Biblical Principle #260: Israel’s Restitution for Property Theft

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Under the Law of Moses, God gave Israel the penalty for the theft of property and the moving of boundary stones.


We have previously established that GOD told Israel not to steal.

Besides forbidding the sin of theft, GOD prescribed the restitution for various crimes of thievery.

Theft of Personal Property

Someone who stole a person’s property and got caught was expected to repay:

1 “‘And if someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters or sells it, he shall pay five oxen in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep. 2 And if the thief is discovered while breaking into the house, and after being smitten he dies, it is not a murder to him. 3 But if the sun has risen on him, he is guilty. He shall be killed in return. And if the thief has no means, have him be sold to cover his theft. 4 And if he is seized and the stolen thing, whether a donkey or a sheep, is discovered in his hand alive, he shall repay them double.

Exodus 22:1-4 LES

To summarize:

  • Steal ox and sell/kill it = repayment of 5x oxen
  • Steal sheep and sell/kill it = repayment of 4x sheep
  • Break into a house, survive, but get caught = repayment (implied by “if the thief has no means”) or indebted servitude until the debt was repaid through labor
  • Caught “red-handed” with stolen goods = repayment double of what was stolen

Theft of Real Property

Because the Land of Canaan was divided by tribe, each family (besides the Levites) inherited a portion of property there. The plots of land were marked off with boundary stones. As we have seen regarding the Year of Jubilee, every 50 years, the property was reset to its original divisions.

Therefore, moving boundary stones was a serious sin before GOD and crime against one’s neighbor.

14 “You shall not remove your neighbor’s boundaries your fathers established in your inheritance, which you will inherit in the land the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

Deuteronomy 19:14 OSB

Time and again, Scripture spoke negatively against the removal of boundary stones, even pronouncing a curse upon any Israelite who did this evil:

17 ‘Cursed is he who changes his neighbor’s boundaries.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’

Deuteronomy 27:17 OSB

In Proverbs, Solomon used the boundary stone to illustrate how GOD lifts up the lowly and tears down the haughty:

25 The Lord pulls down the houses of the haughty,
but he establishes the boundary of a widow.

Proverbs 15:25 LES

Elsewhere in Proverbs, Solomon spoke plainly about the wisdom of avoiding the sin of moving real property lines:

28 Do not remove eternal boundaries, which your fathers set up.

Proverbs 22:28 LES

Yet, the boundary stone concept was not a uniquely Mosaic law. Job even lamented that the wicked crossed these boundaries to steal what wasn’t theirs:

1 But why have the seasons been hidden from the Lord, 2 while the ungodly have passed over the bound, carrying off the flock with the shepherd? 3 They have led away, the ass of the fatherless, and taken the widow’s ox for a pledge. 4 They have turned aside the weak from the right way: and the meek of the earth have hidden themselves altogether.

Job 24:1-4 Brenton LXX Third Revision

Ultimately, GOD issued the final penalty prophecy upon Israel’s leaders for this crime:

10 “The princes of Judah became as those
Who remove the boundaries;
I will pour out my fury upon them as water.

Hosea 5:10 OSB

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