If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep (Exodus 22:1)
The Scripture is adamant about how one is to treat their fellow man and, in conjunction with this, how to treat their property. One’s property is the fruit of their hard labor, and so for someone else to steal it or to inflict damage upon it is equivalent to doing the same thing to the person. To respect someone’s property is to respect the person; to respect the person is to respect the One who created them. Thus, this command means so much more than just discouraging theft; it is to remind God’s people, yet again, how important it is to treat each other with kindness, respect and justice.
To those who would think that the penalty outlined here is too rigid, consider that, in God’s way of doing things, the penalty always matches the crime. In other words, here the guilty party is to make restitution — stiff restitution mind you — but, at least, he doesn’t necessarily have to pay the penalty with his life. The ancient code of Hammurabi was much more severe than this when it came to theft. In Europe and in America, death was meted out for stealing livestock well into 19th century. Now, that’s rigid and severe.
So what are we to make of God’s instruction? Consideration is not only given to the victim but to the offender as well. In other words, if restitution is made — even if it stings a bit — there is always the chance for repentance and restoration. When someone is guilty of a sin, God doesn’t allow it to go unnoticed or unchallenged, but at the same time, He always leaves a path that leads to redemption if the guilty have a heart to receive it. And so where we are concerned, if this is the Father’s way, it should be ours as well. Yes, there should be consequence for sin but there should always be forgiveness and an eye on restoration. Once again, it is imperative that we love our neighbor as ourself.
Blessings and Shalom,