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Laws about repayment (22:1-17)
A convicted thief had to return stolen goods and pay a fine in the form of an additional compensation to the owner. The more serious the crime, the heavier the fine. If the thief could not make the payment, he himself became the payment by becoming the slave of the one whose goods he had stolen. It was not lawful to kill a thief caught in the act, unless at night, when self-defence could make such action excusable. Normally the thief was to be captured and brought before the judges (22:1-4).
Compensation had to be made for damage caused by cattle or fire (5-6). A person who had goods left in his care could become the centre of a dispute if those goods were lost or damaged. If he could satisfy the judges, either through making a statement on oath or by producing evidence, that he was not responsible, he was not required to pay compensation. But if a suspicion of dishonesty existed, or if two parties claimed possession of the same thing, the judges had some means of deciding who was wrong (7-15).
When a man, through misbehaviour, caused a young woman to lose her virginity, he had to pay compensation to the woman’s father. This payment was required whether the father allowed the man to marry his daughter or not, because the father now had no chance of obtaining the bride price he could normally expect for a virgin daughter (16-17).
Miscellaneous matters (22:18-23:19)
Israelite law prohibited pagan customs and religious practices that threatened the nation’s spiritual life. The penalty for such offences was usually death (18-20). The Israelite people were to remember their own bitter experiences in Egypt and show mercy to the disadvantaged. The law against charging interest on a loan was designed to encourage the rich to help the poor instead of exploiting them (21-27). (For the contrast between lending that is greedy exploitation and lending that is a legitimate investment see Luke 6:34; Luke 19:23.) Being part of a nation dedicated to God, the people were to be respectful and generous towards him, and keep themselves pure from all uncleanness (28-31).
Officials had to administer strict justice at all times. They were not to favour either the rich or the poor, nor were they to allow popular opinion to influence justice. Yet to follow strictly the letter of the law was not enough. People were to be kind to others, even to enemies and foreigners. They were also to be kind to animals (23:1-9).
Every seventh year the people had to rest the land from farming. Any produce that grew of itself during that year was to be left for the poor. God would give extra produce in the sixth year so that there would be no shortage the following year. Every seventh day was to be a rest day for all, masters, workers and animals (10-13; see Leviticus 25:18-22).
There were three main festivals each year that at least all male adults were to attend. The first of these was Passover-Unleavened Bread, which commemorated the deliverance from Egypt. The second was Pentecost-Harvest Firstfruits, which was celebrated fifty days later and marked the end of the wheat harvest. The third was Tabernacles-Ingathering (GNB: Festival of Shelters), which came at the end of the agricultural year (14-17; for details see Leviticus 23:1-44).
One superstitious heathen practice that Israel’s law prohibited was the keeping of part of a sacrifice as a good luck charm. Another was the boiling of a young goat in its mother’s milk, in the hope that this would give increase in the flocks (18-19).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 22". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany