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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 22

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Property damage 21:33-22:15

Verses 1-4

According to the Code of Hammurabi a thief should die if he could not repay what he had stolen [Note: Code of Hammurabi, section 8.] or if he stole by breaking in. [Note: Ibid., section 21.] The Torah modified this law by annulling the death penalty and substituting the penalty of being sold into slavery, in the first case. In the second case, it annulled the death penalty and protected the life of the victim. Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:4 of chapter 22 go together and deal with theft generally. The reason for the fivefold and fourfold penalties appears to be that the thief was taking the means of another person’s livelihood. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 436.] Exodus 22:2-3, which deal with breaking and entering, address a special type of theft. Perhaps the law assumed that the thief’s intent was murder as well as theft if he broke in at night but only theft if he broke in in daylight. If so, we might assume that if his intentions turned out to have been otherwise, the law would deal with him accordingly. The text gives only the typical case. Perhaps the logic was that at night the victim’s life was in greater danger so the law allowed him to use more force in resisting his assailant than in the daytime.

Verses 5-6

The fourth case involves damage due to grazing or burning. In the first instance (Exodus 22:5) the Torah required restitution from "the best" of the offender whereas the Code of Hammurabi required only restitution. [Note: Code of Hammurabi, section 57.] These two examples further illustrate God’s respect for the rights of others.

Verses 7-15

Next we have four cases involving property held in custody. In the Hammurabi Code the penalty for losing or allowing a thief to steal what someone else had committed to one’s trust was death [Note: Ibid., section 9.] as was falsely accusing someone of this crime. [Note: Ibid., section 11.] The Torah required only twofold payment in both situations (Exodus 22:9).

Second, if what someone entrusted to his neighbor for safekeeping perished by accident (Exodus 22:10-13) the neighbor was not responsible to make restitution. This was the law under the Code of Hammurabi too. [Note: Ibid., sections 263-67.]

Third, if someone borrowed something and it then suffered damage or it died (Exodus 22:14-15 a) the borrower was responsible to make restitution. This was the procedure unless the owner (lender) was present when the damage or death took place. In that case the lender was responsible for his own property.

Fourth, if someone rented something and then damaged it or it died (Exodus 22:15 b) the borrower was not responsible to make restitution since the fee he had paid covered his liability. The Code of Hammurabi specified no liability in either of these last two instances. [Note: Ibid., section 249.]

Verses 16-17

Next we have a case of seduction. Here the girl is viewed as the property of her father. If a young couple had premarital sex, the young man had to marry the young woman and give his father-in-law the customary payment (i.e., a dowry) to do so. The girl’s father could refuse this offer, however, in which case the boy would not get the girl but would still have to pay the dowry. This law pertained to situations in which seduction (persuasion), not rape, had resulted in intercourse. Other Torah passages that indicate that premarital sex is sinful include Genesis 2:24 and Deuteronomy 22:13-29. Moses did not comment on other similar situations here. Israel was evidently to function in harmony with previously existing law in these cases. [Note: Cassuto, pp. 288-89.]

"As many scholars recognize, the second half of the Book of the Covenant begins at Exodus 22:18 and the stipulations undergo a change in content to match what is clearly a change in form. The first half (Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 22:17) is fundamentally casuistic, whereas the latter half is not. [Note: Childs, p. 477.] That is, the stipulations now are expressed as prescriptions or prohibitions with little or no reference to the penalty attached to violation in each case." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," p. 44.]

Verses 16-31

Crimes against society 22:16-31

Verses 18-20

God prohibited three more practices each of which brought the death penalty. All involve idolatry.

In the ancient world, people made a distinction between black magic and white magic. The former sought to harm someone, and the latter did not. The Hammurabi Code prohibited the former only, [Note: Code of Hamurabi, section 2.] but the Torah outlawed both without distinction. Magic constituted an attempt to override God’s will. Probably Moses mentioned only the sorceress (Exodus 22:18) because women were particularly active in the practice of magic. Probably the law would have dealt with a sorcerer the same way. [Note: See Roy B. Zuck, "The Practice of Witchcraft in the Scriptures," Bibliotheca Sacra 128:512 (October-December 1971):352-60.]

Having intercourse with animals (bestiality, Exodus 22:19) was something the Canaanites and Mesopotamians attributed to their gods and which they practiced in worshipping those gods. Whereas some law codes imposed the death penalty for having intercourse with certain animals, the Torah prohibited this practice completely.

The third ordinance (Exodus 22:20) prohibited offering any sacrifice to idols.

Verses 21-27

The next collection of laws deals with various forms of oppression. The first section deals with love for the poor and needy. While the Israelites were not to tolerate the idolatrous customs of foreigners, they were to manifest love toward the foreigners themselves as well as toward the poor and needy generally. The Israelites were to remember the oppression they had endured in Egypt and were to refrain from oppressing others. They were not only to refrain from doing evil but were to do positive good (Exodus 22:26-27; cf. Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14).

Verse 28

This verse urges reverence toward God and the leaders of the community. Having dealt with proper behavior toward people on a lower social level, God also specified how to deal with those on higher levels of authority.

Verses 29-30

The law for firstfruits required the Israelites to offer several offerings to the Lord. Perhaps the purpose of allowing animals to stay with their mothers for the first seven days of their lives was to allow them to develop safely. [Note: Durham, p. 330.] It may also have been to give natural relief to the dam by suckling its offspring. [Note: Kaiser, "Exodus," p. 440.]

Verse 31

Animal flesh torn in the field before humans ate it was unsuitable for Israelite consumption. Not only might the animal have died from a communicable disease, but second-rate food like this was inappropriate for people set apart to a holy God.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-22.html. 2012.
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