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Property Rights Responsibility for Property The Covenant Code (20:22-23:33) Laws About Repayment Theft of Animals (21:37-22:3)
22:1 22:1-4 22:1 22:1-4
22:2-4 22:2-3 Offences Requiring Compensation
22:4 22:4
22:5 22:5 22:5 22:5 22:5
22:6 22:6-8 22:6 22:6 22:6-7
22:7-9 22:7-8 22:7-8
22:9-13 22:9 22:9 22:9-12
22:10-13 22:10-13 22:10-13
22:14-15 22:14-15 22:14-15 22:14-15 Violation of a Virgin
Sundry Laws Moral and Ceremonial Principles Moral and Religious Laws 22:15-16
22:16-17 22:16-17 22:16-17 22:16-17 Moral and Religious Laws
Miscellaneous Social and Cultic Laws 22:17
22:18 22:18 22:18 22:18 22:18
22:19 22:19 22:19 22:19 22:19
22:20 22:20 22:20 22:20 22:20-23
22:21-24 22:21 22:21-24 22:21-24
22:25-27 22:25-27 22:25-27 22:25-27 22:25-26
First-fruits and First-born
22:28 22:28 22:28 22:28 22:28-29
22:29-30 22:29-30 22:29a 22:29a
22:29b-30 22:29b-30
22:31 22:31 22:31 22:31 22:31 ?

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. For the larger number of emphatic grammatical forms, see Exodus 21, Contextual Insights, C.

  2. This chapter continues the context of "the Book of the Covenant," Exodus 21-23. The knowledge and responsibility of ownership continues from Exod. 21:33-22:14.

  3. The "if. . .then" format of casuistic laws (see SPECIAL TOPIC: LAWS IN THE ANE) continues (i.e., Exod. 22:1-17). These are known as "case" laws, while the ten commandments are general negative prohibitions, as are Exod. 22:18-24 (i.e., apodictic laws).

  4. The main point of the first part of this chapter is the respect due a covenant partner. If wronged, restitution must be made, so that God's people will have a just and peaceable society.
    1. rights of property owners
    2. rights of violators


1"If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep."

22:1 "If a man steals" These verses show that the right of private ownership must be respected. Restitution (cf. Exod. 22:1,3,5,6,7,9,11,12,13,14,15,16) was required for a premeditated act of stealing, kidnapping, or other kinds of civil abuses. It is interesting that Exod. 22:3 offers some degree of protection for the criminal.

▣ "he shall pay five oxen" The restitution price was very high apparently for a "trained" oxen. Why it was higher than for a sheep is uncertain.
The high price of restitution was meant to be a deterrent to theft.

2"If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. 3But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. 4If what he stole is actually found alive in his possession, whether an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double."

22:2 "breaking in" The Jewish Study Bible (p. 155) interprets the use of hyphens in the JPSOA translation as an insertion related to a separate law (i.e., Exod. 22:2-3a is not related to Exod. 22:1 and 3b), which deals with stealing animals (cf. RSV, NJB; see F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 10).
This NOUN (BDB 369) is found only here and Jer. 2:34. It is from the VERB "to dig." Most houses in the ANE were made from dried clay bricks. Thieves would dig through a wall to gain access.

NASB, NRSV, JPSOA  "bloodguiltiness"
NKJV  "no guilt for his bloodshed"
TEV  "not guilty of murder"
NJB  "his blood may not be avenged"
REB  "it is not murder"
LXX  "it is not a homicide"
The MT has "blood" (BDB 196) PLURAL. In this context it refers to illegal premeditated murder. The home owner has a right to protect himself, his family, and his property during the night. However, if it is light, then the criminal should be captured and punished (i.e., make restitution), not killed (cf. Exod. 22:3).

22:3 "if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft" Restitution is predominate in this chapter. The rights of the owners supercede the rights of the perpetrators. However, in Israel's laws, the thief must make restitution. In the Code of Hammurabi the poor thief is executed.
The selling into slavery lasted for six years.

22:4 "he shall pay double" There was a price to be paid for illegal, selfish actions toward a covenant partner. The justice and fairness of society were crucial.

5"If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man's field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard."

22:5 "grazed bare" This root (BDB 129) means "grazed over" or "to burn" (cf. NET Bible, p. 173, #12), and it is uncertain from the context which of these potential etymologies fits this verse best. This verse shows that a person is responsible even for the acts of his animals (i.e., Hebrew corporality).

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB, LXX  "from the best of his own field"
TEV  "from his own field"
NJB  "in proportion to the best crop of the field"
JPSOA  "for the impairment of the field"
There is some disagreement about the ADJECTIVE (BDB 29). JPSOA mentions the literal meaning, "excellence." The point is that restitution must be
  1. equivalent
  2. even better
  3. give a new field (i.e., Jewish Study Bible, p. 156)

6"If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or the standing grain or the field itself is consumed, he who started the fire shall surely make restitution."

22:6 "thorn bushes" This seems to refer to the type of fences (BDB 881 I) which were used to keep animals in and humans out of a field.

7"If a man gives his neighbor money or goods to keep for him and it is stolen from the man's house, if the thief is caught, he shall pay double. 8If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor's property. 9For every breach of trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one says, 'This is it,' the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor."

22:7-9 This paragraph deals with the issue of "breach of trust" (Exod. 22:9, BDB 833, denotes an intentional transgression between people, cf. Gen. 31:36; 50:17; 1 Sam. 24:11; 25:28; Pro. 10:19; 17:19; 28:24; 29:6,16,22). But even if the loss was unintentional, there is still economic responsibility.

▣ "the judges" This is literally "before the elohim" (used three times). Here, "elohim" refers to "judges," as in Exod. 21:6; Ps. 82:1,6.
However, Exod. 22:11 implies that some official act before YHWH is the contextual setting of Exod. 22:7-13.

10"If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, 11an oath before the Lord shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor's property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. 12But if it is actually stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. 13If it is all torn to pieces, let him bring it as evidence; he shall not make restitution for what has been torn to pieces."

22:10-13 This deals with the day-to-day actions of neighbors. If they treat each other in unfair ways, they must take an oath before the Lord to find out who is telling the truth. To lie in God's name meant death and, therefore, it was a sure way to obtain the truth. See SPECIAL TOPIC: "THE NAME" OF YHWH (OT).

22:11 "an oath before the Lord" This seems to involve an oath in YHWH's name of one's innocence. If one lies, then he has cursed himself by taking God's name in vain and judgment will issue from God.
The name YHWH is rare in Exodus 21-23 (i.e., "The Book of the Covenant"); why is uncertain.

22:13 If it is claimed an animal died or was killed by wild animals, evidence, not just an oath, was required (cf. Gen. 31:39; Amos 3:12).

14"If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution. 15If its owner is with it, he shall not make restitution; if it is hired, it came for its hire."

22:14-15 "If a man borrows anything from his neighbor" The term "borrow" (BDB 981, KB 1371, Qal IMPERFECT) has two possible meanings. One is "to ask so as to return" (cf. 2 Kgs. 4:3; 6:5) or "to ask so as to keep" (cf. Exod. 3:22; 11:22). This is the same lexical issue as Exod. 12:35.
This paragraph (Exod. 22:14-15) is a summary of Exod. 22:7-13.

16"If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins."

22:16-17 "If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife" Women were viewed as the property of the father. Engagement was as binding as marriage (cf. Deut. 22:23,24). It was not really an actual buying of the wife, but restitution for her economic value to her family (cf. Deut. 22:28-29). This economic compensation usually involved fifty shekels of silver. Although this cultural dowry is assumed, it is not spoken of often in the Bible.
The VERB "seduces" (BDB 834, KB 984, Piel IMPERFECT) means "entice" or "deceive." The Piel stem can denote

  1. trickery or deception - 2 Sam. 3:25; Pro. 1:10; 16:29; 24:28; Jer. 20:7
  2. sexual allurement - Hos. 2:14 (see UBS Handbook, p. 529)
  3. persuasion - Jdgs. 14:15; 16:5
It is not clear how the woman was lured or wooed, but that it negated her engagement to another man!
Notice that Exod. 22:17 is a case where if the girl's father refused to give her in marriage to the seducer, the seducer still had to pay the "mohar" (i.e., money paid to the father, cf. Gen. 34:12; 1 Sam. 18:25). This was because the violated girl (i.e., not raped) would find it difficult to marry because she was no longer a virgin (BDB 143).
If the girl was betrothed, she was already legally married and a different standard was applied (cf. Deut. 22:23-39).

18"You shall not allow a sorceress to live."

22:18 "You shall not allow a sorceress to live" This is apodictic law (Exod. 22:18-24). It is similar to Deut. 18:9-13. The term "sorceress" (BDB 506, FEMININE) seems to refer to witchcraft and is condemned in Lev. 19:31; 20:27; Jer. 27:19; and Mal. 3:5. This is mankind's attempt to control his circumstances by the use of the powers of the spiritual realm.
The term, sorcerer (BDB 506, KB 503), basically means "to cut up" (1) as in the shredding of ingredients for a magical potion or (2) cutting oneself as a way of getting the deity's attention (i.e., Syrian usage, cf. 1 Kgs. 18:28). This term was used to describe Pharaoh's wise men in Exod. 7:11 and Nebuchadnezzar's wise men in Dan. 2:2.

19"Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death."

22:19 "Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death" This refers to the ANE's pagan worship rites. Often, intercourse with an animal that symbolized a deity was seen as a way to unite with that god. All pagan practices are condemned in the Mosaic legislation (cf. Lev. 18:23; 20:15,16; Deut. 27:21). Much that we do not understand in Pentateuch texts is related to these pagan worship practices (see Herodotus 2.46).

20"He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone, shall be utterly destroyed."

22:20 "He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the Lord alone" This phrase could be viewed as

  1. an affirmation of YHWH's uniqueness (i.e., monotheism)
  2. an effective limit to the polytheism of the ANE
It is hard to know when Israel viewed YHWH as the highest of other gods, or the only God (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).
Other "gods" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, "elohim," D.) are acknowledged in the OT.
  1. angels of the heavenly court
  3. pagan pantheons (gods named but their reality not acknowledged)
Their worship is strictly forbidden to Israel (cf. Exod. 20:2-6; 22:20; 23:13,32-33; 34:11-17; Deut. 4:19-24; 7:1-5).

▣ "shall be utterly destroyed" "Utterly destroyed" (BDB 355, KB 353, Hophal IMPERFECT) means "under the ban." It is a reference to an ancient type of military warfare where the enemy is totally destroyed. It literally means that everything that had breath died (cf. Deut. 20:16-18; Jos. 6:18-19,21; 1 Sam. 15:3) because it/they belong exclusively to God. One must not judge this in light of our own culture, but in light of its own day.

21"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; 24and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless."

22:21-24 This section shows God's care for the ostracized and underprivileged in society. This same theme is often repeated in the book of Deuteronomy (i.e., Deut. 1:16-17; 10:18-19; 24:17; 27:19). God will be the advocate for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the alienated, the sojourner, and the underprivileged (cf. esp. Exod. 22:23,27).

22:24 "and I will kill you with the sword" This is a reference to military defeat and exile from Canaan (i.e., Assyrian, Babylonian exiles, as well as many defeats of Israel by the surrounding nations). The consequences of covenant disobedience are serious (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30; Gal. 6:7-8)!

25"If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious."

22:25-27 This deals with lending money. A distinction is made between lending to a covenant brother and lending to an alien. An Israelite could not charge another covenant partner interest (cf. Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 23:19-20).

22:26 "cloak as a pledge" The cloak was an outer robe often used as cover for sleeping (cf. Deut. 24:12- 13). It could be taken as a physical pledge of the payment of a loan, but a gracious covenant partner would/should return it at night (cf. Exod. 22:27). Often this pledge was kept until a day laborer ("hire," Exod. 22:15 may refer to a day laborer, cf. Exod. 12:45) was paid in the evening and could repay the loan.

28"You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people."

22:28 "You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people" It is obvious that this use of the term "god," which is really the word "elohim," refers to a judge and should not be capitalized to make it a title for a deity (cf. Exod. 22:8-9; Jdgs. 22:8,9; 21:6; Ps. 82:1 for other places where the term "elohim" can refer to a judge and does not always imply the supreme Deity, cf. Peshitta and TEV footnote). This verse does speak to the fact that our attitude toward authority is crucial. This very verse was quoted to Paul in Acts 23:5 when he was on trial.
Who does "a ruler" (BDB 672 I) refer to? It literally means "one lifted up." In Exod. 16:22 (cf. Jos. 9:15,18; 22:30) it referred to "leaders of the congregation" (i.e., tribal leaders, cf. Num. 1:16,44). It often referred to royal leaders (i.e., 2 Kgs. 11:34), but there is no royalty (monarchy) in Israel at this point.

29"You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. 30You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me."

22:29 "You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage" Exodus 22:28 and 29 both deal with attitude and motive on the part of the people. First fruits, firstborn, and tithing were ancient ways of supporting the theocratic kingdom of Israel. There seem to be three different tithes which were required at different times in the normal life of the agricultural people of the Promised Land. See SPECIAL TOPIC: TITHES IN THE MOSAIC LEGISLATION.
This verse refers to the first part of the grain and orchard harvests, but the terms

  1. "your harvest" (literally, "fullness," BDB 571)
    1. of the field - Exod. 22:29
    2. of the winepress - Num. 18:27
    3. of the seed - Deut. 22:9
  2. "your vintage" (literally, "tears," BDB 199, found only here in the OT), which could denote
    1. wine
    2. olive oil

31"You shall be holy men to Me, therefore you shall not eat any flesh torn to pieces in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs."

22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me" Exodus 22:31 shows the goals of these laws. God's people are to exhibit the family characteristics of God. All covenant members were seen as priests unto God (cf. Lev. 19:5,6). Every aspect of their lives must be different and unique and should point others to God. These verses speak of a different kind of eating practice because of the sanctity and holiness of life, which is seen and symbolized in blood. Israel was to be separate (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY) from the pagan practices of Canaan (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE).

▣ "flesh torn to pieces in the field" This would refer to edible animals (i.e., clean) killed by other animals (cf. Lev. 7:24; 17:15; 22:8). These carcases would still have the blood in the meat. It was a hygienic and cultic issue.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why do some scholars think the first four verses are out of order?
  2. How does this chapter show the right of private property?
  3. How does this chapter show the responsibility of the owner?
  4. Why did restitution involve paying extra?
  5. Do Exod. 22:8,9, and 28 refer to God or judges? Why?
  6. Why is Exod. 22:16-17 a rape case?
  7. What do humans seek from sorcerers?
  8. How are food laws related to "holiness"?

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