September 24, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. . . . He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double. If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animal, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that stacked grain, standing grain, or the field is consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution. If a man delivers to his neighbor money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of the man’s house, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.”—Exodus 22:1–7 (NKJV)
As the Lord continues to establish the laws that would govern Israel, He comes to a specific set of scenarios that each involve someone doing something wrong towards someone else. A man steals another man’s animal and slaughters it for himself or sells it for a profit, a man lets his herd feed off of another man’s field, a man carelessly allows his fire to spread into his neighbor’s field destroying his crops, a thief breaks into someone’s house and steals something of value . . . These are all actions we can agree are wrong.
What should happen in such cases? We can see that God wants these wrongs to be righted by requiring the guilty to make restitution. But notice the cost of restitution: If you stole an ox you need to give back five, if you stole a sheep you need to give back four, if you can’t pay up then you must sell yourself into a life of servitude, if your animal grazes in another’s field you need to surrender the best fruits of your field or vineyard, and a thief will pay double the money he steals from another.
Do you see a pattern? The cost of restitution is always a lot more than the original wrong. Why would God raise the stakes so high? For one thing, it was to prevent wrongdoing. If people knew the price of their crimes beforehand was so incredibly high, they were less likely to follow through on committing them.
But beyond this, the Lord is also communicating an important spiritual principle: Doing the wrong thing always takes more from us than it gives. We never benefit by choosing wrong. Now you might say, “I know plenty of people who are a lot better off because they stole, defrauded, cheated, or did things dishonestly. How are they worse off for it?”
That’s a valid question . . . in the short term. But life isn’t governed by the short term. The reality is we’re all locked into a long term of existence. No matter how prosperous we seem today, God’s righteous judgment and wrath will come. Sooner or later, it will catch up with us. The only difference is that some can hold it off longer than others. But there’s no avoiding or escaping it, restitution will be made and it always requires more than we reckoned it would.
So, what’s the point? For starters, don’t do what’s wrong! Understand this principle and decide that the cost just isn’t worth it. Secondly, if there are wrongs in your past that require restitution, get ahead of things by proactively making them right with whomever you may have wronged. And lastly, if there are wrongs you can’t make right, go before God and confess them under the covering of His mercy and grace. He can and will set right all our wrongs when we confess them by virtue of what Christ did on the cross for us.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9 (NKJV)
Pause: What does the price of restitution reveal to us about the nature of sin?
Practice: Think about a time when you personally experienced the cost of doing wrong being much higher than you anticipated. What did you learn from this?
Pray: Lord, open my eyes to the cost of doing wrong before I do it. Give me a growing desire to live righteously as I become more and more like You. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.