[This is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, “The Bible and Civil Law” by John W. Schoenheit.]
There certainly is a need in today’s society for an understanding of how to properly order a society so that it can be a godly society where people can live a peaceable life and a profitable life. There is a large criminal element in our society and a lack of understanding of how to handle it from a biblical perspective.
God honors social and governmental structure. You can see an example of that in Romans 13.
(1) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
(2) Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
(3) For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
(4) For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
(5) Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
(6) This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
(7) Give everyone what you owe him: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
This section of Scripture talks about submitting yourself to the governmental authorities, they are a terror to those who do wrong, not a terror to those who do right. This is an ideal section in that we know that governments are put together by people and people make mistakes, but there is something that you need to be aware of biblically. The godliness of the society depends less upon the form of government than on the godliness of the rulers and the people that are ruled.
In the Bible you see a large number of governmental systems. The governmental system of the eternal future will be a kingdom. God and Christ will reign and even though it will be a kingdom, it will be a godly system. In Scripture you see kingdoms, tribal governments, military order, and in history we’ve seen democracies and republics. We can’t say that a government is ungodly or godly unless the system of government goes against something that is specifically stated in the Bible.
Example: All through the Bible, God protects and propounds the private ownership of property. If there is governmental system which removes private property, then that system could not be made to be a godly system because the very structure on which it is based is ungodly. I know that some types of communism are like that.
As far as a kingdom being godlier than a republic or godlier than a tribe, that is not as important as the godliness of the rulers and godliness of the ruled.
1 Peter 2:13 and 14
(13) Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,
(14) or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
We see the same thing here as in Romans; everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities and those who are sent to punish wrong doers.
If you want a godly society then you have to be willing to work for it. The idea of “I’m not going to get involved with government,” “I’m not going to help out in government” or “I don’t want to get involved in lawmaking, it’s a bunch of politics,” is not the best one to have. If it’s going to be godly politics, then godly people have to get involved.
God says to submit to governments. I know biblically there are those who would quote Acts 5:29. Here is a person who believes the government is way out in left field so he wants to go and do his own thing. He doesn’t think the government is asking him to do what God says to do, so he quotes this verse. “Oh, I should obey God rather than men.” Before we do that, let’s read Acts 5:29 and understand what is going on.
At this time, the Sanhedrin did not want the apostles talking about Jesus Christ, which is, by the way, something God wanted the apostles to do. So, Peter answered in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God not men.”
There are times when you do need to stand against your society. The American revolution of 1776 is an example of that, where the society needed to be changed from the outside in.
I urge you to continue to read what happened in Acts 5:40 where it says, “His speech persuaded them.” You see, the Sanhedrin wanted to kill the apostles and a man named Gamaliel stood up and persuaded them not to. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. The apostles decided to obey God rather than their civil government, but they paid for that dearly.
That is something people have to understand. God instituted social order. We see that in Romans 13. There are times when you need to change the social order from the outside, in but there is a cost. It is not free. It is much better if, as a godly citizen, you know something about the biblical law, what you want to do, where you want to go, and you move in that direction in a godly fashion.
How do we recognize a godly law?
1 Timothy 1:8
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
What law are we talking about here? We’re talking about the civil or criminal law established through Scripture, particularly through the Old Testament. We know it is good if one uses it properly.
1 Timothy 1:9-11
(9) We also know that the law is not made for the righteous but for the law breakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers,
(10) for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever is contrary to the sound doctrine
(11) that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
When you’re dealing with the field of civil or criminal law, there is not an immense amount in the Gospels, the book of Acts or the Church Epistles (Romans through Thessalonians). Instead, what God has done is He gave the Old Testament civil and criminal law. It says in the Old Testament what to do about perjury, what to do about murder, what to do about kidnapping; the same Devil who inspired evil acts then inspires evil acts now. It’s mankind who God’s civil and criminal law applied to in the Old Testament and it’s mankind who God’s civil and criminal law applies to in the New Testament. Man’s basic desires: love, hate, fear, jealousy have not changed. What God does in 1 Timothy 1:8 is like an arrow that points to the Old Testament – “We know the law is good if one uses it properly.”
What would a proper use of the law be? First, it has to conform to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Then you have to look for any changes that have been made from the Old Testament to the New Testament. There were many things that changed concerning the Levitical law. An example is how the Sabbath law has changed. We’ll read in Numbers 15 where a guy got killed for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. I don’t think anyone today should be killed for mowing his lawn on the Sabbath day. Hebrews Chapter 10 shows many of the Levitical laws – what to eat, what not to eat, going in and out of the tabernacle, what to wear. These were all simply shadows of the good things that were coming in Christ.
When it comes to what do you do with a thief, a rapist, or a murderer those things have not changed in Christ. The basic law has not changed, but what has changed is the ability to go to God for further light.
A classic example of that is in John 8:2-5. The Pharisees have caught a woman in the act of adultery and they brought her before Jesus and said, “the law of Moses commands us to stone her but what do you say?” At that point, Jesus could have said, “yes, you are right. Moses said the act of adultery was a capital crime, so kill her,” but he got further guidance. He bent down and scribbled in the sand and then stood up and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The crowd went away and Jesus looked up at her and said, “Go and sin no more.”
Part of the proper use of the law is the ability to go to God for further guidance in any one situation.
Let’s look at the law in Exodus 21.
There is a theme over and over in the Old Testament law, which is responsibility. God says the individual is responsible for his actions. You will see the concept of responsibility and individual responsibility all through the Old Testament law. Another thing you will see over and over again is restitution to the innocent one who is harmed. If there is an innocent person who is harmed, hurt, or stolen from, that person gets restitution. One other thing that comes up from reading through the Bible is that there is risk.
There are three themes you will see in the Old Testament law: responsibility, restitution and risk.
These are the laws you are to set before them:
Moses is on top of Mount Sinai and God is setting the laws that Moses is to bring before the people.
“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything.
A Hebrew servant? When do you get to buy a human being? Through the slavery system. The Bible deals with criminals and people who can’t pay their debts via a slavery system, and I think that is important to realize. In America today, we have a slavery system also, but we disguise it as a prison. If you have a person, and they have to wear what you give them to wear, and they have to go where you tell them to go, and they have to do what you tell them to do, and they have to get up when you tell them to get up, and they have to go to sleep when you tell them to go sleep, and they have to eat when you tell them to eat, we call them a prisoner but, in fact, they are a slave. They are not free to go where they want to go, wear what they want to wear, sleep when they want to sleep and eat what they want to eat. They are a slave.
Now, the Bible had a slavery system. The problem with the American prison system is that it is more hurtful than it is good. Say a person steals my car, sells it and uses the money to buy drugs. The car is gone, the money is gone, and all we have left is the person. He has hurt me by stealing my car. Then they put the person in prison and he hurts me again with a tax bill to build and maintain the prison.
God says, “that is not the way I want my biblical society to work.” Remember: responsibility, restitution and risk. In the Bible, the person who harmed me was responsible to pay me back for the harm they had caused, so, if they stole my car, they were responsible to pay me back for that. What if they could not pay me back? Then they were sold into slavery and they worked to pay it back. The slavery system allowed the victim to get restitution.
It is important at this point to read Deuteronomy 15:12-14.
(12) If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free.
(13) And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed.
(14) Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you.
Remember, this guy has been a slave for six years, so when you give him his freedom, you have to give him enough to start over; otherwise, it isn’t going to be too long and he’ll be a slave again.
Exodus 21:3 and 4
(3) If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him.
(4) If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
This may be a little hard to take. Remember, responsibility and restitution. The master gave him a wife. Who was feeding them? Who was clothing them? Who was paying for the woman as she was raising those children and not able to work? That was all on the master’s shoulders, and now after six years he’s going to walk away with his wife and children after the master has taken on all of that? No. If he didn’t want the wife and children to be the master’s, then he should not get married during the six years. However, it doesn’t mean he won’t see them again, it just means that the wife and children would remain in the master’s household instead of his household. He could get a house down the street and see them.
Exodus 21:5 and 6
(5) “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’
(6) then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.
There are some people in society who, businesswise, cannot seem to get it together. There’s this guy who has tried to start a business. He has sold his possessions and he just can’t make a go of it. So, he’s working for his master and he’s never eaten so well. He has never had a nice, warm, dry place to stay like this. He gets up in the morning and he’s assigned all his duties. He knows exactly what he’s to do and when the day is done there are very few problems in his life because he works hard, gets fed and gets his clothing and he says, ‘Hey, I love this.’ There are a lot of people like this. They would never run their own business, but they like working for someone else. He is basically attached to the master’s household. That is the symbolism behind the ear piercing.
Exodus 21:7-11 shows that women are not treated the same way as men. If a woman is sold into slavery, she doesn’t go free in the seventh year but she stays on with the household. Most women became slaves because they were sold by their parents. Daughters were usually sold when their parents got into debt. Nehemiah 5:12 gives an example of that.
Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.
I thought the Bible said thou shall not kill? No, it doesn’t. The sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13) in the King James Version reads “thou shall not kill.” That is a mistranslation of the Hebrew text. If you read the New International Version (NIV) or many modern versions, they read “you shall not murder.” There is a difference between murder and killing. The Hebrew word is “Ratsach” and properly translated murder by the NIV translators.
The death penalty is the lynch pin of a godly society because you have to be able to have the person who causes the harm provide restitution to the harmed. In many cases the one who was harmed can get that restitution if the one who caused the harm goes to work. But if the one who has caused the harm (a kidnapper, a murderer…) is a danger to society, then you can’t afford to have him working in your house or in your neighbor’s house or in your neighborhood. That person is to be killed.
However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.
Now, what is verse 13 talking about? Accidental killing, is that murder? No.
Let’s talk about murder a second. When Exodus 20:13 says, you shall not murder, and Exodus 21:12 says, if you strike a man and kill him you shall be put to death, murder has two elements. One is intentional and the second is that it is unjust. There’s a killing and if it is both intentional and unjust, it is murder. If it’s unjust but it wasn’t intentional, it was accidental, that is not murder. The penalty in the Bible for manslaughter or accidental killing is that the person responsible for that would have to go to the city of refuge and you can read about those in Numbers Chapter 35.
Verse 14 gives us clarification.
But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
What does that mean, “take him away from my altar and put him to death”? Historically, there has been something called the sanctuary of the Church. In the movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame they make a big thing about it. A criminal could go into a church and find sanctuary. God says, “Not with a murder. If there is a murder, I don’t care if he is hanging on the altar.”
1 Kings 2:28 shows an example of this:
1 Kings 2:28
When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the LORD and took hold of the horns of the altar.
Joab has conspired with Adonijah, who was a son of David, to overthrow David and take over his kingdom and the word was out that Joab was going to be killed for that. Well, what did Joab do? He fled to the tent of the Lord and took hold of the horns on the altar. He wanted sanctuary, but he had been a murderer.
1 Kings 2:29 and 30a
(29) King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Johoiada, “Go, strike him down!”
(30a) So, Benaiah entered the tent of the Lord and said to Joab, “The king says, ‘Come out!’”
Is that what the king said? No, the king said to “strike him down,” but Benaiah, knowing the sanctuary of the tabernacle said “come on out.”
1 Kings 2:30b and 31
(30b) But he answered, “No, I will die here.” Benaiah reported to the king, “This is how Joab answered me.”
(31) Then the king commanded Benaiah, “Do as he says. Strike him down and bury him,
Which is what they did.
So what God is saying in Exodus 21:14 is, “I don’t care if he is camped out on my altar. If he’s a murderer you take him out and put him to death.”
The death penalty is a way to protect a godly society. It isn’t going to speed up the Judgment, it isn’t going to slow down the Judgment, all it’s going to do is take a person who is harming society and get him out of the way so people can live a godly life.
To put a murderer in jail is going to cost tens of thousands of tax payer’s dollars a year. First he has harmed us, and then by the system we have instituted, he harms us again. God says that is wrong.
We need to remember when we are reading the Bible that we are not just reading some words that some guy has penned; we are reading the Word of God. God gave these laws and biblical law is harsh on criminals. If Christians don’t impose God’s laws on non-Christians, then non-Christians will impose their laws on Christians. That is exactly what has happened.
God’s laws may seem harsh but its strictness is melded out against evil doers. Remember Romans Chapter 13 that we started out with? The policemen and government were not a terror to those who did right, but to those who did wrong. It is not that way if the laws are not set up to be a terror to those who do wrong. God’s laws are harsh on the criminals, but that is how God protects the innocent.
From the perspective of the Bible, it is a privilege to execute God’s judgments in the earth. Satan wants Christians to feel bad and guilty about this but Psalms 58:10 says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He’ll wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
If God’s will is going to be done on earth, someone has to be willing to do it. From the biblical perspective, that doing of God’s Word is a privilege.
(12) Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall be put to death.
(13) However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to another place I will designate.
(14) But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my alter and put him to death.
If someone kills accidentally, it is manslaughter. If he schemes and kills someone deliberately, it doesn’t matter even if he is hiding on the alter. He is killed.
“Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.
That is exactly right. Your parents put a lot of time and energy into raising you, and if you don’t like them, you can leave. But biblically, if you attack them, you are killed.
Exodus 21:16 and 17
(16) Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.
(17) Anyone who curses his mother or father is put to death.
This death penalty thing; they actually did it.
Now let’s talk about jails.
(32) While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day.
(33) Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly,
(34) and they kept him in custody,
Custody is the biblical equivalent of prison. There are only two instances in Scripture where under godly law people were kept in prison. Pharaoh, who was ungodly, had prisons. And later, where there is a parity of God’s Word you certainly see prisons here and there. John the Baptist was kept in Herod’s prison. But in the godly law of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, that God instituted, you don’t see them. Here in Numbers it was not clear what they were going to do with the man, so they took him into custody. It was a brand new crime. What do you do in this case? They did not know. Well, Moses and Aaron must have gone to God.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.”
The LORD said that? I thought the LORD said, “ Thou shall not kill.” No, God said, “Thou shall not murder.” Here the guidance from God is that the man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.
So the whole assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
From a biblical perspective, all judicial killing takes the form of self-defense. You have personal self-defense; if somebody is attacking you or your household, then you may kill him. In Numbers 15, it is social self-defense; someone is attacking the society and they must die via execution. And there is national self-defense, which we know as war.
I know a lot of people say of war, “God says, thou shall not kill, so I need to be a conscientious objector.” Let us get straight on what the Bible does say. A religious basis is not necessarily a godly basis. God certainly allows for killing those who would endanger you, your society, or your nation.
Exodus 21:18 and 19
(18) If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed,
(19) the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed.
We learned from Romans Chapter 13 that we are supposed to pay our taxes. Obviously, if we don’t have a lot of criminals who ought to be dead sitting in jails at tens of thousands of dollars per prisoner per year, it is going to reduce our taxes significantly. Another way one can reduce taxes is to make the legal system less complicated. The Bible does not deal a lot with motive. For example, you have two guys in a bar drinking and they step out in the street and they duke it out. Is that morally right? Is that godly? Absolutely not. So should somebody else’s tax money be used to hire a policeman to make sure these guys do not fight? No. They walk away with a broken nose or a couple of loose teeth and climb into their pickup trucks and drive off. Biblically, God did not want that to happen, but it sure should not be on the shoulders of the godly individual to pay taxes to prevent it. What God says is “if you want to do that kind of thing, it is your life, but if you hurt someone to where they can not work, you are going to have to pay for the loss of his time.” “Oh, but I do not have the money to pay for loss of his time. I’m broke.” Then what happens to that individual? He is sold into slavery to pay his debt. So are you going to think twice about getting into a fight? Yes, indeed! But if the police are called in it is not always clear who punched whom, one says the other did it and so on. However, if someone has bodily harm enough that they can no longer work, somebody is responsible and it is an easy situation to resolve.
Exodus 21:20 and 21
(20) If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished,
(21) but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
Remember, I talked about restitution, responsibility, and risk. Life has a risk if you are going to run your life in a manner such that you end up in slavery. There is a risk when the master is trying to get you to work, or work in a manner that he thinks you should.
In verse 28 we look at property and the handling of property. This is a very important section at which to look.
If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.
Interesting, life has a risk. Here is a barnyard animal that has not been known to hurt anyone in the past. There is no reason to believe that it will hurt anyone in the future. But, just by its nature it is a dangerous animal. All of a sudden it gored this guy and he dies. God says, you have got to kill the bull, but the owner will not be held responsible. If you are going to work in a dangerous situation, conduct yourself carefully.
If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death.
Let me give you a more modern example of that. Let’s say you need a new car. You have a relatively steep driveway and you park the car there. Now, you go in to eat a meal and the transmission or emergency brake gives way, letting the car roll down the hill, killing someone. Biblically, you are not responsible for that. It is a tragedy. However, if you could prove that the person knew about the defect when he sold you the vehicle (just as the bull’s owner knew the bull had a habit of goring) then he would be responsible. But if just a mechanical failure happens, nobody is at fault. Life has a risk. However, if a person goes to a junkyard and puts a car together with chewing gum and rubber bands, and parks on a hill next to a schoolyard, ten minutes later the car goes careening through the schoolyard and kills three kids, the Bible would say that person is a menace to society. Take him out and stone him. We have got to see that the Bible defends the one wronged. This is the biblical way of running life; it makes life very simple.
Is biblical law harsh on the guilty? Yes. That is the only way to protect the innocent and godly.
(30) However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.
(31) This law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter.
(32) If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.
(33) If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it,
(34) the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.
You might say, “I worked real hard and bought this piece of land. I should be able to do whatever I want with it.” That’s not the proper biblical attitude.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
The earth is the Lord’s and you do not have a right to create a dangerous situation just because you own deed to the property. If you dig a pit, you should feel fortunate if only a donkey falls into it. All you have to do is pay for the loss. If it were a person and he was killed, you also would be killed.
If a man’s bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally.
In a society of risk, animals sometimes fight. If one kills or injures another you divide the animals equally. It is interesting that you don’t have to find the bull that started the fight. These laws are pretty simple dealing with bulls, but they can be extrapolated into ownership today.
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.
That is unique. You steal an ox and you pay back five fold, you steal a sheep and you pay back four fold. What God is doing here is saying, “I recognize the time and energy of the owner.” What are you buying a sheep for, wool, mutton, or fat? In the biblical culture you rend the fat and use it as butter. You put the sheep out in the pasture with the rest of the sheep, keep it safe and feed it. Oxen were trained to work. You started with them when they were young and got them used to the yoke; it took time to train them to plow in a straight line. There was a lot of time invested in that animal. So, God says, “I honor that.”
If a person steals an ox he is going to pay back five fold. What if he steals a sheep or an ox and is caught but does not have the money or the livestock? He is sold into slavery and works for the next six years.
James Jordan said, and it is true, “Biblical justice is harsh on the criminal and thus protects the godly, the widow and the orphan.”
If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed;
If in the middle of the night you hear dig, dig, scratch, scratch, becoming acutely aware there is a hole developing in the ceiling, and you are standing there with a stick and give the guy a whomp on the head and he dies, the Bible says you are justified; it is his fault.
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.
During the day you do have to ask questions first.
If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession – whether ox or donkey or sheep – he must pay back double.
In verse 1 he stole it and slaughtered it or sold it, in other words, he no longer had what he stole. He pays back five fold for something that has heart, time and energy and four fold for other “stuff.” But if he still has the item, he pays back double.
If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.
It is your responsibility to see that your livestock is not grazing on someone else’s vineyard – responsibility, restitution and risk. You must do whatever it takes.
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 starting the fire must make restitution.
If he can’t make restitution he is sold to pay the debt.
Did you know there are building codes in the Bible?
When you build a new house, make a parapet (railings) around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof.
The code is, if you build a house you make a railing around your roof so that people will not fall off. There are other codes, such as quarantines.
(1) The LORD said to Moses,
(2) “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has an infectious skin disease or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.
(3) Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.”
A person did not have the right to say, “This is my tent and I am not leaving.” If he had an infectious skin disease he must go. You cannot be allowed to threaten the health of the whole society. It was sometimes very hard, I’m sure. We are not talking about easy decisions. You may have caught a murderer and know that he must be killed, but that does not make it easy to carry out. However, it is the right thing to do per the Bible. As James Jordan says, “God gave these laws and they reflect His goodness.”
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.
From whom was the stuff stolen? It belonged to one person but was stolen from his neighbor. Well, why should the neighbor care if the thief is caught? Because the owner is going to get his stuff back and the neighbor is going to get an equal portion. It is in his best interest to get involved in the situation. That is, to help the officials out as best he can.
Exodus 22:8 and 9
(8) 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.
(9) 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.
So at that point the judges will make a decision.
Exodus 22:10 and 11
(10) If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking,
(11) the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no other restitution is required.
If I am going away and need my neighbor to take care of something while I’m gone, I’m asking him to do me a favor. We see this all the time. For example, you ask your neighbor to care for your dog while you are away on vacation. You bring over his food, bed and some toys. The Bible says that if he dies or is injured or is taken away while nobody is looking, the neighbor is not responsible; he was doing you a favor. If he is willing to swear an oath before the LORD that he has no idea what happened to the dog, then the owner is to accept that. Is that always easy to accept? No, but it is right. There is no restitution required in this case.
Exodus 22:12 and 13
(12) But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner.
(13) If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.
In fact, you can see that elsewhere in Scripture.
Amos 3:11 and 12
(11) Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “An enemy will overrun the land; he will pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”
(12) This is what the LORD says: “As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved, those who sit in Samaria at the edge of their beds, and in Damascus, on their couches.”
What good is two leg bones and a piece of an ear going to do a shepherd? If he goes out in the morning with one hundred sheep and comes back with ninety-nine, he must show proof of what happened.
If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution.
This is completely different from verse ten. There the man gave the animal to the neighbor and asked him to keep it for awhile. In verse fourteen the man goes to the neighbor and asks to borrow it. If it is injured or dies he must make restitution.
So if you borrow someone’s lawn mower, borrow one that looks like it will last a long time. Biblically, if you borrow a working lawn mower, you have to return a working lawn mower. Even if the neighbor had been using it for years and it was in bad shape, that is not the point. You must return the working mower regardless of any other circumstances. The risk is understood. There are two ways around this.
But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.
So, as you can see in Exodus Chapters 21 and 22 we have seen some interesting civil law that came complete with suggested penalties. There are times in the Old Testament scriptures where there are moral tenants being set forth. They tell you how you ought to behave as an individual. They don’t come with a prescribed penalty if you don’t behave this way.
Exodus 22:16 and 17
(16) If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.
(17) If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.
This is the origin of the Tennessee shot gun wedding. If you sleep with a girl, you should marry her.
Exodus 22:18 and 19
(18) Do not allow a sorceress to live.
(19) Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.
It was certainly clear in the medical history that syphilis and now AIDs started with people having sexual relations with animals. Remember the situation when God said that a person with infectious skin disease must go outside the camp until they were clean. The same is true here. The world would be a better place without sexually transmitted diseases.
(20) Whoever sacrifices to any other god but the LORD must be destroyed.
(21) Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.
(22) Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.
(23) If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.
(24) My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.
(25) If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.
(26) If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset,
(27) because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me I will hear, for I am compassionate.
(28) Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of the people.
(29) Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the first born of your sons.
(30) Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.
(31) You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.
This moral exhortation you’ll see all through the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. In Ephesians, for example, there is a long list of do’s and don’ts and how to behave. In Colossians and Galatians it talks about the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22) and how we are to behave. We can basically be rotten individuals without breaking any specific laws. We can be mean and abrasive and hurtful in how we act. God’s laws are specifically for criminals. But they are also to impart some kind of morality to the society. This is just the way you ought to be as a human being.
(1) Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a false witness.
(2) Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd,
(3) and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.
(4) If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.
(5) If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
(6) Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.
(7) Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
(8) Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.
(9) Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you where aliens in Egypt.
What we as Christians are trying to do is to make sure we are godly and to bring people to Christ.
We can have a more godly society if we will work hard to make sure godly laws are in place and obeyed. There has got to be an understanding that God holds people responsible for what they do. He expects that if you hurt someone in some way you have to provide some kind of restitution.
I trust this teaching has helped. I wish you God speed.