Here we continue to receive further expositions and more detailed explanations of the moral law and the rules of justice. The observance of the Lord’s commands places a distinction between His children and all other people, for He calls us to lead a holy lifestyle (verse 31).
The first half of this chapter speaks of laws concerning theft and borrowed property. If a person stole any cattle (which made up the majority of people’s wealth in Bible times), and they were found in his custody, he was commanded to restore double (verse 4). Thus he was to make satisfaction for the wrong, and suffer for his crime. However, in Leviticus 6:4-5, we find that if the thief’s conscience overwhelmed him, and he voluntarily confessed the theft before it was discovered or investigated; then he was only to make restitution of what he had stolen, and add to it a fifth part (20%) of its value. But if he had killed or sold the sheep or ox that he had stolen, and thereby persisted in his crime, he was to restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep (verse 1). He would have to repay more for an ox than for a sheep, because the owner lost the daily labor of his ox, in addition to the value of the animal. These laws teach us that fraud and injustice – so far from enriching people – will only impoverish them! If we unjustly get and keep something that belongs to another person, it will not only waste itself, but it will also consume that which is our own. A man’s house is his castle, and God’s law (as well as man’s) sets a guard upon it; therefore, he who assaults it and robs it does so at his own peril.
If a man was to lend his team of oxen to his neighbor, and he himself was with it or was receiving profit for the loan of it; then he would have to absorb the losses if any harm befell the cattle. But if the owner was kind enough to the borrower to lend it to him free of charge, and if he had enough confidence in him that he did not deem it necessary to watch over it with his own eyes; then if any harm happened, the borrower must make it good. From these guidelines, we may learn to be very careful that we do not abuse anything that is lent to us. To do so is not only unjust, but it is also dishonorable and disingenuous; for it is rendering evil for good. We should much rather choose to sustain losses ourselves, rather than allow anyone to sustain a loss by their kindness to us.
In verse 18, we see how God’s law made witchcraft a capital crime. This abominable sin not only gives honor to the devil which is due to God alone; but it also bids defiance to Divine Providence, wages war with God’s government, and attempts to put the Lord’s work into the devil’s hand. It was just and righteous, therefore, for this sin to be punished with death – especially among a people that were blessed with Divine revelation and cared for by Divine Providence, in a special manner that was different than His workings with any other nation. Idolatry was also a capital crime (verse 20). Since God declared Himself jealous in this matter, the civil authorities were to be zealous in utterly destroying those persons, families, and places that were guilty of worshiping anyone or anything except the Lord.
In the concluding verses of this chapter, we see how the Israelites were forbidden to oppress the poor and needy in their midst. They were also commanded to offer all their firstfruits to the Lord, in acknowledgment of the fact that all they possessed came from His bounty. He reminds them that their firstborn sons belonged to Him (verse 29), in memory of His having spared them when He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt on that memorable night of the first Passover. But the people were to redeem their sons by paying a fixed sum of money, which was the same for both the rich and the poor – showing that every soul is of the same value in God’s sight, and that it cost the same precious Blood to redeem them all! We have often read in the Gospel how Mary took Jesus – her firstborn Son – into the Temple, and presented Him to the Lord. But she paid no redemption money for Him, for He was not to be redeemed; He came to be the true and willing Servant. He loved His Father and His Bride – that is, His Church – too dearly to draw back from the lifelong service that He had entered upon for their sake. And He carried that service on through suffering, shame, and agony – even to death. And that loving service still goes on in heaven! He is continually pleading and praying for His people, until the last of them shall be brought home to that happy and holy home. Jesus speaks of Himself as the willing Servant, doing His Master’s will. He says, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but his that sent Me” (John 6:38). “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). And the Father also spoke of Jesus, saying, “My Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isa. 42:1). And He says again, “It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my Servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my Salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). See what a glorious work the Lord Jesus – the willing Servant – has before Him! Shall we not acknowledge Him and serve Him as our Master now, before we go home to share His heavenly glory forever?
Lord, let Your grace enable us to deny ungodliness and all worldly lusts, and to live soberly and righteously in this present world. Since You are our portion, there is enough in You to satisfy all the desires of our soul. Keep us from all covetous desires, and bring our every thought into obedience to Yourself. Amen.
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