The Lord said:
1If you steal an ox and slaughter or sell it, you must replace it with five oxen; if you steal a sheep and slaughter it or sell it, you must replace it with four sheep. 2-4But if you cannot afford to replace the animals, you must be sold as a slave to pay for what you have stolen. If you steal an ox, donkey, or sheep, and are caught with it still alive, you must pay the owner double.
If you happen to kill a burglar who breaks into your home after dark, you are not guilty. But if you kill someone who breaks in during the day, you are guilty of murder.
5If you allow any of your animals to stray from your property and graze in someone else's field or vineyard, you must repay the damage from the best part of your own harvest of grapes and grain.
6If you carelessly let a fire spread from your property to someone else's, you must pay the owner for any crops or fields destroyed by the fire.
7Suppose a neighbor asks you to keep some silver or other valuables, and they are stolen from your house. If the thief is caught, the thief must repay double. 8But if the thief isn't caught, some judges will decide if you are the guilty one.
9Suppose two people claim to own the same ox or donkey or sheep or piece of clothing. Then the judges must decide the case, and the guilty person will pay the owner double.
10Suppose a neighbor who is going to be away asks you to keep a donkey or an ox or a sheep or some other animal, and it dies or gets injured or is stolen while no one is looking. 11If you swear with me as your witness that you did not harm the animal, you do not have to replace it. Your word is enough. 12But if the animal was stolen while in your care, you must replace it. 13If the animal was attacked and killed by a wild animal, and you can show the remains of the dead animal to its owner, you do not have to replace it.
14Suppose you borrow an animal from a neighbor, and it gets injured or dies while the neighbor isn't around. Then you must replace it. 15But if something happens to the animal while the owner is present, you do not have to replace it. If you had leased the animal, the money you paid the owner will cover any harm done to it.
Human interaction is not without its difficulties. Given enough time there will eventually be disputes which pit one person against another. Many, but not all, human disputes have to do with property. For example, people dispute the rightful possession of property, who is responsible if property is stolen or damaged or goes missing, and many more questions besides.
We learn from this passage and from the rest of scripture, that there is nothing wrong with property per se. While God is the creator and owner of all things he has entrusted material possessions to human beings to be used responsibly under the direction of his word and for his glory.
Our relationship to property has often been described as a “stewardship.” Stewardship is a relationship in which we are acting on behalf of another – in this case, God – to use the things he entrusts to us to benefit ourselves and others as part of our worship and allegiance to him.
Knowing that property can be the cause of much discord God has given us principles that will help us do the right thing when it comes to disputes and which remind us that our relationships to one another are always more important than things. Throughout this portion of his law we are told about things like restitution or compensation if there is loss or damage done (cf. 22:1,3-4,5, 6), and potential abuses of the law are anticipated and safeguarded against (cf. 22:2-3, 7-9,10-13,14-15).
But this is not all. Running through the passage there is the important biblical teaching that human beings matter more than things, and almost everything that is said reinforces this truth. This challenges the materialism that can lurk in our hearts and calls us back to those things that are of first importance.
Gracious Father, We acknowledge that you are the creator and owner of all things and that you have shared them with us that we must use them for your glory. Help us never to lose sight of you and your ultimate priorities for our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.