Laws of Equity

Exodus 21:33-22:31

There are those who raise the question today, “What is right and what is wrong?” Some say that what is right and wrong is relative. What I think is right and what someone else may think is right can be poles apart.

God, however, has staked out what is right and wrong in the Bible. What we think is right or wrong will carry no weight with the LORD when we appear before Him and give an account. God has given us a standard to follow and it will produce a society in which there is a measure of law and justice if followed.

The next section of the BOOK OF THE COVENANT legislates EQUITY in the nation of Israel when things go wrong and what must be done to make the wrongs right!

EQUITY is the action, practice, or obligation of awarding each his or her just due, no matter what station one holds in life. God’s LAWS OF EQUITY (Exodus 21:33-22:31) are open-and-shut cases of EVENNESS, FAIRNESS and IMPARTIALITY.


These laws demonstrate that God the Creator is intimately involved in the ongoing functioning of law in the community. The laws that govern the nation of Israel do not become an independent entity, with only its own inherent authority or status—like the Constitution of the United States has become. Nor is the law something placed in the hands of a judiciary to do with as it will. Loyalty to God goes in hand with close attentiveness to the various issues the laws raise.

The worship of God cannot be separated from issues of JUSTICE, RIGHTEOUSNESS and EQUITY. These three things are at the center Yahweh’s dealings with His people. Psalm 99:4-5 declares—

The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Holiness cannot exist outside of what is just, right and equitable. God’s people will not be holy if they refuse to abide by His laws. They are to love justice as God loves it!

The first two LAWS OF EQUITY relating to property are framed in Exodus 21:33-36—

If a man uncovers a pit or digs one and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit must pay for the loss; he must pay its owner, and the dead animal will be his.

If a man’s bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his.

Reasonable compensation is to be paid to anyone who suffers property loss through the fault or negligence of another. Notice the equity in these two laws. Neither party is left with nothing. The one who loses the animal is reimbursed with money to buy another. The one who pays gets the dead animal for food and clothing.

Cain had asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” These laws answer YES! All sin is selfish, and all selfishness ignores the rights of others. An attitude such as “you guard your own property or pay the forfeit” would quickly prove a disintegrating force in the community, able to over throw the nation.

Every individual is responsible for considering the public. Negligence does not mitigate responsibility for indirect acts, such as an animal falling into the uncovered pit that one digs.

The next four cases involve theft. God’s law makes a distinction between what had been killed or sold, and what is still alive and in the thief’s possession. Exodus 22:1—

If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

Ox were more valuable than sheep because they could be used in farming. In the NT, however, the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, upon receiving salvation referred to this law in Luke 19:8—

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Restitution because of theft goes beyond reasonable compensation—it carries a penalty.

Our law today says that if you destroy another’s property, you must pay damages. All that our society demands when you damage or destroy some other person’s property is to replace the item or pay what it is worth.

God’s law of restoring fourfold is much better with human nature the way it is. If we had to restore fourfold anything that we destroyed or damaged, we would be more careful. Human nature is always the same. God deals with man on the basis that is best for him.

Of course, God’s law is reasonable and merciful compared with the hanging or shooting of rustlers that took place in the Old West. Under God’s law, a person is not to be executed for stealing property. Verse 2—

If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.

In the daylight a thief could be more easily identified and less dangerously caught. Therefore, the one being robbed was never justified in taking the thief’s life after sunrise. Property is always less valuable than a human life made in the image and likeness of God. On the other hand, one could kill the robber if theft occurred in the darkness. If a thief valued his life, it behooved him to do his dirty work in the day.

Under this law a man is justified in protecting his property, his home, and his loved ones at night!

Inability to pay exposed the thief to servitude. Verse 3 —

A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.

In our society, we lock up thieves. Rarely do they make restitution and certainly not fourfold or fivefold! It would be better for the victim if thief were sold into servitude until full restitution is made. There is no better rehabilitation program than God’s plan!

The penalty was less if the owner could recover his property. Verse 4—

If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—he must pay back double.

Instead of paying fivefold or fourfold, one caught with the stolen animal would pay back double. The reason for a lesser penalty was that it allowed the thief to repent of his crime, to acknowledge his guilt, and to restore what he had stolen. But once he consumed the animal or sold it, he would have to pay the fivefold or fourfold restitution.

The next series of LAWS OF EQUITY deal with the NEGLECT of PROPERTY, which involve a breech of trust. Verses 5-6—

If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.

If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing corn or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

Thornbushes were often used as hedges to separate property. A fire that spread into the thornbushes indicates its destruction of a neighbor’s field or vineyard.

In cases of neglect, simple compensation must be made, with no penalty attached. However, one could not make restitution with inferior crops. He had to use his best crops.

Verses 7-13 are cases involving a FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY. Verse 7—

If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double.

In a primitive society, before the advent of banks, valuables were deposited with friends and neighbors, or buried in the ground. Theft of inanimate valuables held in safekeeping were punished by double restitution when the culprit was apprehended. If the thief was not caught, the person entrusted with the valuables had to appear before the judges. Verses 8-9—

But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man’s property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, `This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor.

The decision of the judges was final—there was no court of appeals.

Verse 10-11 spell out what is equitable if a loss occurs with animals held in safekeeping—

If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required.

Yahweh declared in the THIRD COMMANDMENT—

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

To take an oath before the LORD and then lie invites God’s retribution. Whenever, the LORD’S Name is invoked, He hears the case and exercises judgment. And He knows the truth! This law is grounded in THE FEAR OF THE LORD.

Loss of an animal in one’s safekeeping is handled differently if the loss results from theft or attack by a wild beast. Verses 12-13—

But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner. If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.

Verses 14-15 spell out other equitable resolutions for different circumstances for loss of an animal in one’s possession—

If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.

If the owner of the animal were present, he could have averted the injury, and therefore he must suffer the loss for his own neglect. Or, the owner would see that there was nothing humanly speaking that could have been done to save the animal, and therefore no compensation is due.

The next laws deal with social responsibility and equitable solutions. The first deals with fornication— premarital sex. God knows the fallen human nature and its propensity to sexual sin. So He sets down in verses 16-17—

If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

The seduction of a girl, who belonged to her father as long as she was not betrothed, was also to be regarded as an attack upon a family possession. Whoever persuaded a girl to let him lie with her, was to obtain her for a wife by the payment of a dowry. Moses set the bride-price in Deuteronomy 22:29—

He shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Fifty shekels of silver was probably the average price asked by fathers, which varied according to economic status of the participants. In a similar situation, we read in Genesis 34:11-12—

Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife.”

Under God’s law, the father is paid whether he gives his daughter to the man or not! She is “damaged goods” and no longer has monetary value to the family. In addition, the payment of the dowry to the father was for the disgrace brought upon him by seducer of his daughter. So the equitable solution is that the seducer pays the bride price to the father whether he gets to marry the girl or not!

Notice that the sexual encounters does not diminished or restrict the father’s right to decide whom his daughter will marry. The seducer has no choice at this point! He must marry the girl unless the father absolutely refuses to give her to him.

What do you do with an unmarried couple who are having sex, or even living together? God favors a “shot-gun wedding” in such cases!

Young man—if you seduce a virgin— marry her—and stay married for life! That’s just, right and equitable! Sexual relations alone do not make a marriage.

MARRIAGE in its simplest form involves certain essentials. First, an intention of the parties to enter into a binding marital union; and second, its actual consummation. Neither the mere intention nor the sexual act is sufficient for marriage.

MARRIAGE in the Bible consists of four elements.

FIRST, marriage involves the consent and intent of the will between partners. Marriage is first and foremost a binding covenant. In the ANE, like today, marriage agreements consisted of two parts: OATHS and WITNESSES.

SECOND, marriage was to be ratified by parents in the ANE. A practice that God appears to think best! Would marriages be better if we returned to the father giving permission and the groom paying a dowry?

THIRD, marriage involves ratification before the public (witnesses).

FOURTH, the physical consummation of the marriage should naturally follow.

Today people consider sex apart from marriage a great step forward. God gave a standard of morality to His people, Israel. Young person the very first person you have intercourse is to be your marriage partner for life! God does not condone premarital sex, but regulates the equitable results of engaging in it!

God-given sexual morality confined to marriage always has been a blessing to any nation. Any nation that has failed at this point has gone down.

Premeditated murder, adultery, rebellion against parents, kidnapping were among the capital offenses deserving death under God’s law. Three more crimes punishable by death are given by God in verses 18-20—

Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.

SORCERESS or SORCERERS are also called witches, magicians, enchanters, mediums, spiritists and Chaldeans in the Scriptures. They are involved with the occult. They appear nightly on TV!

Those practicing the occult are breaking the FIRST TWO COMMANDMENTS—insulting God and His omniscience. At the same time, they are communicating with evil spirits or demonic powers instead of God for knowledge and power from the supernatural realm. The existence of this law proves the existence of the thing. Leviticus 19:31 says—

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.

On the other hand, many phonies pretend to hold communication with spirits and exhort great sums from their dupes.

Having sex with animal just shows how low man can go. BESTIALITY was a degenerate sin of pagans, utterly out of keeping for a human being, much less for God’s redeemed and holy people. Sex with an animal violates the image and likeness of God in man, and therefore deserves death.

SACRIFICING TO A GOD OTHER THAN YAHWEH broke the FIRST COMMANDMENT and it deserves death! DESTROYED Mrx (cherem) denotes a thing utterly and finally separated from God and devoted to destruction, without the possibility of redemption.

Notice that the wording of God’s Law is precise! Christ came and bought redemption with His blood. Hence, all sin can be forgiven except the sin of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit—which ultimately is the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ as God.

Death, of course, is the most severe penalty. Had it been followed to the letter, we would have a much better society today. Destroying anyone who breaks these laws is just, right and equitable! After all, when you have a cancer, you want to rid yourself of it. This is what God is talking about!

God’s laws are basic principles that give society law and order. If mankind had followed God’s social legislation as given in Exodus, we would not have the social problems we’re having in the United States. Our entire legal system, which was founded on the Word of God, is riddled with people who do not know the Bible because they are so far from it themselves. Their entire background is such that they are not properly able to interpret the Law.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES was written by men, not all of whom were Christian, but they had a certain respect for the Word of God. But today people administer law with no background in the Bible whatever. Because of this, we are in trouble, deep trouble!

Exodus 22:22-27 manifests God’s GOOD NEIGHBOR policy. They are like a ray of sunlight after the somber laws. Verses 22-24—

Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

CHILD LABOR LAWS were established after the Wesleyan Revival. The Word of God has been basic to all of the great movements that have brought blessing to mankind. What about the fatherless? Did the orphan’s home begin in atheistic countries or under Christian sponsorship?

Great judgment awaits the people and the nation that mistreats the helpless! What a nation sows it will reap! The history of Israel is proof.

Verses 25-27 prohibit taking advantage of your neighbor —

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Nehemiah 5 is a sad chapter, where we see the Jews selfishly preying upon one another. There were great economic burdens upon the Jews, not only because of the famine, but also because of the taxes and tributes. The Jews were being robbed by their own people through mortgages and servitude. An angry Nehemiah said to the nation, “We have been set free by the LORD, will you now put one another in bondage again.” He appealed to this Law as he commanded them to restore their ill-gotten profits—

What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?

In verse 22, Yahweh said, “I CERTAINLY WILL HEAR THEIR CRY.” HEAR is tied to FEAR and it is another reminder of the key verse of the Bible, Proverbs 9:10—

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Before God gave these laws, He put on an awesome demonstration with fire, smoke and lightning on Mount Sinai. Exodus 20:20 reports that—

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Verses 28-30 record the LAWS OF LOYALTY to the LORD—

Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people. Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.

The FIRSTFRUITS of everything belong to the LORD! Therefore, any word or deed that detracts from the glory of God is a reviling or cursing of His name. They were not to HOLD BACK or DELAY. God provided that the firstborn son could be redeemed in Exodus 13:12-13—

You are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD. Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.

God gets the firstfruits of His blessings—that’s right, just and equitable!

Underlying all these LAWS OF EQUITY is the call to service under God’s covenant. Verse 31—

You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.

People of holiness are to be separate in inward principle and outward practice.

Animals killed by another were unclean for two reasons. First, the carnivous beasts that tore it were unclean, and second, the blood of such a slain animal would remain in its tissues, leaving it unclean.

The people were to toss such meat to the dogs. DOGS are symbolic throughout the Bible of all that is unholy and outside of God’s covenants. This symbolism will last forever according to Revelation 22:14-16—

Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

GRACE and HOLINESS are necessary for entrance into the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.

UNHOLINESS is reflected in the word FALSEHOOD, which is the opposite of TRUTH. One is either holy and practices TRUTH as revealed in the Scriptures or is unholy and practices FALSEHOOD.

Either one is a DOG—outside of the New Covenant and God’s Kingdom—awaiting God’s Condemnation and Wrath or His CHILD by GRACE, having been washed by the blood of the Lamb.

ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD? What’s your answer?

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