Do Not Steal But Care For Our Neighbours’ Properties

Do Not Steal But Care For Our Neighbours’ Properties

Preacher Huijun - 27 August 2023

Do Not Steal But Care For Our Neighbours' Properties

Are Old Testament laws really irrelevant to modern times? How can we apply the principles behind biblical laws today? Specifically, what does God teach us about the sins of theft and negligence?

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Two broad categories of law.

1) Apodictic.

  • Absolute and unconditional.
  • To be obeyed under all circumstances by everyone.
  • Example: Ten Commandments.

 

2) Casuistic (“case law”). 

  • “If…, then…”
  • Conditional (of specific situations), followed by a type of punishment.
  • Most of the laws in Covenant Code are casuistic.

 

Biblical laws are “paradigmatic” in nature. 

  • Offers a “paradigm”, model for behaviors; not exhaustive.
  • Different from modern day legal system, where potential “legal loopholes” may be found.
    • Anything that is not explicitly prohibited is deemed permissible at no penalty.
  • But God’s people are expected to distill underlying principles from ‘case law’ examples, instead of applying the law too narrowly.
  • If OT laws are paradigmatic, are they still irrelevant to modern times?

 

Laws protecting properties.

1) Theft of properties <v1-4>.

<Ex 22> 1  “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

2 “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed.

“Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. 4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double.

  • While theft is wrong, not all acts of theft are of same severity, must consider the circumstances, motives, and extent of harm done.

 

2) Negligence of properties <v5-6>.

<Ex 22> 5 “If anyone grazes their livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in someone else’s field, the offender must make restitution from the best of their own field or vineyard.

6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

  • Negligence is no excuse to escape punishment.
  • We harm others not only by what we do directly or indirectly, but also in what we neglect to do.
  • Carelessness linked to selfishness.
  • Penalty for being negligent: Compensate with your “best”.
  • Not cheap “sorrys” or repentance.
  • Opposite of negligence? Diligence (carefulness).

 

3) Safekeeping and borrowing of properties <v7-15>.

<Ex 22> 7 “If anyone gives a neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if caught, must pay back double.

8 But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges, and they must determine whether the owner of the house has laid hands on the other person’s property. 

9 In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, ‘This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to the other.

10 “If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 11 the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.

12 But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, restitution must be made to the owner. 13 If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, the neighbor shall bring in the remains as evidence and shall not be required to pay for the torn animal.

14 “If anyone borrows an animal from their neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, they must make restitution. 15 But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.

  • Practice responsible “borrower etiquette”.

 

Biblical justice.

1) Restitution for wrong/harm done.

  • Rule of thumb: “Pay back more” than what was stolen or damaged.

2) Retributive justice: Punishing the offender.

3) Restorative justice: Restoring the offender, some form of restoration (restitution) to victim, restoring peace and justice to community.

 

  • 10 “If anyone gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to their neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, 11 the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the Lord that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.
  • Sometimes, no one is to be blamed for our loss, not any human, nor God.
  • Can we accept if justice tells us we are not receiving any compensation for our loss?

4) Seek not a self-entitled justice, but God’s justice.

5) Strength to do justice?

  • Power of the gospel. Zacchaeus’ example <Lk 19>.

Reflection

  1. Do you find Old Testament (OT) laws relevant today? After understanding the paradigmatic nature of God’s laws, how can you apply OT laws which were set in different cultural context from ours today? Do you think modern day teaching need something like casuistic laws (case examples on life applications) to help God’s people better understand how to live in God-pleasing ways?
  2. What have been your attitude toward your neighbour’s properties (indifference, negligence, envy, or extra cautious, etc.)? How can you be more responsible in taking care of others’ properties?
  3. From the principle of restitution shared, how can you seek to make up to someone whom you have wronged or harmed, intentionally or unintentionally?
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Preacher Hui Jun
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Huijun serves as Secretary of The Blessed RUN Ministries. She is also the Preacher at The Life Church and Missions (Singapore). She graduated from Singapore Bible College and currently lives in Singapore with her husband, Chengji.

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