Friday, August 10, 2012

Exodus 22:1-9 Property Protection

"If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it,
he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox
and four sheep for the sheep.

If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies,
the defender is not guilty of bloodshed;
but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.

A thief must certainly make restitution,
but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.

If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession
-- whether ox or donkey or sheep --
he must pay back double.

If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard
and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field,
he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.

If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes
so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field,
the one who started the fire must make restitution.

If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping
and they are stolen from the neighbor's house,
the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double.
But if the thief is not found,
the owner of the house must appear before the judges
to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property.
In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment,
or any other lost property about which somebody says, 'This is mine,'
both parties are to bring their cases before the judges.
The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor."

Exodus 22:1-9 (NIV)

Some observations:
  • Someone who steals one ox must pay five head of cattle, while someone who steals a sheep must pay four sheep.  Obviously the point is to discourage stealing, since the price was so steep.
  • If a thief breaks in at night, and is killed by the property owner, the defender was not considered guilty.  However, if the break-in occurs after sunrise, the thief could not be killed.  [I guess the thinking was that if a thief attacked at night, the intruder may be intending to kill under cover of darkness, and thus may be killed himself.  However, a thief discovered in daylight might be identified and punished with a punishment which is more appropriate for the crime of thievery.  Where there is some question about motives -- was the intruder intent on thievery or murder? -- better to err on the side of giving the intruder the benefit of the doubt, rather than take a life for thievery.] 
  • Restitution is seen as so important that the thief is even sold to repay his debt if he has no resources of his own.  Apparently poverty is no excuse for stealing.
  • If a stolen animal is recovered, the thief is still supposed to pay back double, even though the person's original animal is returned to him.
  • Grazing animals may stray, but if they graze in another man's field, the animal's owner must repay the loss.  Otherwise it might become too convenient to just let your animals graze in another man's field!  Not only that, but the offender is expected to give his best products, not just a token restitution.
  • Someone who starts a fire must take responsibility for the losses incurred by it.
  • Property which has been entrusted to another person might possibly be stolen, but if it is, the thief must pay back double.  In cases where the thief is not found, judges must determine whether the person who had been entrusted with the items had stolen them.
  • Any property which is disputed must be brought before the judges to determine the true owner.  The guilty person must repay double.


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