“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” (22:1). And so continues the additional laws God gives to Israel through Moses so that they might live well together. These instructions, though not exhaustive, are pretty thorough and give good guidance for everyday living. As in 22:1, these laws do not only tell the people to do this or not to do that. Rather, they explain, “If such and such happens, then you must ‘do this.’” This sort of law is sometimes called “case law” or law that stipulates what the offender must do in order to make things right. That is, God calls not only for sorrow and repentance on the part of the offender but also restitution. The offender must make things right.
Sometimes, I think, we treat the matter of repentance as nothing more than feeling sorry about what we have done. That’s certainly a good start. But having done wrong, having become indebted to our neighbor by virtue of our wrong action toward him, we are then obligated to pay off that debt by restitution or by doing what is right. Thus, we see genuine repentance taking place and real reconciliation with our neighbor. Though Christ had nothing of which to repent, he knew that we, his people, were under an unbearable debt to God. He had compassion for us, and he actually covered our debt with his own blood. The Mosaic law is concerned with everyday living but it also relentlessly points us to the Redeemer who has taken our transgressions from us.
As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold,
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright,
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore be led by thee.
Holy Jesus, ev’ry day
keep us in the narrow way;
and, when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide. -- W. Chatterton Dix (1861)