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Laws concerning theft, damage, trespasses, fornication, witchcraft, first-fruits, &c.
Before Christ 1491.
Exodus 22:1. If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep, &c.— If he killed or sold such stolen ox, sheep, or goat, and was legally convicted of the crime, he was to restore five oxen for an ox, &c. If they were found alive upon him, and there was no trouble of a legal process, he was to restore double, Exodus 22:4. It is observable, that a smaller satisfaction is required for a sheep than for an ox; the reason for which seems evidently to be, the greater proportionate value of an ox than a sheep: it should be noted too, that while a double restitution is required for many other thefts, a four or five-fold restitution is required for cattle; which, feeding in the open fields, are more liable to be stolen than money, goods, and jewels, secured in a house. There was a law of Solon, ordaining, that if the owner recovered what had been stolen, the restitution should be double; if not, ten-fold. But, above all things, it is to be noted upon these laws respecting theft, that none of them make theft capital; and how far it may be justifiable for any laws to make it capital, seems a very disputable point. To take away life for a robbery of a few shillings, and to punish such an offender as severely as a murderer, appears inconsistent with the laws of equity and reason, as well as detrimental to the community, which it thus deprives of many lives that might doubtless be rendered very useful to it. Our Saxon ancestors were, in this particular, more equitable perhaps than we. Theft, among them, was not for a long time punished with death; and, even after it was made capital, it was redeemable with money. We refer the reader, desirous of further satisfaction on the subject, to the first dissertation on the government of the Anglo-Saxons in Rapin's History of England.
Exodus 22:2. If a thief be found breaking up— That is, if he were found in the very act of breaking into a house, then reason and self-defence justified the destroying such a person, and accordingly the Divine law adjudged such homicide guiltless. The law of Solon, and of the twelve tables, agreed with this; and it was one of Plato's laws, that if a thief entered a man's house by night, the man was justified in killing him. We add there shall no blood be shed for him: the Hebrew is only no blood for him; that is, says Houbigant, there shall be no avenging of his blood: דמים damim, is often so used: for him refers to the thief, not to the homicide.
Exodus 22:3. He shall be sold for his theft— The laws of the twelve tables ordained, that a thief should be delivered to him whom he robbed, to be his slave.
Exodus 22:5. If a man shall cause a field, &c.— This equitable law of restitution extended to all cases. The law of the twelve tables was more severe upon this head, as Calmet observes; for there it is enjoined, that if any one cut down, or let his cattle eat another's field; if he be of age, he shall be consecrated to Ceres; if under age, he shall be beaten as the praetor shall order, and make double restitution. This verse might be rendered, much more properly, thus, When any man shall cause a field or a vineyard to be eaten, sending out his own beast, which shall feed upon the field of another; of the best, &c.
Exodus 22:12. And if it be stolen from him— The former verses make it very clear, that this restitution was only to be made in case the person, from whom the thing was stolen, did not make it evident, upon oath, that it was stolen without his knowledge or privity.
Exodus 22:13. If it be torn—let him bring it for witness— That is, let him bring what is torn, or what remains of it, in proof of his allegation. Houbigant renders this verse, if it be torn in pieces by wild beasts, he shall bring him to the place where the animal lies, and shall not make restitution: the Hebrew is, he shall bring him a witness. See Amos 3:12.
Exodus 22:18. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live— What is here translated witch, is rendered sorcerer, ch. Exo 7:11 where see an account of the word. In various passages of the law, some of which are pointed out in the margin of our Bibles, inchantment, magic, and sorcery, with all their abominable and idolatrous rites, are forbidden: the reason of which, as well as of the severe prohibition in this place, is the connexion of such sort of persons with demons and evil spirits, and their consequent perversion. Jablonski Pantheon Egypt. lib. 2: cap. 7.
Exodus 22:20. He that sacrificeth— A particular species of worship is here used to express worship in general: it means, he that payeth any religious honour,—shall be utterly destroyed; delivered to death, Deuteronomy 13:15; Deuteronomy 17:2-5. Houbigant observes here, that the Samaritan reading is the best: he that sacrificeth to strange gods, shall be devoted to death.
Exodus 22:21. Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, &c.— The reason subjoined to enforce this humane and hospitable law, plainly proves the general and extensive meaning of the word stranger: it implies all such persons of any other country, as should sojourn in their land, as they, who were strangers, sojourned in the land of AEypt; where, the inhospitality and the evils they felt were to be remembered as motives to a different behaviour. Note; Strangers must not be oppressed, neither advantage taken of their ignorance, nor prejudice shewn against them in judgment; nor any affront or unkindness offered them. Strangers have a double title to our protection and humanity, as from their circumstances they must be more exposed, and liable to imposition or oppression.
Exodus 22:22. Ye shall not afflict any widow, &c.— The humanity of the Divine law is always discernible: none are so helpless and pitiable, as widows and orphans: God therefore enjoins, under the severest penalties, a tender regard to them; while he condescends himself to be called the Father of the fatherless, and the Husband of the widow; nay, and even vouchsafes himself to become their Judge and Avenger: I will surely hear their cry, &c. Exodus 22:23-24. See Deuteronomy 10:18. Psalms 68:5.
Exodus 22:25. Thou shalt not be to him as an usurer— The Hebrew word נשׁךֶ neshek, signifies biting usury, says Parkhurst: so the Latins call it usura vorax: to this purpose some Hebrew. critics observe, that "the increase of usury is called נשׁךֶ neshek, because it resembles the bite 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 or felt, at length grows so much, as by degrees to devour another's substance." It is evident, that what is here said must be understood of accumulated usury, or what we call compound interest, only. This is an offence, which almost all nations and people have agreed to condemn: indeed, the word usurer is commonly understood with us in a bad sense, for an exactor of illegal and exorbitant interest; and our laws subject the offender, on conviction, to a threefold restitution: on this account it is to be wished that, in Mat 25:27 and Luk 19:23 our translators had used the word interest or increase, instead of usury. This usury is certainly forbidden to the Hebrews: but, from Deu 23:19-20 one would be apt to conclude, that every kind of usury or interest upon money, &c. between Hebrew and Hebrew, was forbidden; as usury from a stranger is there permitted. See Leviticus 25:35-36. The design of the great Lawgiver seems to have been, to inculcate benevolence among his people, and a tender regard to the poorer sort especially: while, with respect to strangers and others who traded with the nation, he permitted that advantage arising from the loan of money or commutation of goods, which all nations have agreed to allow, and upon which all commerce is founded. See Nehemiah 5:7.
Exodus 22:26. If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge— This law extends to every thing of daily use, or whereupon livelihood depends. See Deu 24:6 from the 12th and 13th verses of which chapter, as well as from the reason of the law, it appears that it refers to the poor. The raiment here mentioned, was that kind of loose garment whereof we spoke in the note on ch. Exo 12:34 and which, as Dr. Shaw there observes, was commonly used for sleeping in. Note; When we lie warm ourselves, let us remember such as want clothes to cover them; and never add affliction to the needy, but study how to relieve it.
Exodus 22:28. Thou shalt not revile the gods— The magistrates. See note on ch. Exo 21:6 and Romans 13:1-2. The ruler of thy people means here any one elevated (according to the original) in dignity and authority; נשׂיא nasi. Charondos, Zaleucus, and Plato, esteem as one of the greatest crimes, and as a kind of war against Heaven, irreverence and disregard to the judges and the laws. They are clothed with their character from God. To oppose or revile them, therefore, is to revile and oppose the ordinance of God. Note; A faithful magistrate must expect malignant tongues.
Exodus 22:29. Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, &c.— The Hebrew here is, thy fulness, and thy tears, or liquors, which distil in drops like tears from the press; as wine and oil. See Deuteronomy 18:4.Numbers 18:12; Numbers 18:12; Numbers 24:25. Fulnesses signify the first full-ripe fruits of the earth, the tenths or tythes consecrated to the Lord. See ch. Exodus 23:19. The LXX render these two words, the first fruits of thy threshing-floor, and of thy wine-press. These they are ordered to bring without delay to the Lord, as a just acknowledgment of his bounty and providence, and of their holding their land under his lordship and sovereign dominion. See Deuteronomy 26:1-10. The heathens, impressed with a sense of a superior power, from whom all temporal blessings spring, were careful to offer first-fruits to their gods: Pliny, speaking of the old Romans, tells us, that they did not so much as taste of their wines or new fruits, till the priests had offered a libation to the gods. This custom seems to have been as old as the world itself. See Genesis 4:3-4.
Note; They were not to delay to offer their first-fruits. Nothing is so dangerous as procrastination: how many souls have perished, by putting off to a more convenient season what present duty required! Happy they, who offer their youngest days to God, and devote to him not the dregs of age, but the prime of life.
The first-born of thy sons shalt thou give unto me— See Numbers 18:15-16.
Exodus 22:30. On the eighth day thou shalt give it me— Though it might not be given before the eighth day, it might be given after.
Exodus 22:31. And ye shall be holy men unto me— See note on ch. Exodus 19:6. As the prohibition of eating flesh torn by beasts, is immediately subjoined to these words, Le Clerc's conjecture seems extremely probable, that holy men here signifies, consecrated, as priests, in holiness to me: it being likely that the priests only of the other nations, and of Egypt especially, abstained at all times from whatever was accidentally killed, or died of itself. Pythagoras, it is well known, derived his philosophy from the Egyptian priests; and he taught, that those who would duly qualify themselves for the worship of the gods, ought, among other things, to touch no dead body; and to abstain from flesh torn by beasts, and from that which dies of itself. Others of the heathens, as Calmet has well observed, had the same aversion to flesh torn by beasts. Phocylides thus enjoins,
"Abstain from flesh, that falls to beasts a prey, Detest and throw such noxious food away To dogs; let ravenous dogs devour such feasts As fair their nature: beasts are meat for beasts." Precept. Poem. by HARTE.
Possibly this prohibition might, in some measure, be founded on the general law of abstinence from blood. In the Samaritan code it is, ye shall entirely cast it away, instead of, ye shall cast it to the dogs. (see Houbigant's note.) But a remark made by the author of the Observations, would rather lead one to believe ours to be the true meaning: "The great external purity," says he, "which is so studiously attended to by the modern eastern people, as well as the ancient, produces same odd circumstances in respect to their dogs. They do not suffer them in their houses, and even with care avoid their touching them in the streets, which would be considered as a defilement. One would imagine then, that, under these circumstances, as they do not appear by any means to be necessary in their cities, however important they may be to those who feed flocks, there should be very few of these creatures found in those places: they are there, notwithstanding, in great numbers, and crowd their streets. They do not appear to belong to particular persons, as our dogs do; nor to be fed distinctly by such as might claim some interest in them, but get their food as they can. At the same time, they consider it as right to take some care of them; and the charitable people among them frequently give money every week or month to butchers and bakers to feed them at stated times; and some leave legacies at their deaths for the same purpose." This is Le Bruyn's account; and Thevenot and Maillet mention something of the same sort. In like manner dogs seem to have been looked upon among the Jews in a disagreeable light, 1Sa 17:43. 2Ki 8:13 yet they had them in considerable numbers in their cities, but they were not shut up in their houses or courts, Psalms 6:10. They seem to have been forced to seek their food wherever they could find it, Psalms 59:15. To which I may add, that some care of them seems to be indirectly enjoined to the Jews in this verse; where, after prohibiting them to eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field, it is added, ye shall cast it to the dogs: Circumstances, which seem to be better illustrated by the abovementioned travellers into the East, than by any commentators that I know of.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 22". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13