Adam Clarke Commentary
Laws concerning theft, Exodus 22:1-4; concerning trespass, Exodus 22:5; concerning casualties, Exodus 22:6. Laws concerning deposits, or goods left in custody of others, which may have been lost, stolen, or damaged, Exodus 22:7-13. Laws concerning things borrowed or let out on hire, Exodus 22:14, Exodus 22:15. Laws concerning seduction, Exodus 22:16, Exodus 22:17. Laws concerning witchcraft, Exodus 22:18; bestiality, Exodus 22:19; idolatry, Exodus 22:20. Laws concerning strangers, Exodus 22:21; concerning widows, Exodus 22:22-24; lending money to the poor, Exodus 22:25; concerning pledges, Exodus 22:26; concerning respect to magistrates, Exodus 22:28; concerning the first ripe fruits, and the first-born of man and beast, Exodus 22:29, Exodus 22:30. Directions concerning carcasses found torn in the field, Exodus 22:31.
If a man shall steal - This chapter consists chiefly of judicial laws, as the preceding chapter does of political; and in it the same good sense, and well-marked attention to the welfare of the community and the moral improvement of each individual, are equally evident.
If a thief be found - If a thief was found breaking into a house in the night season, he might be killed; but not if the sun had risen, for then he might be known and taken, and the restitution made which is mentioned in the succeeding verse. So by the law of England it is a burglary to break and enter a house by night; and “anciently the day was accounted to begin only from sunrising, and to end immediately upon sunset: but it is now generally agreed that if there be daylight enough begun or left, either by the light of the sun or twilight, whereby the countenance of a person may reasonably be discerned, it is no burglary; but that this does not extend to moonlight, for then many midnight burglaries would go unpunished. And besides, the malignity of the offense does not so properly arise, as Mr. Justice Blackstone observes, from its being done in the dark, as at the dead of night when all the creation except beasts of prey are at rest; when sleep has disarmed the owner, and rendered his castle defenceless.” - East‘s Pleas of the Crown, vol. ii., p. 509.
He shall restore double - In no case of theft was the life of the offender taken away; the utmost that the law says on this point is, that, if when found breaking into a house, he should be smitten so as to die, no blood should be shed for him; Exodus 22:2. If he had stolen and sold the property, then he was to restore four or fivefold, Exodus 22:1; but if the animal was found alive in his possession, he was to restore double.
If fire break out - Mr. Harmer observes that it is a common custom in the east to set the dry herbage on fire before the autumnal rains, which fires, for want of care, often do great damage: and in countries where great drought prevails, and the herbage is generally parched, great caution was peculiarly necessary; and a law to guard against such evils, and to punish inattention and neglect, was highly expedient. See Harmer‘s Observat., vol. iii., p. 310, etc.
Deliver unto his neighbor - This is called pledging in the law of bailments; it is a deposit of goods by a debtor to his creditor, to be kept till the debt be discharged. Whatever goods were thus left in the hands of another person, that person, according to the Mosaic law, became responsible for them; if they were stolen, and the thief was found, he was to pay double; if he could not be found, the oath of the person who had them in keeping, made before the magistrates, that he knew nothing of them, was considered a full acquittance. Among the Romans, if goods were lost which a man had entrusted to his neighbor, the depositary was obliged to pay their full value. But if a man had been driven by necessity, as in case of fire, to lodge his goods with one of his neighbors, and the goods were lost, the depositary was obliged to pay double their value, because of his unfaithfulness in a case of such distress, where his dishonesty, connected with the destruction by the fire, had completed the ruin of the sufferer. To this case the following law is applicable: Cum quis fidem elegit, nec depositum redditur, contentus esse debet simplo: cum vero extante necessitate deponat, crescit perfidia crimen, etc. - Digest., lib. xvi., Titus 3,1. 1.
Unto the judges - See Clarke‘s note on Exodus 21:6.
Challengeth to be his - It was necessary that such a matter should come before the judges, because the person in whose possession the goods were found might have had them by a fair and honest purchase; and, by sifting the business, the thief might be found out, and if found, be obliged to pay double to his neighbor.
An oath of the Lord be between them - So solemn and awful were all appeals to God considered in those ancient times, that it was taken for granted that the man was innocent who could by an oath appeal to the omniscient God that he had not put his hand to his neighbor‘s goods. Since oaths have become multiplied, and since they have been administered on the most trifling occasions, their solemnity is gone, and their importance little regarded. Should the oath ever reacquire its weight and importance, it must be when administered only in cases of peculiar delicacy and difficulty, and as sparingly as in the days of Moses.
If it be torn in pieces - let him bring it for witness - Rather, Let him bring עד הטרפה (ed hatterephah), a testimony or evidence of the torn thing, such as the horns, hoofs, etc. This is still a law in some countries among graziers: if a horse, cow, sheep, or goat, entrusted to them, be lost, and the keeper asserts it was devoured by dogs, etc., the law obliges him to produce the horns and hoofs, because on these the owner‘s mark is generally found. If these can be produced, the keeper is acquitted by the law. The ear is often the place marked, but this is not absolutely required, because a ravenous beast may eat the ear as well as any other part, but he cannot eat the horns or the hoofs. It seems however that in after times two of the legs and the ear were required as evidences to acquit the shepherd of all guilt. See Amos 3:12.
If a man entice a maid - This was an exceedingly wise and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel inclined to take the advantage of a young woman knew that he must marry her, and give her a dowry, if her parents consented; and if they did not consent that their daughter should wed her seducer, in this case he was obliged to give her the full dowry which could have been demanded had she been still a virgin. According to the Targumist here, and to Deuteronomy 22:29, the dowry was fifty shekels of silver, which the seducer was to pay to her father, and he was obliged to take her to wife; nor had he authority, according to the Jewish canons, ever to put her away by a bill of divorce. This one consideration was a powerful curb on disorderly passions, and must tend greatly to render marriages respectable, and prevent all crimes of this nature.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live - If there had been no witches, such a law as this had never been made. The existence of the law, given under the direction of the Spirit of God, proves the existence of the thing. It has been doubted whether מכשפה (mecash-(shephah), which we translate witch, really means a person who practiced divination or sorcery by spiritual or infernal agency. Whether the persons thus denominated only pretended to have an art which had no existence, or whether they really possessed the power commonly attributed to them, are questions which it would be improper to discuss at length in a work of this kind; but that witches, wizards, those who dealt with familiar spirits, etc., are represented in the sacred writings as actually possessing a power to evoke the dead, to perform, supernatural operations, and to discover hidden or secret things by spells, charms, incantations, etc., is evident to every unprejudiced reader of the Bible. Of Manasseh it is said: He caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times [ועונן, (veonen ), he used divination by clouds] and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, [וכשף (vechishsheph) ], and dealt with a familiar spirit, [ועשה אוב (veasah ob), performed a variety of operations by means of what was afterwards called the πνευμα πυθωνος , the spirit of Python], and with wizards, [ידעוני (yiddeoni), the wise or knowing ones]; and he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord; 2 Chronicles 33:6. It is very likely that the Hebrew כשף (cashaph), and the Arabic (cashafa), had originally the same meaning, to uncover, to remove a veil, to manifest, reveal, make bare or naked; and (mecashefat) is used to signify commerce with God. See Wilmet and Giggeius. The (mecashshephah) or witch, therefore, was probably a person who professed to reveal hidden mysteries, by commerce with God, or the invisible world.
Lieth with a beast - If this most abominable crime had not been common, it never would have been mentioned in a sacred code of laws. It is very likely that it was an Egyptian practice; and it is certain, from an account in Sonnini‘s Travels, that it is practiced in Egypt to the present day.
Utterly destroyed - The word חרם (cherem) denotes a thing utterly and finally separated from God and devoted to destruction, without the possibility of redemption.
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him - This was not only a very humane law, but it was also the offspring of a sound policy: “Do not vex a stranger; remember ye were strangers. Do not oppress a stranger; remember ye were oppressed. Therefore do unto all men as ye would they should do to you.” It was the produce of a sound policy: “Let strangers be well treated among you, and many will come to take refuge among you, and thus the strength of your country will be increased. If refugees of this kind be treated well, they will become proselytes to your religion, and thus their souls may be saved.” In every point of view, therefore, justice, humanity, sound policy, and religion, say. Neither vex nor oppress a stranger.
Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child - It is remarkable that offenses against this law are not left to the discretion of the judges to be punished; God reserves the punishment to himself, and by this he strongly shows his abhorrence of the crime. It is no common crime, and shall not be punished in a common way; the wrath of God shall wax hot against him who in any wise afflicts or wrongs a widow or a fatherless child: and we may rest assured that he who helps either does a service highly acceptable in the sight of God.
Neither shalt thou lay upon him usury - נשך (neshech), from (nashach), to bite, cut, or pierce with the teeth; biting usury. So the Latins call it usura vorax, devouring usury. “The increase of usury is called נשך (neshech), because it resembles the biting of a serpent; for as this is so small as scarcely to be perceptible at first, but the venom soon spreads and diffuses itself till it reaches the vitals, so the increase of usury, which at first is not perceived nor felt, at length grows so much as by degrees to devour another‘s substance.” - Leigh.
If thou - take thy neighbor‘s raiment to pledge - It seems strange that any pledge should be taken which must be so speedily restored; but it is very likely that the pledge was restored by night only, and that he who pledged it brought it back to his creditor next morning. The opinion of the rabbins is, that whatever a man needed for the support of life, he had the use of it when absolutely necessary, though it was pledged. Thus he had the use of his working tools by day, but he brought them to his creditor in the evening. His hyke, which serves an Arab as a plaid does a Highlander, (See Clarke‘s note on Exodus 12:34), was probably the raiment here referred to: it is a sort of coarse blanket, about six yards long, and five or six feet broad, which an Arab always carries with him, and on which he sleeps at night, it being his only substitute for a bed. As the fashions in the east scarcely ever change, it is very likely that the raiment of the Israelites was precisely the same with that of the modern Arabs, who live in the very same desert in which the Hebrews were when this law was given. How necessary it was to restore the hyke to a poor man before the going down of the sun, that he might have something to repose on, will appear evident from the above considerations. At the same time, the returning it daily to the creditor was a continual acknowledgment of the debt, and served instead of a written acknowledgment or bond; as we may rest assured that writing, if practiced at all before the giving of the law, was not common: but it is most likely that it did not exist.
Thou shalt not revile the gods - Most commentators believe that the word gods here means magistrates. The original is אלהים (Elohim), and should be understood of the true God only: Thou shalt not blaspheme or make light of [תקלל (tekallel) ] God, the fountain of justice and power, nor curse the ruler of thy people, who derives his authority from God. We shall ever find that he who despises a good civil government, and is disaffected to that under which he lives, is one who has little fear of God before his eyes. The spirit of disaffection and sedition is ever opposed to the religion of the Bible. When those who have been pious get under the spirit of misrule, they infallibly get shorn of their spiritual strength, and become like salt that has lost its savor. He who can indulge himself in speaking evil of the civil ruler, will soon learn to blaspheme God. The highest authority says, Fear God: honor the king.
The first of thy ripe fruits - This offering was a public acknowledgment of the bounty and goodness of God, who had given them their proper seed time, the first and the latter rain, and the appointed weeks of harvest.
Pliny is express on the same point, who attests that the Romans never tasted either their new corn or wine, till the priests had offered the First-Fruits to the gods. Acts ne degustabant quidem, novas fruges aut vina, antequam sacerdotes Primitias Libassent. Hist. Nat., lib. xviii., c. 2.
And to the same purpose Tibullus, in one of the most beautiful of his elegies: -
The same subject he touches again in the fifth elegy of the same book, where he specifies the different offerings made for the produce of the fields, of the flocks, and of the vine, ver. 27: -
These quotations will naturally recall to our memory the offerings of Cain and Abel, mentioned Genesis 4:3, Genesis 4:4.
Seven days it shall be with his dam - For the mother‘s health it was necessary that the young one should suck so long; and prior to this time the process of nutrition in a young animal can scarcely be considered as completely formed. Among the Romans lambs were not considered as pure or clean before the eighth day; nor calves before the thirtieth: Pecoris faetus die octavo purus est, bovis trigesimo - Plin. Hist. Nat., lib. viii.
Neither shall ye eat - flesh - torn of beasts in the field - This has been supposed to be an ordinance against eating flesh cut off the animal while alive, and so the Syriac seems to have understood it. If we can credit Mr. Bruce, this is a frequent custom in Abyssinia; but human nature revolts from it. The reason of the prohibition against eating the flesh of animals that had been torn, or as we term it worried in the field, appears to have been simply this: That the people might not eat the blood, which in this case must be coagulated in the flesh; and the blood, being the life of the beast, and emblematical of the blood of the covenant, was ever to be held sacred, and was prohibited from the days of Noah. See Clarke‘s note on Genesis 9:4.
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