The title represents what might be a sentence in a capital case, 25 to 45 years in prison. In contrast to this, the thing that impresses me as I read through the Mosaic Law is that there is no provision for prisons or jail. There are no sentences like the one in the title. There are a couple of references to people being put in “ward” until it was decided what was to be done with them, and there are references to prison later in Israel’s history, but in her founding documents there are no references to prisons, no multi-layered judiciary, no defense lawyers, no plea bargains, no years and years of “appeals.”
What did they have?
Well, let’s see….
In our last post, we saw what was to happen if two men got into a fight and one of them was injured. The other man was responsible for his healing and restoration.
In Exodus 22:1-4, we have an example of theft. How was a “perp” handled in such cases?
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. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He shall 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 this were today, it would say something about his rights to an attorney. He might be arraigned before a judge and bail would be set, upon payment of which he would be set free until the trial. Nothing about the victim of his thefts; anything recovered would be held as evidence and wind up in some storage area in the police department. It might be decades before the case is finally settled.
How different is the Mosaic view. If the stolen items were gone, then the thief was required to return much more than the value of what he stole. If the items were still with him, then he was required to return double to his victim. He was required to make full restitution. If he was unable to do this, then the one thing he still had was to be sold: himself. That certainly wouldn’t go over in our society, but the emphasis is not on the perpetrator of a crime, but on his victim.
There is one similarity with today. If the thief was killed during the robbery, which was assumed to take place at night because it was unlikely that anyone would steal an animal during the day, his death was not a crime. If, however, he was not caught, got away and was then killed, this was a crime in itself. A victim of a crime cannot chase a thief down the street and kill him.
The emphasis was on the victim and the return of stolen goods to him, even more than was stolen. I suppose this was to pay him, if I can put it like that, for the inconvenience of his property being stolen from him. It also might serve as a warning to someone tempted to steal that, in the hackneyed phrase of today, “crime does not pay.”
Following this example, vs. 5 deals with a situation in which someone’s animal grazes in someone else’s field or vineyard. V. 6 deals with destruction of another’s field by fire. Vs. 7-14 deal with the loss or theft of personal property in several different situations. V. 12 gives us an idea of the solemn responsibility one had toward the safety of someone else’s property entrusted to him. None of these situations involves jail time. All of them involve an effort to compensate the victim for what loss he might have suffered.
I don’t know that such practices could be implemented in our so much different time and culture. At the same time, I do believe that more concern ought to be paid to the victims of crime, in some way making those who commit the crimes responsible not so much to “the state,” but to their victims.