Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Restitution

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the LORD, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the LORD for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him. And every contribution, all the holy donations of the people of Israel, which they bring to the priest, shall be his. Each one shall keep his holy donations: whatever anyone gives to the priest shall be his.”  (Numbers 5:5-10 ESV)

Still dealing with holiness in the camp where Yahweh dwells, Yahweh instructs the people that if someone takes someone’s property and lies about it in Yahweh’s name or realizes he was guilty he shall make restitution of the property plus 20 percent, in addition to the guilt offering he presents to Yahweh at the tabernacle.

But, in the case where there is no one to make restitution to, a contribution of the 20 percent must be made to Yahweh by giving it to His priest.  This shows that making things right is just as important for the one making restitution as it is for the neighbor who was wronged.  Our consciences need to be cleared when we have offended both God and man.

It also shows the strong commitment to justice that God has and that He has put in our makeup as humans made in His image.  We know it is not enough to say, “I’m sorry,” but that real change in the way we act toward one another must also accompany our apology.  Repentance should lead to action.

And it is not enough for us to cease sinning a sin.  We must also develop the corresponding righteousness.  Paul uses this example:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28, ESV)

The thief stops being a thief, not when he stops stealing, but when he realizes his belief, that what others own belongs to him, is wrong and works to give to the needs of others.  This is the true shift from wickedness to righteousness.  This is truly dealing justly and a sign of a cleansed conscience.

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Modern Ethics

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:1-6, ESV)

It seems abrupt to us, but a common feature of Christian letter writing from teachers and leaders was a segment with concluding “exhortations” or encouragements to holy living.  And it is fascinating to see what is emphasized as part of the ethic of Christianity in the early church.  Should it not comprise our ethical message as well?

  • Love your fellow Christian:  This is our most basic ethical requirement as believers.  And in light of the struggles of this congregation it was a needed reminder.  Love for one another is what Jesus said would set us apart as belonging to him (John 13:34,35) and the one thing we seem to most often find missing in our testimony for Christ.
  • Love your fellow man:  Showing hospitality to strangers has always been a hallmark of believers.  We were helpless strangers and God showed us compassion.  This is not quid pro quo, an exchange of help for payback.  It is offered freely and genuinely with no expectation in return.  Who knows if God is not testing our love by sending angels to pose as strangers (see Genesis 18&19).
  • Empathize with your fellow man:  Some of the Hebrews were in prison, not for crimes but for their faith.  But even if they were there for crimes, or were people who were not believers, this was a call to identify with the horrible experience prison was as well as with other ways in which people were being mistreated.
  • Maintain sexual purity through marriage:  In our present culture the living out of the first three ethical demands would make it much easier to focus on this one, but as it is we often don’t speak compassionately about sexual purity.  We must hold ourselves to contentment with one spouse.
  • Maintain financial purity through contentment:  Love for money is a problem in any culture but all the more so in the United States, where we’ve come to expect a level of wealth as a pre-requisite to happiness.  It is hard to be free from the love of money, but that is the Christian ethic.  It is made possible by the knowledge that God will undertake to meet our needs.  We don’t need to live in fear when God is our helper and protector.

Suffice it to say that the Christian ethic is all a response to God’s work in our lives to rescue and redeem us.  It all hinges on the reality of His righteousness and loving requirements of His children.  His holiness is best for us.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Slavery

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (Exodus 21:1-11, ESV)

Slavery has always been a harsh reality in our fallen world. Though Yahweh does not abolish slavery in this social context He does regulate it for Hebrews in a way totally contrary to the norms of their culture. Recognizing that some would get into debt they could not pay and resort to selling themselves to another to cover their debt, Yahweh regulates how this is to work among Israelites.

An Israelite can only be held as a slave for six years unless he makes a voluntary choice after that time to be a slave forever. If he doesn’t, he is to be released with no more debt to his owner, he and his family. However, if his master provided him a wife during his slavery from among other slaves he owned, the man cannot take his wife with him out of slavery.

If a man cannot pay a bride price for his daughter but a man wants her as his slave so he can marry her as a secondary tier wife (concubine), the woman is protected. If the owner divorces her he cannot sell her to a foreigner but she must come under the law of manumission after six years as before stated. He is breaking faith with her (failing to keep his covenant vows of marriage) and cannot mistreat her. If someone buys a woman as a wife for his son, she must be treated as a daughter. And if she is one among other wives he must nevertheless continue to provide for her in every way or else she is free to leave with no debt.

Though we might say these laws perpetuate slavery, the real implication here is that Yahweh will determine how we conduct our lives and His concern of love for those who fall into this dilemma bodes the prospect that slavery may one day be abolished. It has been abolished in nations whose populace is majority Christian (though not without a great degree of conflict), but still remains an issue in too many countries. In our own country the laws contained here in the Law of Moses should have taught us how to treat slaves and did eventually lead us away from slavery out of love for fellow humans.  It is to our shame that some among us argued for the maintenance of slavery and the regarding of those enslaved as sub-human.  The slavery we practiced in no way reflected the law of Moses.  There was no provision for release from slavery after 6 years though, in fact, many slaves became followers of Jesus and thus brothers and sisters.

John Woolman was born at Northampton, N. J., in 1720, and died at York, England, in 1772. He was the child of Quaker parents, and from his youth was a zealous member of the Society of Friends. His “Journal,” published posthumously in 1774, sufficiently describes his way of life and the spirit in which he did his work; but his extreme humility prevents him from making clear the importance of the part he played in the movement against slaveholding among the Quakers.

My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of his judgments, and herein my soul is covered with awe.  Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High! Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that He cannot be partial in our favor.  In infinite love and goodness He has opened our understandings from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay.  Should we now be sensible of what He requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on an immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, it may be that by terrible things in righteousness God may answer us in this matter.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Stealing

“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.

“When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.

“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double.

“If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.

“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.

“If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor.

“If a man gives to his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep safe, and it dies or is injured or is driven away, without anyone seeing it, an oath by the LORD shall be between them both to see whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property. The owner shall accept the oath, and he shall not make restitution. But if it is stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence. He shall not make restitution for what has been torn.

“If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. If the owner was with it, he shall not make restitution; if it was hired, it came for its hiring fee.” (Exodus 21:33-22:15, ESV)

These cases refer in general to the application of the law against stealing. Some “stealing” is unintentional (neglect for someone’s property) and other stealing is deliberate.

  1. A situation you cause that leads to the death of another’s animal (destruction of his property) means you pay the price of the property and you get to keep the property (the animal, etc.)
  2. If your animal kills another animal you sell your animal and share the income with the owner of the dead animal. If you were negligent, knowing your animal’s propensity to be violent, you pay the owner of the dead animal for his animal and you keep the dead animal.
  3. If you steal something you must make restitution for it in accord with its value (4 or 5 times what it is worth).
  4. A thief struck and killed while breaking in during the night is not considered murder (you couldn’t determine his intent and it may have been murderous). But if you kill him during daylight you are guilty of bloodshed (presumably, you know his intent is theft not violent harm and theft is not punishable by death).
  5. Taking someone’s property by allowing an animal to graze it or starting a fire requires restitution.
  6. Giving your property to someone for safekeeping or borrowing property that then gets stolen or damaged requires restitution, but if theft was really the cause the thief must make restitution.

Ownership of property and loving your neighbor by not envying it or stealing it, or if taken, making restitution for it, is God’s requirement of His people. We must value our neighbors and what they own and be sensitive to their loss of what they own.  Are you driving safely through your neighborhood?  Are you taking care for those who come on your property?  If you wrong your neighbor’s property are you more than making up for its loss?  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Ninth Command

Actually, the stated setting of the ninth commandment is the legal trial. It says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Some applications of this law are found in Exodus 23:1,7 where warning is given against agreeing with the wicked to give false testimony in a case, or being partial to the poor in their disputes, all for the purpose of unlawful gain (stealing, bribery). In Deuteronomy 19:16-21 the principle is laid down that a false witness will receive the penalty the innocent party would have received if pronounced guilty because of the liar’s false testimony.  True testimony is essential to justice in any community.

But the application of this law goes beyond the courtroom. The need for honesty in all our dealings is a natural implication of the ninth commandment. It is the basis for the Old Testament laws regarding oaths and vows (Numbers 30, for example). Vows are made to one another, but they are made to the Lord, also, and must not be broken.

For relationships in the Body of Christ, honesty is essential.  “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25, ESV)

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10, ESV)

There do seem to be situations in which people are not obligated to tell the truth. When Rahab protected Israelite spies by lying about their having left her place, it was deemed a commendable thing (Joshua 2). When David pretended to be insane to escape the threat of a foreign enemy a psalm was written about it (1 Samuel 21:10-15; Psalm 34). When God tells Samuel to anoint David king and he objects that Saul will kill him, God tells him to say he is going down to Bethlehem to offer sacrifice (1 Samuel 16).  If someone broke into your house and asked you where your children were, would you be obligated to tell him the truth?  Lying to protect your life or the lives of others, except when you are asked to deny Christ, seems to be condoned.

Lying is as old as the devil. He lied to our parents and Jesus calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is a tool to manipulate our or another’s situation. It is a denial of truth’s ability to make its way in life. But truth is God’s tool for successful and happy living. Failure to tell the truth destroys trust, a key ingredient for any relationship. Telling the truth to another demonstrates respect. Even withholding truth from another suggests that that person cannot be trusted with it. Such disrespect and deceit is not consistent with the fact that we have laid aside the old self, nor is it worthy of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Tenth Command

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV)

There is something distinctively different about the tenth commandment which sets it apart from all the rest. And this distinction gives a key to the interpretation of all the rest. Whereas the other commands focus on visible behavior (do not steal, murder, work on the Sabbath, etc.) this one focuses on the invisible behavior of the heart.

Coveting (craving something that belongs to another) is not something you can see until it erupts into visible sin like stealing or adultery. By dealing with an attitude in this commandment, God is indicating that attitude is an important factor in every one of the commandments. That’s why, for example, Jesus interprets the commandments in his sermon on the mount from their attitudinal perspectives (Matthew 5). There is murderous anger and adultery of the heart.

Though someone might claim to have kept all the other commandments (someone, that is, who hasn’t spent any time thinking about the commands or his own life), no one can claim he has not violated number ten. In fact, when Paul describes his attempt to live under the Law of Moses, he specifically points out the command not to covet as his undoing (Romans 7:7,8). This is the undoing for every “Pharisee” because it sets a standard that no one can keep perfectly and it reveals the utter depravity of the human heart.

Coveting is the wrongful desire to have something which does not belong to you. It is the expression of a basic dissatisfaction in life with what God has given you. Coveting tends toward obsession. What we crave becomes so much a part of our thoughts that we can think of nothing else but ways to bring our lusts to fruition. Coveting brings home the sobering reality that we cannot change ourselves. We are slaves to our desires unless God comes in and does surgery on our hearts.

Once God’s life has been implanted in our lives we can begin the process of subjecting our cravings to His authority. Instrumental in this process is the renewing of our minds by the Word of God. You do not stop thinking about something by concentrating on overcoming it. You must concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable (Philippians 4:8). God has given us words for meditation that counteract every one of our improper desires. As we study God’s Word, relying on Him in prayer for empowerment, we find new self-control in the thought realm. Many times confessing our thoughts to a trusted brother or sister in Christ steals its power. We learn to stop the trails our minds want to wander down, and put ourselves on healthier paths that God has laid out for us.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”   “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” — C. S. Lewis

Daily Thoughts from Exodus: Eighth Command

God does not endorse the abolition of private property or ownership. If there were no private ownership, there could be no stealing, but “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15, ESV) stands as an endorsement of private ownership. God speaks of things belonging to Him. All that we have is, in one sense, on loan from Him for He owns it all. But by extension, it becomes “ours” and we are responsible for caring for it.

There are many ways to steal. Laban “stole” Jacob’s wages by not “paying” him what he said he would (Genesis 29:15-20). Jacob had already stolen Isaac’s blessing from Esau (Genesis 27:1-46). Potiphar’s wife “stole” Joseph’s reputation by lying about his actions (Genesis 39:7-20). Saul stole Samuel’s priestly prerogative by offering a sacrifice in Samuel’s absence (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by arranging his death and then seizing his property (1 Kings 21). The Pharisees robbed their parents by declaring their possessions “Corban” (devoted to God) so they would not have to provide support for their parents (Mark 7:11-13).

We rob and steal in many of these same ways. We don’t declare taxable income on our tax forms, use company items for personal purposes, copy copyrighted material, spend money for personal pleasures when we owe creditors. 1 Corinthians 6:10 declares that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The thief has denied God’s way of acquiring necessities – honest work. Either he will not trust God to provide his needs or he is selfishly lazy and finds it easier to take what others have worked for. Such a person does not know the love, grace and ownership of God.

What is the positive aspect to this negative command, “You shall not steal”? Ephesians 4:28 gives it to us and gives us what our motive should be as we seek to counteract the temptations to theft:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (ESV)

Generosity made possible by honest labor is the motive opposite to stealing. The thief does not stop being a thief when he stops stealing. He stops being a thief when he starts giving to others from the fruit of his honest work. As we find ourselves tempted to take what belongs to another we should seek to respond in just the opposite way. We should become overly scrupulous about what is not our own, seeking to avoid all appearance of evil. If we have stolen we must make restitution and become generous givers instead of takers.