mistake of not properly securing it to his truck. Well, perhaps this case is complicated by the fact that he was a volunteer rather than a hired hand. But I did appreciate, and did accept his offer to replace that which was lost. For this accidental loss he made restitution. There was no need to pay anything more.

The them of our passage today is on restitution. And the word is used six times.

Restitution is the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner. It modern terminology restitution is “making things right.”

Our text deals then with case laws relevant primarily to the 8th commandment – thou shalt not steal. But more than theft, the passage deals also with the cases of negligence, accidents, and of lending & borrowing. So I want to look at these in the order : (1) Negligence, (2) Accidents, 3) Lending & Borrowing, and (4) Theft. And the topic in view in each case is restitution. How are things to be made right?

I. Negligence

First we have a case negligence:
33 “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, 34 the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

In this case of negligence the guilty party pays the victim for their loss.

The person guilty of negligence is not properly safeguarding that which God has given to him to safeguard. Negligence is not a comical forgetfulness; it is serious business. And if you are at fault for negligence you must make restitution. You must pay for what was lost. It is the “You buy it, you break it” principle.

II. Accidents

Next we have a case that is a pure accident:

35 “When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share.

There is no discussion here of why these oxen of different owners are in one field. No one is at fault. Perhaps they had even agreed upon the arrangement.

But there has been a loss by the accident. And this loss could be considerable for the person. Perhaps even putting them into hardship or risk of starvation. The ox, it is said, was the most valuable of animals.

So the hardship, by this case law, is shared among the parties so as not to fully impact the one. They are to sell the live ox and the dead ox and then share the proceeds.

When the text continues it returns to a case of negligence:

36 Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

Here there is fault and so the victim receives restitution in the form of “Ox for ox.”

And further comments on negligence are made in verses 5 and 6:

5 “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. 6 “If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

III. Lending & Borrowing

Then we have just one mention of a case of lending and borrowing in verse 14 and 15:

14 “If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. 15 If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.

So restitution is made in this case just as in a case of negligence.

Sheep for sheep, ox for ox.

IV. Theft

But there is the case which is worse. (The worser? case).

Theft is worse than negligence and is certainly worse than accidents. While in each case the animal the animal is lost to its owner, in the case of theft such a loss was intentional. To make things right will take a greater effort.

Throughout all of these examples we see the validity of private property. The domesticated animal is owned by someone or another; not by a collective. You’re not allowed to take another’s property. And, if you’re borrowing something from someone, it is your responsibility to return it or to pay the cost of replacement.

You might tell this to your neighbor who has broken your weed whacker or snow shovel. Though perhaps here is the place to say that you don’t HAVE TO request restitution. You could just accept the loss. But the point of the passage is you are entitled to restitution.

So theft is the worst type of loss. It is criminal. And the restitution is greater.

I read years ago some economist arguing for double restitution in the case of theft. The argument was that the victim should certainly be given his possession back. But further, the criminal — in stealing — has performatively given up his claim to that value of property. The criminal believes he can take X amount from another. Therefore the criminal has no right to say that an equal amount cannot be taken from him! And so the restitution is double. One for the theft and one given up by his actions.

We have in our passage also the idea of double restitution for theft:

7 “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. 8 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 neighbor’s property. 9 For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

The argument of the economist is not made here, though maybe the reasoning is similar. Or maybe the idea of double restitution is to help prevent theft from occurring. That is, if the thief merely had to return what was stolen and had no further punishment there is little to prevent him from stealing again. With the double restitution, the criminal would have to be successful at not getting caught over HALF of the time in order to make gain. This makes thievery a poor choice of professions.

When the passage says that “both parties shall come before God” I think what is actually being said is that “both parties shall come before the judges.” That is how the King James translates it. The word is “elohim” – that term for God with a Hebrew plural. And since God does not come down and pronounce decisions on each case, it it the judges (set in their position by God) who are to decide the case.

There is verse 9, we also learn that the accuser can lose out and the judge can order him pay the one he is accusing! So you better be sure you have a case! Wouldn’t this stop frivolous lawsuits today! There is SO much wisdom in these Biblical case laws that would benefit our society today if put into place.

Now, in addition to the “double restitution” paid for common theft, we have in our passage “quadruple restitution” and “quintuple restitution.”

1 “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.

The text doesn’t tell us why it is that we have such 4x’s and 5x’s restitution. That, of course, hasn’t stopped commentators from speculating! And some speculation is better than other speculation.

So what might be going on here?

Notice that there are two crimes: (1) the stealing of the animal, and then (2) the killing of the animal. So it may be that each of these two crimes is cause of double restitution. And 2×2 is 4.

But while the sheep-stealer and sheep-killer is to pay fourfold, the ox-stealer and ox-killer is to pay fivefold. Again, we don’t know why, but the thought of some is that this is related to the great value that an ox had as the animal which plowed their fields. Such a serious loss required an additional penalty, so it is thought by some.

Incidentally, notice that Biblical restitution is always paid to the victim, not to the government. Often we have that wrong in modern society when fines are paid to the government when a crime has been done against a person.

And there is no long term prison sentences in the Biblical view. The crimes are to be paid for financially to the victim. And, as verse 3 says, those who can’t pay must sell themselves to pay for their theft. We saw last week that this slavery was for limited duration and had safeguards for the slave. What I want to point out here is the relative justice of this compared to our system today. When a person today goes to jail, who pays? Not him. We all pay. All of the innocent pay, through taxes, to keep a person in prison. We may perhaps look back to Biblical views and think “these are so archaic” or “so barbaric.” But we do not speak from a position of a just legal system. There are many problems with the way our justice system operates. We could learn much from the Biblical view. We don’t like slavery. But is the inmate system a lot different? And consider who benefits today? Often, no one benefits. The criminal just languishes in prison. Sometimes the government benefits as the criminal is given work without pay. But isn’t it the victim who deserves the money?

V. Restitution Today

So we have these case laws and should consider the general principles behind them to apply them in our own context today.

It is a common sitcom theme that when one person goes on vacation and a friend watches his goldfish they forget to feed the fish and it dies. Or they watch a cat but it runs away. And so what do they do? They apologize? No, they sneak in a new fish or a new cat that looks as much like the deceased on as possible, but, of course, is a living creature. Well, the Biblical admonition is YES to replace the lost animal, but also assumed is that you’re going to tell the owner about it! Don’t pull a switcheroo!

The basis for restitution both in the Old Testament and today is the fact that God is a just God. He demands justice. He demands that things be made right.

But when it comes to our sins against God, how can we ever pay him back? We indeed cannot. We can never make full restitution to God.

We must look to Jesus Christ to pay our debts on our behalf. He paid what we owe. He redeemed us and fully restored us to a right relationship with God. Because restitution – making it right – is not just about the stuff, it is about the relationship. And our relationship with God was so broken by our sin that it could only be mended by God Himself, which He did through Jesus Christ.

We read in 1st Peter chapter 5:

[1Pe 5:10 ESV] 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself RESTORE, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Christ will HIMSELF restore you. The Greek words means to “make perfect.” God, through Jesus Christ, makes perfect our relationship to Him, restoring that “very good” condition of man before the fall into sin.

Though Adam sinned, and we sin, yet restitution was made by Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus paid it all.

And so, all to Him we owe.

Having had Christ restore us to God, and having had Christ make restitution for us, we should seek to “make right” with others.

Who do you need to forgive? In what relationship should you seek restoration? Who do you owe restitution to?

Have you lived rent-free for a time on someone else dime?
Have you borrowed something from a neighbor and never returned it?

Have you said you would spend time with someone, but not in fact spent any time with them?

When Zaccheus, the tax collector —who had stolen from many—came to faith in Jesus Christ, he sought to restore what he had stolen.

In Luke chapter 19 we read

8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Let us go and do likewise, restoring to others what belongs to them and thanking God that He has restored us to a right relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.