covenant household property loss liability rights


Exodus 22:1-15

1 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he should repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. 2 “If a thief is found breaking in and is attacked and dies as a result, there should be no bloodguilt for him, 3 but if the sun has risen on him, there should be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he should be sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he should pay double. 5 “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his animal loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he should recompense the man from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. 6 “If fire breaks out and catches in weeds so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire should fully recompense for the loss. 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 should 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 should 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 animal to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, 11 an oath by the LORD should be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner should accept the oath, and he should not seek recompense. 12 But if it is stolen from him, he should seek recompense from its owner. 13 If it is torn by animals, let him bring it as evidence. He should not seek recompense 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 should full recompense the loss. 15 If the owner was with it, he should not seek recompense; if it was rented, only the rental fee is due.

covenant household property loss liability rights

These legal rules helped the judges determine who was responsible in case items of property were lost or stolen, and how those liable were to compensate for the loss. Some general thoughts are helpful:

  1. The rules applied to more than just animals. They were to be applied for any loss, indicating that the LORD took property loss seriously.
  2. None of the rules suggested incarceration as the appropriate penalty. The goal was restitution of both parties and restoration of the peace in the community. By contrast, imprisonment forces isolation and segregation.
  3. In some cases, liability could not be established. In such cases, the accused and accuser were both to make an oath before God, and leave the matter in his hands. This implies a belief in divine justice, even if the courts cannot establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. God was the supreme court.
  4. People were to be held responsible for neglect resulting in damage or loss of property. This taught the principle that other people’s property is to be respected as much as one’s own. Again, the community as a whole is in view. There is no place in God’s community for those who are only willing to look out for number one.

LORD, restore us – not just to yourself, but also to one another. Help us to function as the divine community, and so model your plan for our future.

About Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !
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