God is trusting man to make judgmental decisions in light of property-based offenses. Judges appointed by Moses will make the judgments, but there is also a series of common-sense parameters outlined that will help with issue resolution.
Verses 1-15: Laws about Property
As Exodus 21 ended with animal control laws, Exodus 22 begins with laws about property. Since animals were some of the primary objects of property for humanity at this time, it makes sense that animals are at the outset of the discussion on the theft and destruction of personal property.
- Ox and sheep thieves will compensate owners for their theft: five times the amount for oxen and four times the amount for sheep
- A thief that breaks in and is killed at night is rightfully killed, but if the thief is killed after sunrise, the defender is guilty
- This means that if the killing happened during the act, it was justified, but if it happened after the fact (the day after), it was unnecessary force and the defender is guilty of bloodshed
- If the thief is identified, he is to make recompense for the stolen goods. If he is unable to do this, he will be sold into slavery to make up for the loss
- If the thief is found with the livestock still alive, he will restore double the amount
Livestock and crop responsibility
- A man’s livestock should only feed on the grain that is on this property; if a man’s animal feeds on the materials in another man’s fields, that man whose animal wrongfully fed will need to make up for the loss
- If a man loses some of his neighbor’s property that was given to him to watch over, he will be responsible for it and will pay double. If a thief is not found for the loss, the man responsible for the goods will be brought before the judges to determine his guilt
- If an animal is borrowed and dies while the owner is not present, the borrower is responsible to make restitution for the death of the animal
Role of the judges
- Any accusations of loss, trespass including oxen, donkeys, sheep, clothing, or any material good will be brought before the judges. The judges will discern whether or not the accused party will pay double to make restitution
- Oaths are also mentioned to ensure that there is trustworthiness and respect for the property of others. Allowances are made for natural loss
Verses 16-31: Laws about Social Responsibility
- A man shall not lie with a woman before she is his wife. If he does, he shall marry her. If her father refuses him as a son-in-law, then he must pay the bride-price for her
- Those that practice sorcery, bestiality and sacrifice to other gods will be put to death
- The following are to be treated well: stangers, widows, and orphans. Those who mistreat them will be punished
- If one borrows something, they will return it and also those that receive money as a loan are not to be taken advantage of
- Authority, including God and the judges and rulers of His people, will not be disrespected or reviled
- The best of everything will be offered to God and meat from wild beasts is not to be consumed
God is promoting unity and peace with these guidelines and restrictions. If all of these rules are followed, a community of peace, goodwill, and understanding will result. This is not meant to be a foundation for a utopia but is rather meant to solve some of man’s common problems while also teaching the capable men and leaders among the people to govern themselves.