Laws about Property
1#sn The next section of laws concerns property rights. These laws protected property from thieves and oppressors, but also set limits to retribution. The message could be: God’s laws demand that the guilty make restitution for their crimes against property and that the innocent be exonerated. (21:37)#sn Beginning with 22:1, the verse numbers through 22:31 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Hebrew text (BHS), with 22:1 ET = 21:37 HT, 22:2 ET = 22:1 HT, etc., through 22:31 ET = 22:30 HT. Thus in the English Bible ch. 22 has 31 verses, while in the Hebrew Bible it has 30 verses, with the one extra verse attached to ch. 21 in the Hebrew Bible. “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and kills it or sells it, he must pay back#tn The imperfect tense here has the nuance of obligatory imperfect – he must pay back. five head of cattle for the ox, and four sheep for the one sheep.#tn בָּקַר (baqar) and צֹאן (tso’n) are the categories to which the ox and the sheep belonged, so that the criminal had some latitude in paying back animals.
2 “If a thief is caught#tn Heb “found” (so KJV, ASV, NRSV). breaking in#tn The word בַּמַּחְתֶּרֶת (bammakhteret) means “digging through” the walls of a house (usually made of mud bricks). The verb is used only a few times and has the meaning of dig in (as into houses) or row hard (as in Jonah 1:13). and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guilt for him.#tn The text has “there is not to him bloods.” When the word “blood” is put in the plural, it refers to bloodshed, or the price of blood that is shed, i.e., blood guiltiness.sn This law focuses on what is reasonable defense against burglary. If someone killed a thief who was breaking in during the night, he was not charged because he would not have known it was just a thief, but if it happened during the day, he was guilty of a crime, on the assumption that in daylight the thief posed no threat to the homeowner’s life and could be stopped and made to pay restitution. 3 If the sun has risen on him, then there is blood guilt for him. A thief#tn The words “a thief” have been added for clarification. S. R. Driver (Exodus, 224) thinks that these lines are out of order, since some of them deal with killing the thief and then others with the thief making restitution, but rearranging the clauses is not a necessary way to bring clarity to the paragraph. The idea here would be that any thief caught alive would pay restitution. must surely make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he will be sold for his theft. 4 If the stolen item should in fact be found#tn The construction uses a Niphal infinitive absolute and a Niphal imperfect: if it should indeed be found. Gesenius says that in such conditional clauses the infinitive absolute has less emphasis, but instead emphasizes the condition on which some consequence depends (see GKC 342-43 §113.o). alive in his possession,#tn Heb “in his hand.” whether it be an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he must pay back double.#sn He must pay back one for what he took, and then one for the penalty – his loss as he was inflicting a loss on someone else.
5 “If a man grazes#tn The verb בָּעַר (ba’ar, “graze”) as a denominative from the word “livestock” is not well attested. So some have suggested that with slight changes this verse could be read: “If a man cause a field or a vineyard to be burnt, and let the burning spread, and it burnt in another man’s field” (see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 225). his livestock#tn The phrase “his livestock” is supplied from the next clause. in a field or a vineyard, and he lets the livestock loose and they graze in the field of another man, he must make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.
6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads#tn Heb “if a fire goes out and finds”; NLT “if a fire gets out of control.” to thorn bushes,#sn Thorn bushes were used for hedges between fields, but thorn bushes also burned easily, making the fire spread rapidly. so that stacked grain or standing grain or the whole field is consumed, the one who started#tn This is a Hiphil participle of the verb “to burn, kindle” used substantivally. This is the one who caused the fire, whether by accident or not. the fire must surely make restitution.
7 “If a man gives his neighbor money or articles#tn The word usually means “vessels” but can have the sense of household goods and articles. It could be anything from jewels and ornaments to weapons or pottery. for safekeeping,#tn Heb “to keep.” Here “safekeeping,” that is, to keep something secure on behalf of a third party, is intended. and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught,#tn Heb “found.” he must repay double. 8 If the thief is not caught,#tn Heb “found.” then the owner of the house will be brought before the judges#tn Here again the word used is “the gods,” meaning the judges who made the assessments and decisions. In addition to other works, see J. R. Vannoy, “The Use of the Word ha’elohim in Exodus 21:6 and 22:7,8,” The Law and the Prophets, 225-41. to see#tn The phrase “to see” has been supplied. whether he has laid#tn The line says “if he has not stretched out his hand.” This could be the oath formula, but the construction here would be unusual, or it could be taken as “whether” (see W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:438). U. Cassuto (Exodus, 286) does not think the wording can possibly fit an oath; nevertheless, an oath would be involved before God (as he takes it instead of “judges”) – if the man swore, his word would be accepted, but if he would not swear, he would be guilty. his hand on his neighbor’s goods. 9 In all cases of illegal possessions,#tn Heb “concerning every kind [thing] of trespass.” whether for an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any kind of lost item, about which someone says ‘This belongs to me,’#tn The text simply has “this is it” (הוּא זֶה, hu’ zeh). the matter of the two of them will come before the judges,#tn Again, or “God.” and the one whom#tn This kind of clause Gesenius calls an independent relative clause – it does not depend on a governing substantive but itself expresses a substantival idea (GKC 445-46 §138.e). the judges declare guilty#tn The verb means “to be guilty” in Qal; in Hiphil it would have a declarative sense, because a causative sense would not possibly fit. must repay double to his neighbor. 10 If a man gives his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep, and it dies or is hurt#tn The form is a Niphal participle from the verb “to break” – “is broken,” which means harmed, maimed, or hurt in any way. or is carried away#tn This verb is frequently used with the meaning “to take captive.” The idea here then is that raiders or robbers have carried off the animal. without anyone seeing it,#tn Heb “there is no one seeing.” 11 then there will be an oath to the Lord#tn The construct relationship שְׁבֻעַת יְהוָה (shÿvu’at yÿhvah, “the oath of Yahweh”) would require a genitive of indirect object, “an oath [to] Yahweh.” U. Cassuto suggests that it means “an oath by Yahweh” (Exodus, 287). The person to whom the animal was entrusted would take a solemn oath to Yahweh that he did not appropriate the animal for himself, and then his word would be accepted. between the two of them, that he has not laid his hand on his neighbor’s goods, and its owner will accept this, and he will not have to pay. 12 But if it was stolen#tn Both with this verb “stolen” and in the next clauses with “torn in pieces,” the text uses the infinitive absolute construction with less than normal emphasis; as Gesenius says, in conditional clauses, an infinitive absolute stresses the importance of the condition on which some consequence depends (GKC 342-43 §113.o). from him,#sn The point is that the man should have taken better care of the animal. he will pay its owner. 13 If it is torn in pieces, then he will bring it for evidence,#tn The word עֵד (’ed) actually means “witness,” but the dead animal that is returned is a silent witness, i.e., evidence. The word is an adverbial accusative. and he will not have to pay for what was torn.
14 “If a man borrows an animal#tn Heb “if a man asks [an animal] from his neighbor” (see also Exod 12:36). The ruling here implies an animal is borrowed, and if harm comes to it when the owner is not with it, the borrower is liable. The word “animal” is supplied in the translation for clarity. from his neighbor, and it is hurt or dies when its owner was not with it, the man who borrowed it#tn Heb “he”; the referent (the man who borrowed the animal) has been specified in the translation for clarity. will surely pay. 15 If its owner was with it, he will not have to pay; if it was hired, what was paid for the hire covers it.#tn Literally “it came with/for its hire,” this expression implies that the owner who hired it out and was present was prepared to take the risk, so there would be no compensation.
Moral and Ceremonial Laws
16#sn The second half of the chapter records various laws of purity and justice. Any of them could be treated in an expository way, but in the present array they offer a survey of God’s righteous standards: Maintain the sanctity of marriage (16-17); maintain the purity of religious institutions (18-20), maintain the rights of human beings (21-28), maintain the rights of Yahweh (29-31). “If a man seduces a virgin#tn This is the word בְּתוּלָה (bÿtulah); it describes a young woman who is not married or a young woman engaged to be married; in any case, she is presumed to be a virgin. who is not engaged#tn Or “pledged” for marriage. and has sexual relations with her, he must surely endow#tn The verb מָהַר (mahar) means “pay the marriage price,” and the related noun is the bride price. B. Jacob says this was a proposal gift and not a purchase price (Exodus, 700). This is the price paid to her parents, which allowed for provision should there be a divorce. The amount was usually agreed on by the two families, but the price was higher for a pure bride from a noble family. Here, the one who seduces her must pay it, regardless of whether he marries her or not. her to be his wife. 17 If her father refuses to give her to him, he must pay money for the bride price of virgins.
18 “You must not allow a sorceress to live.#sn There still were many who wished to follow pagan beliefs and consort with the dead (see Deut 18:10-11). The sorceress was someone who dealt with drugs or herbs for occult purposes.
19 “Whoever has sexual relations#tn Heb “lies with.” with a beast must surely be put to death.
20 “Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the Lord#tn Heb “not to Yahweh.” alone must be utterly destroyed.#tn The verb חָרַם (kharam) means “to be devoted” to God or “to be banned.” The idea is that it would be God’s to do with as he liked. What was put under the ban was for God alone, either for his service or for his judgment. But it was out of human control. Here the verb is saying that the person will be utterly destroyed.
21 “You must not wrong#tn Or “oppress.” a foreigner#tn Or “alien,” both here and in 23:9. This individual is a resident foreigner; he lives in the land but, aside from provisions such as this, might easily be without legal rights. nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
22 “You must not afflict#tn The verb “afflict” is a Piel imperfect from עָנָה (’anah); it has a wide range of meanings: “afflict, oppress, humiliate, rape.” These victims are at the mercy of the judges, businessmen, or villains. The righteous king and the righteous people will not mistreat them (see Isa 1:17; Job 31:16, 17, 21). any widow or orphan. 23 If you afflict them#tn The accusative here is the masculine singular pronoun, which leads S. R. Driver to conclude that this line is out of place, even though the masculine singular can be used in places like this (Exodus, 232). U. Cassuto says its use is to refer to certain classes (Exodus, 292). in any way#tn Here again and with “cry” the infinitive absolute functions with a diminished emphasis (GKC 342-43 §113.o). and they cry to me, I will surely hear#tn Here is the normal use of the infinitive absolute with the imperfect tense to emphasize the verb: “I will surely hear,” implying, “I will surely respond.” their cry, 24 and my anger will burn and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children will be fatherless.#sn The punishment will follow the form of talionic justice, an eye for an eye, in which the punishment matches the crime. God will use invading armies (“sword” is a metonymy of adjunct here) to destroy them, making their wives widows and their children orphans.
25 “If you lend money to any of#tn “any of” has been supplied. my people who are needy among you, do not be like a moneylender#sn The moneylender will be demanding and exacting. In Ps 109:11 and 2 Kgs 4:1 the word is rendered as “extortioner.” to him; do not charge#tn Heb “set.” him interest.#sn In ancient times money was lent primarily for poverty and not for commercial ventures (H. Gamoran, “The Biblical Law against Loans on Interest,” JNES 30 : 127-34). The lending to the poor was essentially a charity, and so not to be an opportunity to make money from another person’s misfortune. The word נֶשֶׁךְ (neshekh) may be derived from a verb that means “to bite,” and so the idea of usury or interest was that of putting out one’s money with a bite in it (See S. Stein, “The Laws on Interest in the Old Testament,” JTS 4 : 161-70; and E. Neufeld, “The Prohibition against Loans at Interest in the Old Testament,” HUCA 26 : 355-412). 26 If you do take#tn The construction again uses the infinitive absolute with the verb in the conditional clause to stress the condition. the garment of your neighbor in pledge, you must return it to him by the time the sun goes down,#tn The clause uses the preposition, the infinitive construct, and the noun that is the subjective genitive – “at the going in of the sun.” 27 for it is his only covering – it is his garment for his body.#tn Heb “his skin.” What else can he sleep in?#tn Literally the text reads, “In what can he lie down?” The cloak would be used for a covering at night to use when sleeping. The garment, then, was the property that could not be taken and not given back – it was the last possession. The modern idiom of “the shirt off his back” gets at the point being made here. And#tn Heb “and it will be.” when he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious.
28 “You must not blaspheme#tn The two verbs in this verse are synonyms: קָלַל (qalal) means “to treat lightly, curse,” and אָרַר (’arar) means “to curse.” God#tn The word אֱלֹהִים (’elohim) is “gods” or “God.” If taken as the simple plural, it could refer to the human judges, as it has in the section of laws; this would match the parallelism in the verse. If it was taken to refer to God, then the idea of cursing God would be more along the line of blasphemy. B. Jacob says that the word refers to functioning judges, and that would indirectly mean God, for they represented the religious authority, and the prince the civil authority (Exodus, 708). or curse the ruler of your people.
29 “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.#tn The expressions are unusual. U. Cassuto renders them: “from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses” (Exodus, 294). He adds the Hittite parallel material to show that the people were to bring the offerings on time and not let them overlap, because the firstfruits had to be eaten first by the priest. You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 You must also do this for your oxen and for your sheep; seven days they may remain with their mothers, but give them to me on the eighth day.
31 “You will be holy#sn The use of this word here has to do with the laws of the sanctuary and not some advanced view of holiness. The ritual holiness at the sanctuary would prohibit eating anything torn to pieces. people to me; you must not eat any meat torn by animals in the field.#tn Or “by wild animals.” You must throw it to the dogs.