The laws of this chapter relate,
I. To the eighth commandment, concerning theft
trespass by cattle
damage by fire
II. To the seventh commandment. Against fornication
III. To the first table, forbidding witchcraft
Commanding to offer the firstfruits,
IV. To the poor,
V. To the civil government,
VI. To the peculiarity of the Jewish nation,
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1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell
it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a
2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die,
there shall no blood be shed for him.
3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed
for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have
nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
4 If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it
be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double.
5 If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and
shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of
the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard,
shall he make restitution.
6 If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of
corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed
therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make
Here are the laws,
I. Concerning theft, which are these:--
1. If a man steal any cattle (in which the wealth of those times
chiefly consisted), and they be found in his custody, he must restore
Thus he must both satisfy for the wrong and suffer for the crime. But
it was afterwards provided that if the thief were touched in
conscience, and voluntarily confessed it, before it was discovered or
enquired into by any other, then he should only make restitution of
what he had stolen, and add to it a fifth part,
2. If he had killed or sold the sheep or ox he had stolen, and thereby
persisted in his crime, he must restore five oxen for an ox, and
four sheep for a sheep
more for an ox than for a sheep because the owner, besides all the
other profit, lost the daily labour of his ox. This law teaches us that
fraud and injustice, so far from enriching men, will impoverish them:
if we unjustly get and keep that which is another's, it will not only
waste itself, but it will consume that which is our own.
3. If he was not able to make restitution, he must be sold for a slave,
The court of judgment was to do it, and it is probable that the person
robbed had the money. Thus with us, in some cases, felons are
transported into plantations where alone Englishmen know what slavery
4. If a thief broke a house in the night, and was killed in the doing
of it, his blood was upon his own head, and should not be required at
the hand of him that shed it,
As he that does an unlawful act bears the blame of the mischief that
follows to others, so likewise of that which follows to himself. A
man's house is his castle, and God's law, as well as man's, sets a
guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril. Yet, if it was
in the day-time that the thief was killed, he that killed him must be
accountable for it
unless it was in the necessary defence of his own life. Note, We ought
to be tender of the lives even of bad men; the magistrate must afford
us redress, and we must not avenge ourselves.
II. Concerning trespass,
He that wilfully put his cattle into his neighbour's field must make
restitution of the best of his own. Our law makes a much greater
difference between this and other thefts than the law of Moses did. The
Jews hence observed it as a general rule that restitution must always
be made of the best, and that no man should keep any cattle that were
likely to trespass upon his neighbours or do them any damage. We should
be more careful not to do wrong than not to suffer wrong, because to
suffer wrong is only an affliction, but to do wrong is a sin, and sin
is always worse than affliction.
III. Concerning damage done by fire,
He that designed only the burning of thorns might become accessory to
the burning of corn, and should not be held guiltless. Men of hot and
eager spirits should take heed, lest, while they pretend only to pluck
up the tares, they root out the wheat also. If the fire did mischief,
he that kindled it must answer for it, though it could not be proved
that he designed the mischief. Men must suffer for their carelessness,
as well as for their malice. We must take heed of beginning strife;
for, though it seem but little, we know not how great a matter it may
kindle, the blame of which we must bear, if, with the madman, we cast
fire-brands, arrows, and death, and pretend we mean no harm. It will
make us very careful of ourselves, if we consider that we are
accountable, not only for the hurt we do, but for the hurt we occasion
7 If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to
keep, and it be stolen out of the man's house; if the thief be
found, let him pay double.
8 If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall
be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand
unto his neighbour's goods.
9 For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass,
for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which
another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall
come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he
shall pay double unto his neighbour.
10 If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a
sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven
away, no man seeing it:
11 Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that
he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the
owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it
12 And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto
the owner thereof.
13 If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for
witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn.
14 And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be
hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall
surely make it good.
15 But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make
it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.
These laws are,
I. Concerning trusts,
If a man deliver goods, suppose to a carrier to be conveyed, or to a
warehouse-keeper to be preserved, or cattle to a farmer to be fed, upon
a valuable consideration, and if a special confidence be reposed in the
person they are lodged with, in case these goods be stolen or lost,
perish or be damaged, if it appear that it was not by any fault of the
trustee, the owner must stand to the loss, otherwise he that has been
false to this trust must be compelled to make satisfaction. The trustee
must aver his innocence upon oath before the judges, if the case was
such as afforded no other proof, and they were to determine the matter
according as it appeared. This teaches us,
1. That we ought to be very careful of every thing we are entrusted
with, as careful of it, though it be another's, as if it were our own.
It is unjust and base, and that which all the world cries shame on, to
betray a trust.
2. That there is such a general failing of truth and justice upon earth
as gives too much occasion to suspect men's honesty whenever it is
their interest to be dishonest.
3. That an oath for confirmation is an end of strife,
It is called an oath for the Lord
because to him the appeal is made, not only as to a witness of truth,
but as to an avenger of wrong and falsehood. Those that had offered
injury to their neighbour by doing any unjust thing, yet, it might be
hoped, had not so far debauched their consciences as to profane an oath
of the Lord, and call the God of truth to be witness to a lie: perjury
is a sin which natural conscience startles at as much as any other. The
religion of an oath is very ancient, and a plain indication of the
universal belief of a God, and a providence, and a judgment to come.
4. That magistracy is an ordinance of God, designed, among other
intentions, to assist men both in discovering rights disputed and
recovering rights denied; and great respect ought to be paid to the
determination of the judges.
5. That there is no reason why a man should suffer for that which he
could not help: masters should consider this, in dealing with their
servants, and not rebuke that as a fault which was a mischance, and
which they themselves, had they been in their servants' places, could
not have prevented.
II. Concerning loans,
If a man (suppose) lent his team to his neighbour, if the owner was
with it, or was to receive profit for the loan of it, whatever harm
befel the cattle the owner must stand to the loss of: but if the owner
was so kind to the borrower as to lend it to him gratis, and put such a
confidence in him as to trust it from under his own eye, then, if any
harm happened, the borrower must make it good. Let us learn hence to be
very careful not to abuse any thing that is lent us; it is not only
unjust, but base and disingenuous, inasmuch as it is rendering evil for
good; we should much rather choose to lose ourselves than that any
should sustain loss by their kindness to us. Alas, master! for it
2 Kings 6:5.
16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie
with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.
17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall
pay money according to the dowry of virgins.
18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only,
he shall be utterly destroyed.
21 Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye
were strangers in the land of Egypt.
22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.
23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto
me, I will surely hear their cry;
24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the
sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children
I. A law that he who debauched a young woman should be obliged to marry
If she was betrothed to another, it was death to debauch her
but the law here mentioned respects her as single. But, if the father
refused her to him, he was to give satisfaction in money for the injury
and disgrace he had done her. This law puts an honour upon marriage and
shows likewise how improper a thing it is that children should marry
without their parents' consent: even here, where the divine law
appointed the marriage, both as a punishment to him that had done wrong
and a recompence to her that had suffered wrong, yet there was an
express reservation for the father's power; if he denied his consent,
it must be no marriage.
II. A law which makes witchcraft a capital crime,
Witchcraft not only gives that honour to the devil which is due to God
alone, but bids defiance to the divine Providence, wages war with God's
government, and puts his work into the devil's hand, expecting him to
do good and evil, and so making him indeed the god of this
world; justly therefore was it punished with death, especially
among a people that were blessed with a divine revelation, and cared
for by divine Providence above any people under the sun. By our law,
consulting, covenanting with, invocating, or employing, any evil
spirit, to any intent whatsoever, and exercising any enchantment,
charm, or sorcery, whereby hurt shall be done to any person whatsoever,
is made felony, without benefit of clergy; also pretending to tell
where goods lost or stolen may be found, or the like, is an iniquity
punishable by the judge, and the second offence with death. The justice
of our law herein is supported by the law of God recorded here.
III. Unnatural abominations are here made capital; such beasts in the
shape of men as are guilty of them are unfit to live
Whosoever lies with a beast shall die.
IV. Idolatry is also made capital,
God having declared himself jealous in this matter, the civil powers
must be jealous in it too, and utterly destroy those persons, families,
and places of Israel, that worshipped any god, save the Lord: this law
might have prevented the woeful apostasies of the Jewish nation in
after times, if those that should have executed it had not been
ringleaders in the breach of it.
V. A caution against oppression. Because those who were empowered to
punish other crimes were themselves most in danger of this, God takes
the punishing of it into his own hands.
1. Strangers must not be abused
not wronged in judgment by the magistrates, not imposed upon in
contracts, nor must any advantage be taken of their ignorance or
necessity; no, nor must they be taunted, trampled upon, treated with
contempt, or upbraided with being strangers; for all these were
vexations, and would discourage strangers from coming to live among
them, or would strengthen their prejudices against their religion, to
which, by all kind and gentle methods, they should endeavour to
proselyte them. The reason given why they should be kind to strangers
is, "You were strangers in Egypt, and knew what it was to be
vexed and oppressed there," Note,
(1.) Humanity is one of the laws of religion, and obliges us
particularly to be tender of those that lie most under disadvantages
and discouragements, and to extend our compassionate concern to
strangers, and those to whom we are not under the obligations of
alliance or acquaintance. Those that are strangers to us are known to
God, and he preserves them,
(2.) Those that profess religion should study to oblige strangers, that
they may thereby recommend religion to their good opinion, and take
heed of doing any thing that may tempt them to think ill of it or its
1 Peter 2:12.
(3.) Those that have themselves been in poverty and distress, if
Providence enrich and enlarge them, ought to show a particular
tenderness towards those that are now in such circumstances as they
were in formerly, doing now by them as they then wished to be done
2. Widows and fatherless must not be abused
You shall not afflict them, that is, "You shall comfort and
assist them, and be ready upon all occasions to show them kindness." In
making just demands from them, their condition must be considered, who
have lost those that should deal for them, and protect them; they are
supposed to be unversed in business, destitute of advice, timorous, and
of a tender spirit, and therefore must be treated with kindness and
compassion; no advantage must be taken against them, nor any hardship
put upon them, from which a husband or a father would have sheltered
(1.) God takes particular cognizance of their case,
Having no one else to complain and appeal to, they will cry unto
God, and he will be sure to hear them; for his law and his
providence are guardians to the widows and fatherless, and if men do
not pity them, and will not hear them, he will. Note, It is a great
comfort to those who are injured and oppressed by men that they have a
God to go to who will do more than give them the hearing; and it
ought to be a terror to those who are oppressive that they have the cry
of the poor against them, which God will hear. Nay,
(2.) He will severely reckon with those that do oppress them. Though
they escape punishments from men, God's righteous judgments will pursue
and overtake them,
Men that have a sense of justice and honour will espouse the injured
cause of the weak and helpless; and shall not the righteous God do it?
Observe the equity of the sentence here passed upon those that oppress
the widows and fatherless: their wives shall become widows, and their
children fatherless; and the Lord is known by these judgments, which he
sometimes executes still.
25 If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by
thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou
lay upon him usury.
26 If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou
shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down:
27 For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his
skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he
crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.
28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy
29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe
fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou
give unto me.
30 Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy
sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day
thou shalt give it me.
31 And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any
flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to
I. A law against extortion in lending.
1. They must not receive use for money from any that borrowed for
as in that case,
And such provision the law made for the preservation of estates to
their families by the year of jubilee that a people who had little
concern in trade could not be supposed to borrow money but for
necessity, and therefore it is generally forbidden among themselves;
but to a stranger, whom yet they might not oppress, they were allowed
to lend upon usury: this law, therefore, in the strictness of it, seems
to have been peculiar to the Jewish state; but, in the equity of it, it
obliges us to show mercy to those of whom we might take advantage, and
to be content to share, in loss as well as profit, with those we lend
to, if Providence cross them; and, upon this condition, it seems as
lawful to receive interest for my money, which another takes pains with
and improves, but runs the hazard of, in trade, as it is to receive
rent for my land, which another takes pains with and improves, but runs
the hazard of, in husbandry.
2. They must not take a poor man's bed-clothes in pawn; but, if they
did, must restore them by bed-time,
Those who lie soft and warm themselves should consider the hard and
cold lodgings of many poor people, and not do any thing to make bad
worse, or to add affliction to the afflicted.
II. A law against the contempt of authority
Thou shalt not revile the gods, that is, the judges and
magistrates, for their executing these laws; they must do their
duty, whoever suffer by it. Magistrates ought not to fear the reproach
of men, nor their revilings, but to despise them as long as they keep a
good conscience; but those that do revile them for their being a terror
to evil works and workers reflect upon God himself, and will have a
great deal to answer for another day. We find those under a black
character, and a heavy doom, that despise dominion, and speak evil
Princes and magistrates are our fathers, whom the fifth commandment
obliges us to honour and forbids us to revile. St. Paul applies this
law to himself, and owns that he ought not to speak evil of the
ruler of his people; no, not though the ruler was then his most
III. A law concerning the offering of their first-fruits to God,
It was appointed before
and it is here repeated: The firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give
unto me; and much more reason have we to give ourselves, and all we
have, to God, who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for
us all. The first ripe of their corn they must not delay to offer.
There is danger, if we delay our duty, lest we wholly omit it; and by
slipping the first opportunity, in expectation of another, we suffer
Satan to cheat us of all our time. Let not young people delay to offer
to God the first-fruits of their time and strength, lest their delays
come, at last, to be denials, through the deceitfulness of sin, and the
more convenient season they promise themselves never arrive. Yet it is
provided that the firstlings of their cattle should not be dedicated to
God till they were past seven days old, for then they began to be good
for something. Note, God is the first and best, and therefore must have
the first and best.
IV. A distinction put between the Jews and all other people: You
shall be holy men unto me; and one mark of that honourable
distinction is appointed in their diet, which was, that they should not
eat any flesh that was torn of beasts
not only because it was unwholesome, but because it was paltry, and
base, and covetous, and a thing below those who were holy men unto God,
to eat the leavings of the beasts of prey. We that are sanctified to
God must not be curious in our diet; but we must be conscientious, not
feeding ourselves without fear, but eating and drinking by rule, the
rule of sobriety, to the glory of God.