Protection of Property (22:1–15)
1–15 This section contains laws dealing with property rights. Central to all of these laws is the principle of restitution; individuals must take responsibility for their action and restore any loss or damage they have caused. It is not enough to say, “I’m sorry.”
A distinction is made between killing an intruder at night and killing him during daylight (verses 2–3). Killing an intruder during daylight brought guilt upon the homeowner because in the daytime there would be witnesses he could call for help, and the intention of the intruder could be more plainly seen. Furthermore, this law would deter a homeowner from committing a murder and then claiming the victim was a thief. Any law that justified killing in self-defense (verse 2) needed to be strictly limited so that a true murderer could not use the law to cover his crime.
This example shows how carefully all these laws were balanced; they had built-in safeguards to prevent abuse.77 But just having good laws is not enough; good judges are also necessary to interpret the laws and apply them to specific situations. Therefore, most cases needed to be brought before the judges (verses 8–9). In the Old Testament, these “judges” were God’s representatives responsible for arbitrating legal disputes. Thus, when one of the parties took an oath in court, he took it before the LORD (verse 11).
Social Responsibility (22:16–31)
16–17 If a man seduced a virgin not yet engaged to be married he was required to pay the bride-price, a standard payment or “gift” that a man had to give to the girl’s father for the privilege of marrying his daughter78 (Genesis 24:53; 34:12; Deuteronomy 22:28–29). The man also had to marry the girl, provided her father agreed.79
However, if the virgin was already engaged she was treated as a married woman, and both she and the seducer received the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:23–24); they had, in effect, committed adultery.
18–20 Three crimes are described in these verses which deserved the death penalty: sorcery, or witchcraft (verse 18); bestiality, that is, having sex with animals (verse 19); and offering sacrifices to any god other than the Lord80 (verse 20)—which is idolatry (see Exodus 20:3–6 and comment).
Sorceresses (and sorcerers) were not permitted to live because they were associated with the demonic powers that operated in the godless nations surrounding Israel. Such practitioners of the occult usually go unpunished in today’s secular democratic societies; but we must remember that Israel was a theocracy under the rule of God, and God could impose whatever penalties He wished. We Christians today need to understand how deeply God opposes occult practices and we must have nothing to do with them; they open us to Satan’s attack (Leviticus 19:31; 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:9–13). For further discussion of sorcery and the occult, see comment on Leviticus 19:26–31 and footnotes to comment.
Bestiality is condemned because it perverts human sexuality, a wonderful gift of God (Leviticus 20:15–16).
21–24 In these next verses, we see God’s special concern for the more vulnerable members of society (Matthew 25:34–40).
First, the Israelites were to treat the alien with kindness and fairness (verse 21). The reason was that the Israelites themselves had been aliens for over four hundred years in Egypt. Those who have suffered a particular trial should be more sympathetic to others going through the same trial(2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
God also had special concern for the widow and orphan (verse 22). They had little ability to defend their rights, and as a result they were often impoverished and uncared for (James 1:27). But God Himself promised to hear their cry and punish their oppressors (verse 24).
25–27 God forbade the charging of interest on personal loans made to fellow Israelites—especially when they were needy (verse 25). In order to get such a loan, one usually had to give some item of value to the lender as a pledge, as security for the loan; a poor man might only be able to give his cloak—an outer garment that was often used as a blanket for sleeping. Such a man had to be given back his cloak each night so he would not suffer from the cold; the lender was required to show compassion to the debtor, because God Himself was compassionate81 (verse 27). Further instructions concerning lending are found in Leviticus 25:35–38 and Deuteronomy 15:7–8.
28 Do not blaspheme God. To “blaspheme” God means to deliberately say or do anything that detracts from His glory or honor. In particular, it means to deny Him, to insult Him, to make other gods or other people “equal” to Him. The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy, of making Himself equal with God (Mark 2:7; 14:64); they didn’t realize that indeed Jesus was God. Also blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the same as blaspheming God, for they too are one (Mark 3:28–29). According to the law, the penalty for blaspheming God was death (Leviticus 24:13–16).
The Israelites were not to curse their ruler—that is, their leader, their king, their high priest (see Acts 23:4–5). Their “ruler” was God’s representative; he ruled with God’s authority. To “curse” the ruler was to oppose God (Romans 13:1–2). This law applies to Christians today: we must not “curse” (defame, betray, or inappropriately oppose) the leaders whom God places over us.
29–30 In these verses the “law of firstfruits” is given. The Israelites were required to offer to God the first and best of their harvest, both from their granaries and their wine vats—and to not hold back (verse 29).
Likewise, they were to offer—to consecrate—their firstborn sons to God (see Exodus 13:1–2 and comment). But, of course, they were not to sacrifice their sons; they were to redeem them by offering an animal sacrifice (see Exodus 13:11–16 and comment). Later on, the firstborn sons were redeemed by substituting in their place the service of the Levites (Numbers 3:44–48).
The Israelites were also required to offer to God the firstborn of their cattle and sheep. These were to be consecrated to God; later they could be sacrificed when they were one year old. They were to stay with their mothers for seven days—to suckle and thereby give the mothers relief from the buildup of milk.
31 This verse gives the fundamental reason for all of the laws given by God to the Israelites: “You are to be my holy people.” The Israelites were to reflect God’s holiness by their obedience to His laws (see Exodus 19:5–6 and comment). They had been chosen—called—to be God’s holy nation; therefore they needed to live lives worthy of the calling they had received (Ephesians 4:1).
Then verse 31 concludes with one more law: the Israelites must not eat the meat of an animal killed by wild beasts. There were two reasons for this: first, the beasts were ritually unclean and thus contaminated the meat; and second, the blood would not have been drained from the killed animal. God’s holy people were to eat nothing that was “unclean”82 (Leviticus 22:8) and nothing that had blood left in it (Leviticus 17:10–12).