If you see your brother's ox or sheep straying, you must not ignore it; be sure to return it to your brother.
Exodus 23:4, 5). Whatever authority the scribes in Christ's time imagined themselves to have for their saying, Thou shalt hate thine enemy (Matthew 5:43), they did not find it in the Law. Even towards the heathen - save in the sense in which each nation desires the destruction of its enemies in war - they were not taught to cherish feelings of bitterness and hostility. Deuteronomy 23:6 forbids seeking the welfare of Moab and Ammon, but this does not amount to hatred of these peoples (cf. Deuteronomy 2:9, 19), while the command to "blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Deuteronomy 25:19) is, like the command to exterminate the Canaanites, grounded in special circumstances, and is to be regarded as exceptional. Those who express horror of the sanguinary spirit of the Mosaic code should study the precepts before us, and reflect how far the race is from having yet risen to the height of them. They forbid -
I. SECRET REJOICING IN ANOTHER'S MISFORTUNE. Such rejoicing may have its source in:
1. Enmity. The statute in Exodus particularly specifies the ox and ass of an "enemy" (Exodus 23:4). The enemy is further defined, not as one whom we hate, but as one who hates us (ver. 5). Yet if his ox, or sheep, or ass is seen going astray, we are not to hide ourselves or forbear help, but are to bring it back to him. So with all his lost property - we are to take it home and keep it for him. Or, if his ass fall under a burden, we are to help him to lift it up. How natural the disposition to act otherwise! No one knows that we have seen the stray beast. We may reason that we are not bound to interfere. A secret joy, even, may steal into our minds at the thought of an enemy's misfortune. The Law taught the Israelite to think and act very differently. It gave him the lesson of forgiving injuries, of loving enemies, of returning good for evil.
2. Envy. The precept in this passage speaks merely of a "brother." Through envy or some other wicked feeling, even where there is no enmity, we may be tempted to rejoice in the lessening of another's prosperity. But neither is this hateful principle to be allowed to sway us.
3. Malice. This is the disposition which delights in what injures another for its own sake. So diabolical a state of feeling might be deemed impossible did not experience of the world afford too many proofs of its existence. There are unquestionably malicious and spiteful natures who, irrespective of any personal interest in the matter, derive an absolute gratification from seeing misfortune overtake those around them. The faintest beginning of such a spirit ought surely to be most jealously guarded against.
II. SECRET RETENTION OF ANOTHER'S PROPERTY. What is found is not to be appropriated or concealed. If the owner is unknown, the beast or lost article is to be taken home, and kept till he can be discovered. Though he is an enemy, his goods are to be faithfully restored to him. This, again, is a form of virtue which only strength of moral principle will enable one always to practice. - J.O.
Thy brother's ox or his sheep.
I. AN INDICATION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. "Doth God care for oxen?" Yes; and observes them go astray, or fall beneath their heavy burden. He legislates for them, and our treatment of them is reverence or disobedience to His command. "Thou shalt not see," etc.
II. AN OPPORTUNITY OF NEIGHBOURLY KINDNESS. "Thy brother" comprehends relatives, neighbours, strangers, and enemies even (Exodus 23:4). The property of any person which is in danger shall be protected and restored. Love should rule in all actions, and daily incidents afford the chance of displaying it.
1. Kindness regardless of trouble. "If thy brother be not nigh unto thee, and if thou know him not," seek him out and find him if possible.
2. Kindness regardless of expense. If really unable to find the owner, feed and keep it for a time at thine own expense. "Then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it." If such care must be taken for the ex, what great anxiety should we display for the temporal and spiritual welfare of our neighbour himself!
III. AN EXPRESSION OF HUMANITY. "Thou shalt not hide thyself." Indifference or joy in the misfortune would be cruelty to dumb creatures and a violation of the common rights of humanity.
1. In restoring the lost. Cattle easily go astray and wander over the fence and from the fold. If seen they must be brought back and not hidden away.
2. In helping up the fallen. The ass ill-treated and over-laden may fall down through rough or slippery roads. Pity must prompt a helping hand. "Thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again." Thus common justice and charity are taught by the law of nature and enforced by the law of Moses. Principles which anticipate the Gospel and embody themselves in one of its grandest precepts, "Love your enemies."
1. If we must not see our brother's ox being driven away, can we stand back and behold his mind being forced into wrong or evil directions? It were an immoral morality to contend that we must be anxious about the man's ox but care nothing about the man's understanding. We do not live in Deuteronomy: we live within the circle of the Cross; we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; our morality or our philanthropy, therefore, does not end in solicitude regarding ox, or sheep, or ass: we are called to the broader concern, the tenderer interest, which relates to the human mind and the human soul. Take it from another point of view.
2. If careful about the sheep, is there to be no care concerning the man's good name? We are told that to steal the purse is to steal trash — it is something — nothing; 'twas mine, 'twas his — a mere rearrangement of property; "but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed." We are the keepers of our brother: his good name is ours. When the reputation of a Christian man goes down or is being driven away, the sum total of Christian influence is diminished; in this sense we are not to live unto ourselves or for ourselves; every soul is part of the common stock of humanity, and when one member is exalted the whole body is raised in a worthy ascension, and when one member is debased or wronged or robbed a felony has been committed upon the consolidated property of the Church. Thus we are led into philanthropic relations, social trusteeships, and are bound one to another; and if we see a man's reputation driven away by some cruel hand — even though the reputation be that of an enemy — we are to say, "Be just and fear not," — let us know both sides of the case; there must be no immoral partiality; surely in the worst of cases there must be some redeeming points. Take it from another point.
3. "In like manner shalt thou do with...his raiment." And are we to be careful about the man's raiment, and care nothing about his aspirations? Is it nothing to us that the man never lifts his head towards the wider spaces, and wonders what the lights are that glitter in the distant arch? Is it nothing to us that the man never sighs after some larger sphere, or ponders concerning some nobler possibility of life? Finding a man driving himself away, we are bound to arouse him in the Creator's name and to accuse him of the worst species of suicide.
4. Can we see our brother's ass being driven away and ears nothing what becomes of his child? Save the children, and begin your work as soon as possible. It is sad to see the little children left to themselves; and therefore ineffably beautiful to mark the concern which interests itself in the education and redemption of the young. A poet says he was nearer heaven in his childhood than he ever was in after days, and he sweetly prayed that he might return through his yesterdays and through his childhood back to God. That is chronologically impossible — locally and physically not to be done; and yet that is the very miracle which is to be performed in the soul — in the spirit; we must be "born again." It is a coward's trick to close the eyes whilst wrong is being done in order that we may not see it. It is easy to escape distress, perplexity, and to flee away from the burdens of other men; but the whole word is, "Thou shalt not hide thyself," but "thou shalt surely help him." Who can undervalue a Bible which speaks in such a tone? The proverb "Every man must take care of himself" has no place in the Book of God. We must take care of one another. Christianity means nothing if it does not mean the unity of the human race, the common rights of humanity: and he who fails to interpose in all cases of injustice and wrong-doing, or suffering which he can relieve, may be a great theologian, but he is not a Christian.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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