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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Exodus 22:1-4

Harmony Of The Law Volume 3 by Jean Calvin

Exodus 22:1-4

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 sheep.

1. Quum furatus fuerit quis bovem aut pecudem, et jugulaverit, aut vendiderit, quinque boves reddet pro illo bove, et quatuor pecudes pro pecude illa:

2. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

2. (Si in effossione inventus fuerit fur, et percussus fuerit, et inde mortuus, non erit ei in sanguinem.

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.

3. Si ortus fuerit sol super eum, erit ei in sanguinem:) reddendo reddet: si non sit ei, vendetar propter furtum suum.

4. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep, he shall restore double.

4. Si deprehendatur in manu ejus furtum a bove usque ad asinum, usque ad pecudem: viva duo reddet.

Thus far God has proclaimed Himself the avenger of iniquities, and, citing thieves before His tribunal, has threatened them with eternal death. Now follow the civil laws, the principle of which is not so exact and perfect; since in their enactment God has relaxed His just severity in consideration of the people's hardness of heart.

What God formerly delivered to His people the heathen legislators afterwards borrowed. Draco, indeed, was more severe, but his extreme rigor became obsolete by the silent consent of the people of Athens; and the Decemvirs borrowed from Solon part of their law, which they published in the ten tables, although there were some variations in the distinction of the double or quadruple restitution, and in process of time other alterations were afterwards made. But if all things be duly considered, it will be found that both Solon and the Decemvirs have made a change for the worse, wherever they have varied from the law of God. First of all, no distinction is here made, such as the Roman laws decree, between manifest thieves and those that are not manifest; for by them the thief not manifest is condemned to a double amend, and the manifest to quadruple; and he is called a manifest thief who is caught before he has carried what he has stolen to the place of its destination. I suppose that the awarders of the punishment had this point in view, that the wickedness of that person was the more egregious who was so greedily and anxiously set on his prey as not to be afraid of disgrace; and undoubtedly he who has no fear of shame is more audacious ill sin. But, on the contrary, God condemns to a double amend those upon whom the stolen goods were found; and to quadruple, those who had killed or sold it; and deservedly so, because greater obstinacy in crime betrays itself where the theft is turned to profit, nor is there any hope of repentance; and thus by this further process the crime of dishonesty is doubled. It might be that, immediately after the offense, the thief should be alarmed; but he who had dared to kill the stolen animal or to sell it, is altogether hardened in his sin. Besides, the more difficult its investigation is, the greater is the punishment which a misdemeanor deserves. Meanwhile, it is to be remembered, that the pecuniary fine imposed upon thieves did not free them from guilt; for, as Marcellus says, not even the president of a province can bring it to pass, that infamy should not pursue a man condemned of theft; and there was no need of establishing by law that in which all by nature are agreed. Thus, when God punished thieves by a fine, He left them still marked by infamy. I know not whether they assign the true cause why he who had stolen an ox is fined to a larger amount than he who had stolen a goat, or sheep, or other cattle, who say that the loss of the owner is taken into account to whom the labor of the ox is especially useful in agriculture; for what is said as to an ox I extend to cows and the whole herd. Those seem to come nearer to the truth who say the audacity of the thief is punished who, when he stole the larger animal, did not fear being observed by witnesses; yet it seems to me more likely that the different sentence depended on the price of the article; for assuredly it is more reasonable that he who has done the most harm should be exposed to the greater punishment.

2. If a thief be found breaking up. This clause is to be taken separately, and is inserted by way of parenthesis; for, after having decreed the punishment, God adds in connection, |he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he should be sold for his theft;| and this exception as to the thief in the night is introduced parenthetically. But although the details are not expressed with sufficient distinctness, still the intention of God is by no means ambiguous, viz., that if a thief should be killed in the dark, his slayer should be unpunished; for he can then hardly be distinguished from a robber, especially when he proceeds with violence; because he cannot enter another man's house by night without either digging through a wall or breaking down a door. The Twelve Tables differ slightly from this; for they permit the killing of a thief by night, and also by day if he should defend himself with a weapon. But, since God had sufficiently repressed by other laws murders and violent assaults, He is silent here respecting robbers who use the sword in their attempts at plunder. He therefore justly condemns to death those who have avenged by murder a theft in open day.

3. He should make full restitution. These words, as I have said, are connected with the first verse, since here the execution of the punishment is only enjoined; as if God forbade thieves to be spared, but that they should pay either twofold or quadruple, or even quintuple, according to the measure of their crime. But, if they were unable to pay, He commands them to be sold as slaves, which also was the custom at Rome. Whence the saying of Cato, |that private thieves lived in bonds and fetters, but public ones in gold and purple.| And since this condition was a harsh one, a caution is expressly given, that they were not to be absolved on the score of their poverty. If any one should ask whether it was lawful for the owner of the thing stolen to recover double or quadruple its value, I answer, that what God awards, a man has the best of rights to; meanwhile, in equity men were bound to take care that they did not grow rich at the expense of others, but rather were they to apply whatever they gained to pious and holy uses.

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