Applying GOD’s LAW of RESTITUTION in our daily LIVES: "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 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." (Exodus 22:1-4)
After giving out the preamble of His laws through the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, God details the specific application of each of the commandments in greater detail through the subsequent chapters. In this context, God specifies the way out of breaking the eighth commandment concerning theft ("You shall not steal" - 20:15) through the ‘law of restitution’ (22:1-4). Restitution is an act of putting right what has been done wrongly, restoring what has been taken wrongly and repairing or giving any equivalent to loss or damage. Restitution is a biblical concept, and there are multiple passages in both the Old and New Testaments that reveal the mind of God on this subject.
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were living under the Law, which specified restitution in a variety of circumstances. This principle of the Biblical law states that justice has not been done until full restitution has been made to all the victims of injustice. In other words, the original lawful order must be restored completely. Whenever the nature of the crime is such that restitution is impossible, or, when the thief refuses to make restitution to restore the lawful order, the penalty is death. So, the thief must take full responsibility for his actions and is the only one liable for his crime.
The Scripture mandates double restitution be paid to the victim, provided the thief is able to restore the original item that he stole. If he has already damaged the item or sold it, and it is not possible to recover the stolen item, then the thief must repay four or five times the value of the stolen item. Only the victim had the right to forgive the debt in whole or in part, even as the repentant thief would have the right to give the victim more than what the law required.
In the New Testament, however, forgiveness is mandatory (see Matt. 18:21-22), because there is every reason to forgive the offender once he has paid full restitution to the victims. The offender has had to redeem himself from the bondage of sin, and once the debt has been paid, he is restored completely. We have the wonderful example of Zacchaeus who made restitution in this manner: "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold" (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus repented, and his sincerity was evident in his immediate desire to make restitution.
Let us remember that even though our Lord Jesus has paid the full price for us prior to our repentance, there is a need to activate and make real what Christ has done for us. Obtaining forgiveness is the key to rehabilitation, and only God’s judicial system knows the true value of forgiveness in its treatment of crime. Restitution is usually considered at the time of salvation because God will only forgive when a person is willing to make right every wrong that he has committed against others. However, throughout our lives we should be ready to make restitution where need be when others are offended (Acts 23:1-5, Matthew 5:23-24). We should make restitution for three major reasons:
- God commands it (Ex. 22:10-13; Lev. 6:1-5)
- To have a clear conscience towards God and towards man (1 Sam. 12:1-5; Acts 24:16).
- It is the evidence of our conversion that shows our readiness to obey God (Ezek. 33:14-16).