February 05, 2022

Good Reasons for Civil Laws

Exodus 21:33-22:15

“If anyone [digs] a pit . . . and fails to cover it and an ox or a donkey falls into it, [they] must pay the owner for the loss and take the dead animal in exchange.”

—  Exodus 21:33-34

Do you own an ox? How about a donkey? Then this law has little to do with you, right?

Perhaps. This is one of many civil laws found in the Bible. In ancient Israel, these laws were intended to keep order in society. All cultures have similar laws about property, but the nature of the property may vary from one society to another. All such laws aim at the same thing: civil justice.

The laws in this passage are specific to the agricultural society of ancient Israel. If you live in a society today with oxen and donkeys, you might want such a law in effect.

But even in societies that do not use oxen and donkeys, such laws can be useful. This one illustrates the principle of fair compensation. The pit digger should have covered up the hole. As a result, someone else lost something of value. Thus the pit digger should pay the owner for the loss of the animal.

How about an automobile? Do you have one of them? Do you drive responsibly? Are you insured so that if you harm someone else, you can provide compensation for their loss? If so, you are following a similar law in your own society.

Lord, thank you for our government and for the laws you give to our nation. We know that you seek justice at all levels and among all people. Show us where we might fail to do justice, and how we might correct injustice. Amen.

About the author — Kent Van Til

Kent Van Til was a missionary in Costa Rica. He taught theological ethics both there and in the USA. He is the author of four books. The most recent is a spiritual biography of his grandmother entitled, "A Name for Herself: A Dutch Immigrant's Story." Kent likes to fish, hunt, make music, and entertain his grandchildren.

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