Exodus 22:1

1 [a]"If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and 1four sheep for a sheep.

Exodus 22:1 Meaning and Commentary

Exodus 22:1

If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep
In which the substance of men chiefly lay in those times, and particularly the people of Israel, who were now come out of Egypt, with their flocks and herds, and these lying near together, were the more liable to be stolen; and hence also the laws in the preceding chapter concerning oxen and damages done by them, and oxen and sheep are only mentioned; perhaps chiefly because used in sacrifice, as well as serviceable for other things; not but that stealing other cattle and other things were criminal and forbidden, and to be punished in proportion:

and kill it, or sell it;
either of which cases would plainly show that he took it away with an intention to deprive the owner of it, and to convert it to his own use:

he shall restore five oxen for an ox,
and four sheep for a sheep; the reason of this difference, five being obliged to be given for the one, and but four for the other, is, because the one was more valuable than the other, as well as more useful, and also more easily stolen, and therefore the greater mulct or fine was laid upon the theft of it, to deter from it: the Targum of Jonathan expresses the reason of the law thus; five for oxen, because the theft of them hindered from ploughing, or made to cease from it; and for sheep but four, because there was trouble in the theft of them, and there was no tillage or agriculture by them: and Saadiah Gaon observes, that the damage that comes to the owner of the ox is more than that by a lamb, because with it, the ox, he ploughs, which is a creature that was used in those countries to be employed in that service, as well as in treading out the corn: Maimonides F21 accounts for it thus,

``the restitution of the theft of oxen is increased by one, because the theft of them is easy; sheep are fed in flocks, and are easily kept and watched, and can scarcely be taken away by theft but in the night; but oxen are fed scattered here and there, and therefore cannot be so easily kept by the herdsmen; hence also their theft used to be more common:''

four fold restitution was in use with the ancient Persians, with whom it was a rule,

``whoever took any substance of another, in retaliation they took fourfold from him, and if he restored it, he gave fourfold of the same F23.''


F21 Moreh Nevochim, par. 3. c. 41.
F23 Lib. Shed-dar, apud Hyde Relig. Vet. Pers. p. 472.

Exodus 22:1 In-Context

1 "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.
2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him,
3 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.
4 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.
5 "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.

Cross References 1

  • 1. 2 Samuel 12:6; [Proverbs 6:31; Luke 19:8]

Footnotes 1

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.