The Church and God’s Law (17)

But if the sun has risen upon him [the thief] there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft (Ex.22:3).

Clearly, the time of day reduces the culpability of a thief. At night, a thief has an advantage of surprise. Firstly, the fact of darkness gives him greater flexibility and ability to move without detection. Secondly, the householders are commonly asleep. This means that an attempt to break in and steal in this circumstance is much more of a threat to a household, than in daylight hours.

The death of a thief is undesirable. God tells us, “‘do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord, ‘rather than that he turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezek.18:23)

What is better for all is his apprehension, bringing to trial and conviction, and his making appropriate restitution to his victim. If he has nothing and has to be sold into slavery for the time being, so be it. But to kill him, God says “there will be bloodguiltiness on his account.” His slayer will have to give account for this.

Other Biblical passages show forth what should take place, should a thief come to his senses after criminal activity. Leviticus 6:1-7 explains that the conscience struck thief who has not been apprehended, owes his victim the item stolen, plus 20%. Why is this?

The Bible says that “he who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov.28:13).

Biblical law puts a premium on timely confession. The criminal who confesses receives a lighter penalty than the criminal who refuses to confess, and who is then subsequently convicted…The Bible’s penalty structure for theft provides economic incentives for all parties to present accurate information to the civil authorities.[1]

The Bible regards all crime as serious, and theft is no exception. Always, the victim of crime is the one to be considered first, so restitution for theft is essential. But theft of itself is not a capital offence, and there are limits governing how a thief should be treated by those apprehending him, especially in the daytime.

[1] Gary North, “Tools of Dominion,” 1990, p.516.