Laws for getting along with neighbors
Payback times five1 If you steal a bull or a sheep and then kill it and sell it, your payback is four to five times the value of the animals. Replace one bull will five bulls. Replace one sheep with four sheep. 2 It’s no crime to beat and kill a thief breaking into your home in the dark. 3 But if it happens in daylight, it’s murder. When you catch a thief, the thief must give back everything stolen, or somehow make it good. If the thief can’t, you can recoup what you lost by selling the thief. 4 If the thief stole something living—such as a bull, donkey, or sheep—and you find it alive in the thief’s possession, payback is double. You get two for the theft of one. 5 If you let your livestock graze your field to the dirt and then you turn them loose onto someone else’s property, you need to make restitution. You owe that person grazing rights to your finest fields and vineyards. 6 If you start a fire that jumps to bushes and spreads to grain fields or to harvested grain, you just bought the crop. Pay the farmer.
When a neighbor does you wrong7 Let’s say you give your neighbor something for safekeeping—money or some object. If a thief steals it and is caught, payback is double. The thief owes twice the value of the stolen object. 8 If the thief isn’t caught, your neighbor needs to stand before judges who investigate the case, to make sure your neighbor isn’t the thief. 9 Let’s say someone did something wrong, perhaps stealing a bull, donkey, sheep, or clothing. Or maybe that person falsely claimed to own something that was lost and found, saying, “That’s mine.” If the case is disputed, take it to judges who will decide what to do, with God watching. Anyone judged guilty will pay double to the offended party. 10 Let’s say you give your neighbor some livestock for safekeeping, maybe a donkey, bull, or sheep. And let’s say it’s stolen, injured, or dies. 11 Your neighbor has to swear, with God watching, that it wasn’t the neighbor’s fault. If you accept your neighbor’s word, your neighbor doesn’t have to cover your loss. 12 One exception. If it was stolen under your neighbor’s watch, your neighbor has to cover your loss. 13 If a wild animal killed it and shredded it, your neighbor needs to bring the mangled remains of the animal as evidence to prove what happened. If the story checks out, your neighbor doesn’t have to pay you anything. 14 If you borrow an animal from your neighbor and the animal is injured or dies while it’s in your care and the owner is not around, you need to pay the owner the full price of the animal. 15 But if the owner is with the animal, you don’t have to pay the owner anything. And if you rented the animal, the rental fee covers accidental injury or death.
Major no-nos16 If a man talks an unengaged virgin into having sex with him, he has to marry her. And he has to pay her father for the privilege of marrying her. 17 If the woman’s father refuses to let the man marry her, the man still has to pay the full amount expected for virgins. 18 Witchcraft is a capital offense. So, execute anyone convicted of sorcery. 19 Execute anyone convicted of having sex with an animal. 20 Execute anyone who offers sacrifices to any god other than the LORD alone.
Be kind to immigrants21 Don’t mistreat immigrants or newcomers. Remember, you were once immigrants in Egypt. 22 Don’t make life difficult for widows or orphans. 23 If you mistreat them even slightly, and they call on me for help, be sure of this: I will hear them. 24 My rage will consume you. Your wife will become a widow. Your children will lose their father.
You’re God’s people, so act like it25 If you lend money to any of my chosen people who have fallen on hard times and need financial help, do not charge interest. You are not to make a profit off of this. 26 If you take a neighbor’s cloak as collateral, return it before the sun goes down. 27 The cloak is that person’s cover for the night. What else is your neighbor to cover up with when it’s time to sleep? And if your neighbor comes to me to complain about you withholding that cloak, be sure of this, I will listen because I am kind. 28 Don’t badmouth God and don’t badmouth the leader of your people. 29 When you harvest your grain and wine, be sure to bring me my share of the crops. And don’t forget to dedicate your oldest sons to me. 30 Dedicate the firstborn calves and lambs as well. On the eighth day after they are born, give them to me. 31 You are my people. You’re devoted to me and therefore holy to me. So, I don’t want you eating any meat torn to pieces by wild animals in the field. Throw that garbage to the dogs.
A man generally paid his future father-in-law for the right to marry the daughter. This was partly a gift, but also compensation for the loss of the daughter’s help around the house. Her father would no longer have his daughter to do chores she typically did each day (see also Genesis 34:12). If a man raped a virgin who was not engaged, he had to pay her father 50 shekels of silver. That’s about 1 1/4 pounds or 575 grams (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He also had to offer to marry her and could never divorce her.
This rule seems to apply only to the Hebrew ancestors of the Jewish people and those who were a part of their group. It does not seem to apply to outsiders. Interest rates in Bible times in what is now the Middle East could go as high as 20 to 50 percent. That could ruin many borrowers. Especially those in need.
God claimed dibbs on Israel’s firstborn children and animals. They didn’t belong to the parents. They belonged to God. The first male child in each family was often considered the most important. He got a double share of the family inheritance. In the first reported sacrifice offered to God, Abel “killed the first lambs born to his prized sheep” (Genesis 4:4). The order God gave Moses wasn’t about human sacrifice, which God would outlaw. He provided a way for the parents to buy back (redeem) their children. The reason behind the ritual was to remind Israelites and their descendants, including Jewish people today, that God took the lives of Egypt’s firstborn, but spared the children of Israel. See also Exodus 13:12-15 and Numbers 18:15-16 for the process of reclaiming the children.
Although God provided a way for parents to buy back their firstborn sons, livestock weren’t so lucky. It seems the firstborn cattle and lambs were destined for slaughter.
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