Exodus 22


Laws concerning theft, 1-4;

concerning trespass, 5;

concerning casualties, 6.

Laws concerning deposits, or goods left in custody of others,

which may have been lost, stolen, or damaged, 7-13.

Laws concerning things borrowed or let out on hire, 14, 15.

Laws concerning seduction, 16, 17.

Laws concerning witchcraft, 18;

bestiality, 19;

idolatry, 20.

Laws concerning strangers, 21;

concerning widows, 22-24;

lending money to the poor, 25;

concerning pledges, 26;

concerning respect to magistrates, 28;

concerning the first ripe fruits, and the first-born of man

and beast, 29, 30.

Directions concerning carcasses found torn in the field, 31.


Verse 1. If a man shall steal] This chapter consists chiefly

of judicial laws, as the preceding chapter does of political; and

in it the same good sense, and well-marked attention to the

welfare of the community and the moral improvement of each

individual, are equally evident.

In our translation of this verse, by rendering different Hebrew

words by the same term in English, we have greatly obscured the

sense. I shall produce the verse with the original words which I

think improperly translated, because one English term is used for

two Hebrew words, which in this place certainly do not mean the

same thing. If a man shall steal an ox ( shor) or a

sheep, ( seh,) and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore

five oxen ( bakar) for an ox, ( shor,) and

four sheep ( tson) for a sheep ( seh.) I think

it must appear evident that the sacred writer did not intend that

these words should be understood as above. A shor certainly is

different from a bakar, and a seh from a tson. Where the

difference in every case lies, wherever these words occur, it is

difficult to say. The shor and the bakar are doubtless creatures

of the beeve kind, and are used in different parts of the sacred

writings to signify the bull, the ox, the heifer, the steer,

and the calf. The seh and the tson are used to signify the

ram, the wether, the ewe, the lamb, the he-goat, the

she-goat, and the kid. And the latter word tson seems

frequently to signify the flock, composed of either of these

lesser cattle, or both sorts conjoined.

As shor is used, Job 21:10, for a

bull probably it may mean so here. If a man steal a BULL he

shall give five OXEN for him, which we may presume was no more

than his real value, as very few bulls could be kept in a country

destitute of horses, where oxen were so necessary to till the

ground. For though some have imagined that there were no

castrated cattle among the Jews, yet this cannot be admitted on

the above reason; for as they had no horses, and bulls would have

been unmanageable and dangerous, they must have had oxen for the

purposes of agriculture. Tson is used for a flock either of

sheep or goats, and seh for an individual of either

species. For every seh, four, taken indifferently from the tson or

flock must be given; i.e., a sheep stolen might be recompensed

with four out of the flock, whether of sheep or goats: so that a

goat might be compensated with four sheep, or a sheep with four


Verse 2. If a thief be found] If a thief was found breaking

into a house in the night season, he might be killed; but not if

the sun had risen, for then he might be known and taken, and the

restitution made which is mentioned in the succeeding verse. So

by the law of England it is a burglary to break and enter a house

by night; and "anciently the day was accounted to begin only from

sunrising, and to end immediately upon sunset: but it is now

generally agreed that if there be daylight enough begun or left,

either by the light of the sun or twilight, whereby the

countenance of a person may reasonably be discerned, it is no

burglary; but that this does not extend to moonlight, for then

many midnight burglaries would go unpunished. And besides, the

malignity of the offence does not so properly arise, as Mr.

Justice Blackstone observes, from its being done in the dark, as

at the dead of night when all the creation except beasts of prey

are at rest; when sleep has disarmed the owner, and rendered his

castle defenceless."-East's Pleas of the Crown, vol. ii., p. 509.

Verse 4. He shall restore double.] In no case of theft was the

life of the offender taken away; the utmost that the law says on

this point is, that, if when found breaking into a house, he

should be smitten so as to die, no blood should be shed for him;

Ex 22:2. If he had

stolen and sold the property, then he was to restore four or

fivefold, Ex 22:1; but if the animal was found

alive in his possession, he was to restore double.

Verse 6. If fire break out] Mr. Harmer observes that it is a

common custom in the east to set the dry herbage on fire before

the autumnal rains, which fires, for want of care, often do great

damage: and in countries where great drought prevails, and the

herbage is generally parched, great caution was peculiarly

necessary; and a law to guard against such evils, and to punish

inattention and neglect, was highly expedient. See Harmer's

Observat., vol. iii., p. 310, &c.

Verse 7. Deliver unto his neighbour] This is called pledging in

the law of bailments; it is a deposit of goods by a debtor to his

creditor, to be kept till the debt be discharged. Whatever goods

were thus left in the hands of another person, that person,

according to the Mosaic law, became responsible for them; if they

were stolen, and the thief was found, he was to pay double; if he

could not be found, the oath of the person who had them in

keeping, made before the magistrates, that he knew nothing of

them, was considered a full acquittance. Among the Romans, if

goods were lost which a man had intrusted to his neighbour, the

depositary was obliged to pay their full value. But if a man had

been driven by necessity, as in case of fire, to lodge his goods

with one of his neighbours, and the goods were lost, the

depositary was obliged to pay double their value, because of his

unfaithfulness in a case of such distress, where his dishonesty,

connected with the destruction by the fire, had completed the ruin

of the sufferer. To this case the following law is applicable:

Cum quis fidem elegit, nec depositum redditur, contentus esse

debet simplo: cum vero extante necessitate deponat, crescit

perfidia crimen, &c.-Digest., lib. xvi., tit. 3, 1. 1.

Verse 8. Unto the judges] See Clarke on Ex 21:6.

Verse 9. Challengeth to be his] It was necessary that such a

matter should come before the judges, because the person in whose

possession the goods were found might have had them by a fair and

honest purchase; and, by sifting the business, the thief might be

found out, and if found, be obliged to pay double to his


Verse 11. An oath of the Lord be between them] So solemn and

awful were all appeals to God considered in those ancient times,

that it was taken for granted that the man was innocent who could

by an oath appeal to the omniscient God that he had not put his

hand to his neighbour's goods. Since oaths have become multiplied,

and since they have been administered on the most trifling

occasions, their solemnity is gone, and their importance little

regarded. Should the oath ever reacquire its weight and

importance, it must be when administered only in cases of peculiar

delicacy and difficulty, and as sparingly as in the days of Moses.

Verse 13. If it be torn in pieces-let him bring it for witness]

Rather, Let him bring ed hatterephah, a testimony

or evidence of the torn thing, such as the horns, hoofs, &c.

This is still a law in some countries among graziers: if a horse,

cow, sheep, or goat, intrusted to them, be lost, and the keeper

asserts it was devoured by dogs, &c., the law obliges him to

produce the horns and hoofs, because on these the owner's mark is

generally found. If these can be produced, the keeper is

acquitted by the law. The ear is often the place marked, but this

is not absolutely required, because a ravenous beast may eat the

ear as well as any other part, but he cannot eat the horns or

the hoofs. It seems however that in after times two of the legs

and the ear were required as evidences to acquit the shepherd of

all guilt. See Am 3:12.

Verse 16. If a man entice a maid] This was an exceedingly wise

and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against

seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel

inclined to take the advantage of a young woman knew that he must

marry her, and give her a dowry, if her parents consented; and if

they did not consent that their daughter should wed her seducer,

in this case he was obliged to give her the full dowry which could

have been demanded had she been still a virgin. According to the

Targumist here, and to De 22:29, the dowry was

fifty shekels of silver, which the seducer was to pay to her

father, and he was obliged to take her to wife; nor had he

authority, according to the Jewish canons, ever to put her away by

a bill of divorce. This one consideration was a powerful curb on

disorderly passions, and must tend greatly to render marriages

respectable, and prevent all crimes of this nature.

Verse 18. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.] If there had

been no witches, such a law as this had never been made. The

existence of the law, given under the direction of the Spirit of

God, proves the existence of the thing. It has been doubted

whether mecash-shephah, which we translate witch, really

means a person who practised divination or sorcery by spiritual or

infernal agency. Whether the persons thus denominated only

pretended to have an art which had no existence, or whether they

really possessed the power commonly attributed to them, are

questions which it would be improper to discuss at length in a

work of this kind; but that witches, wizards, those who dealt with

familiar spirits, &c., are represented in the sacred writings as

actually possessing a power to evoke the dead, to perform,

supernatural operations, and to discover hidden or secret things

by spells, charms, incantations, &c., is evident to every

unprejudiced reader of the Bible. Of Manasseh it is said: He

caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the

son of Hinnom: also he observed times [, veonen, he used

divination by clouds] and used enchantments, and used

witchcraft, [ vechishsheph,] and dealt with a familiar

spirit, [ veasah ob, performed a variety of operations by

means of what was afterwards called the πνευμαπυθωνος, the spirit

of Python,] and with wizards, [ yiddeoni, the wise

or knowing ones;] and he wrought much evil in the sight of the

Lord; 2Ch 33:6. It is very likely that the Hebrew

cashaph, and the Arabic [Arabic] cashafa, had originally the same

meaning, to uncover, to remove a veil, to manifest, reveal, make

bare or naked; and [Arabic] mecashefat is used to signify

commerce with God. See Wilmet and Giggeius. The mecashshephah

or witch, therefore, was probably a person who professed to reveal

hidden mysteries, by commerce with God, or the invisible world.

From the severity of this law against witches, &c., we may see

in what light these were viewed by Divine justice. They were

seducers of the people from their allegiance to God, on whose

judgment alone they should depend; and by impiously prying into

futurity, assumed an attribute of God, the foretelling of future

events, which implied in itself the grossest blasphemy, and tended

to corrupt the minds of the people, by leading them away from God

and the revelation he had made of himself. Many of the Israelites

had, no doubt, learned these curious arts from their long

residence with the Egyptians; and so much were the Israelites

attached to them, that we find such arts in repute among them, and

various practices of this kind prevailed through the whole of the

Jewish history, notwithstanding the offence was capital, and in

all cases punished with death.

Verse 19. Lieth with a beast] If this most abominable crime had

not been common, it never would have been mentioned in a sacred

code of laws. It is very likely that it was an Egyptian practice;

and it is certain, from an account in Sonnini's Travels, that it

is practised in Egypt to the present day.

Verse 20. Utterly destroyed.] The word cherem denotes a

thing utterly and finally separated from God and devoted to

destruction, without the possibility of redemption.

Verse 21. Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him]

This was not only a very humane law, but it was also the offspring

of a sound policy: "Do not vex a stranger; remember ye were

strangers. Do not oppress a stranger; remember ye were oppressed.

Therefore do unto all men as ye would they should do to you." It

was the produce of a sound policy: "Let strangers be well treated

among you, and many will come to take refuge among you, and thus

the strength of your country will be increased. If refugees of

this kind be treated well, they will become proselytes to your

religion, and thus their souls may be saved." In every point of

view, therefore, justice, humanity, sound policy, and religion,

say. Neither vex nor oppress a stranger.

Verse 22. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.]

It is remarkable that offences against this law are not left to

the discretion of the judges to be punished; God reserves the

punishment to himself, and by this he strongly shows his

abhorrence of the crime. It is no common crime, and shall not be

punished in a common way; the wrath of God shall wax hot against

him who in any wise afflicts or wrongs a widow or a fatherless

child: and we may rest assured that he who helps either does a

service highly acceptable in the sight of God.

Verse 25. Neither shalt thou lay upon him usury.]

neshech, from nashach, to bite, cut, or pierce with the

teeth; biting usury. So the Latins call it usura vorax,

devouring usury. "The increase of usury is called neshech,

because it resembles the biting of a serpent; for as this is so

small as scarcely to be perceptible at first, but the venom soon

spreads and diffuses itself till it reaches the vitals, so the

increase of usury, which at first is not perceived nor felt, at

length grows so much as by degrees to devour another's


It is evident that what is here said must be understood of

accumulated usury, or what we call compound interest only; and

accordingly neshech is mentioned with and distinguished from

tarbith and marbith, interest or simple

interest, Le 25:36, 37; Pr 28:8; Eze 18:8, 13, 17, and

Ex 22:12.


Perhaps usury may be more properly defined unlawful interest,

receiving more for the loan of money than it is really worth, and

more than the law allows. It is a wise regulation in the laws of

England, that if a man be convicted of usury-taking unlawful

interest, the bond or security is rendered void, and he forfeits

treble the sum borrowed. Against such an oppressive practice

the wisdom of God saw it essentially necessary to make a law to

prevent a people, who were naturally what our Lord calls the

Pharisees, φιλαργυροι, lovers of money, (Lu 16:14,) from

oppressing each other; and who, notwithstanding the law in the

text, practise usury in all places of their dispersion to the

present day.

Verse 26. If thou-take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge] It

seems strange that any pledge should be taken which must be so

speedily restored; but it is very likely that the pledge was

restored by night only, and that he who pledged it brought it back

to his creditor next morning. The opinion of the rabbins is, that

whatever a man needed for the support of life, he had the use of

it when absolutely necessary, though it was pledged. Thus he had

the use of his working tools by day, but he brought them to his

creditor in the evening. His hyke, which serves an Arab as a

plaid does a Highlander, (See Clarke on Ex 12:34,) was

probably the raiment here referred to: it is a sort of coarse

blanket, about six yards long, and five or six feet broad, which

an Arab always carries with him, and on which he sleeps at night,

it being his only substitute for a bed. As the fashions in the

east scarcely ever change, it is very likely that the raiment of

the Israelites was precisely the same with that of the modern

Arabs, who live in the very same desert in which the Hebrews were

when this law was given. How necessary it was to restore the hyke

to a poor man before the going down of the sun, that he might have

something to repose on, will appear evident from the above

considerations. At the same time, the returning it daily to the

creditor was a continual acknowledgment of the debt, and served

instead of a written acknowledgment or bond; as we may rest

assured that writing, if practised at all before the giving of the

law, was not common: but it is most likely that it did not exist.

Verse 28. Thou shalt not revile the gods] Most commentators

believe that the word gods here means magistrates. The original

is Elohim, and should be understood of the true God only:

Thou shalt not blaspheme or make light of [ tekallel]

God, the fountain of justice and power, nor curse the ruler of

thy people, who derives his authority from God. We shall ever

find that he who despises a good civil government, and is

disaffected to that under which he lives, is one who has little

fear of God before his eyes. The spirit of disaffection and

sedition is ever opposed to the religion of the Bible. When those

who have been pious get under the spirit of misrule, they

infallibly get shorn of their spiritual strength, and become like

salt that has lost its savour. He who can indulge himself in

speaking evil of the civil ruler, will soon learn to blaspheme

God. The highest authority says, Fear God: honour the king.

Verse 29. The first of thy ripe fruits] This offering was a

public acknowledgment of the bounty and goodness of God, who had

given them their proper seed time, the first and the latter rain,

and the appointed weeks of harvest.

From the practice of the people of God the heathens borrowed a

similar one, founded on the same reason. The following passage

from Censorinus, De Die Natali, is beautiful, and worthy of the

deepest attention:-

Illi enim (majores nostri) qui alimenta, patriam, lucem, se

denique ipsos deorum dono habebant, ex omnibus aliquid diis

sacrabant, magis adeo, ut se gratos approbarent, quam quod deos

arbitrarentur hoc indigere. Itaque cum perceperant fruges,

antequam vescerentur, Diis libare instituerunt: et cum agros

atque urbes, deorum munera, possiderent, partem quandam templis

sacellisque, ubi eos colerent, dicavere.

"Our ancestors, who held their food, their country, the light,

and all that they possessed, from the bounty of the gods,

consecrated to them a part of all their property, rather as a

token of their gratitude, than from a conviction that the gods

needed any thing. Therefore as soon as the harvest was got in,

before they had tasted of the fruits, they appointed libations

to be made to the gods. And as they held their fields and cities

as gifts from their gods, they consecrated a certain part for

temples and shrines, where they might worship them."

Pliny is express on the same point, who attests that the Romans

never tasted either their new corn or wine, till the priests had

offered the FIRST-FRUITS to the gods. Ac ne degustabant quidem,

novas fruges aut vina, antequam sacerdotes PRIMITIAS LIBASSENT.

Hist. Nat., lib. xviii., c. 2.

Horace bears the same testimony, and shows that his countrymen

offered, not only their first-fruits, but the choicest of all

their fruits, to the Lares or household gods; and he shows also

the wickedness of those who sent these as presents to the rich,

before the gods had been thus honoured:-

---Dulcia poma,

Et quoscumque feret cultus tibi fundus honores,

Ante Larem gustet venerabilior Lare dives.

Sat., lib. ii., s. v., ver. 12.

"What your garden yields,

The choicest honours of your cultured fields,

To him be sacrificed, and let him taste,

Before your gods, the vegetable feast."


And to the same purpose Tibullus, in one of the most beautiful

of his elegies:-

Et quodcumque mihi pomum novus educat annus,

Libatum agricolae ponitur ante deo.

Flava Ceres, tibi sit nostro de rure corona

Spicea, quae templi pendeat ante fores.

Eleg., lib. i., eleg. i. ver. 13.

"My grateful fruits, the earliest of the year,

Before the rural god shall daily wait.

From Ceres' gifts I'll cull each browner ear,

And hang a wheaten wreath before her gate."


The same subject he touches again in the fifth elegy of the same

book, where he specifies the different offerings made for the

produce of the fields, of the flocks, and of the vine, ver. 27:-

Illa deo sciet agricolae pro vitibus uvam,

Pro segete spicas, pro grege ferre dapem.

"With pious care will load each rural shrine,

For ripen'd crops a golden sheaf assign,

Cates for my fold, rich clusters for my wine.

Id.-See Calmet.

These quotations will naturally recall to our memory the

offerings of Cain and Abel, mentioned Ge 4:3, 4.

The rejoicings at our harvest-home are distorted remains of that

gratitude which our ancestors, with all the primitive inhabitants

of the earth, expressed to God with appropriate signs and

ceremonies. Is it not possible to restore, in some goodly form, a

custom so pure, so edifying, and so becoming? There is a laudable

custom, observed by some pious people, of dedicating a new house

to God by prayer, &c., which cannot be too highly commended.

Verse 30. Seven days it shall be with his dam] For the mother's

health it was necessary that the young one should suck so long;

and prior to this time the process of nutrition in a young animal

can scarcely be considered as completely formed. Among the Romans

lambs were not considered as pure or clean before the eighth

day; nor calves before the thirtieth: Pecoris faetus die octavo

purus est, bovis trigesimo.-Plin. Hist. Nat., lib. viii.

Verse 31. Neither shall ye eat-flesh-torn of beasts in the

field] This has been supposed to be an ordinance against eating

flesh cut off the animal while alive, and so the Syriac seems to

have understood it. If we can credit Mr. Bruce, this is a

frequent custom in Abyssinia; but human nature revolts from it.

The reason of the prohibition against eating the flesh of animals

that had been torn, or as we term it worried in the field,

appears to have been simply this: That the people might not eat

the blood, which in this case must be coagulated in the flesh; and

the blood, being the life of the beast, and emblematical of the

blood of the covenant, was ever to be held sacred, and was

prohibited from the days of Noah. See Clarke on Ge 9:4.

IN the conclusion of this chapter we see the grand reason of all

the ordinances and laws which it contains. No command was issued

merely from the sovereignty of God. He gave them to the people as

restraints on disorderly passions, and incentives to holiness; and

hence he says, Ye shall be holy men unto me. Mere outward

services could neither please him nor profit them; for from the

very beginning of the world the end of the commandment was love

out of a pure heart and good conscience, and faith unfeigned,

1Ti 1:5. And without these accompaniments no set of religious

duties, however punctually performed, could be pleasing in the

sight of that God who seeks truth in the inward parts, and in

whose eyes the faith that worketh by love is alone valuable. A

holy heart and a holy, useful life God invariably requires in

all his worshippers. Reader, how standest thou in his sight?

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