Restitution is one of the unpopular subjects relating to the Christian life. The modern emphasis of simply accepting Jesus overlooks the need to make any wrongs right. The easy Christianity advocates would like to think that if they repent and confess their sins, that clears the record. This may be the case for many of our sins, but there are some sins that require restitution.
God’s Law in the Old Testament included compensation for trespasses. In Exodus 21:18-19, God said, “And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.” Payment for loss of time was to be recompensed to the injured person.
According to Exodus 21;33-36, restitution was required for loss of livestock. “And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his. And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide. Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own.”
Stolen goods were to be repaid at times more than double the theft. “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double” (Ex 22:1-4).
The loss of property was to be restored beyond the original value. “If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution” (Ex 22:5-6).
Stewards needed to repay double for willful neglect. “If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour. If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn. And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. But if theowner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire” (Ex 22:7-15).
If there was a trespass, twenty percent was added to the principal for restitution. If the owner was no longer living, the restitution was paid to a kin or priest. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the LORD, and that person be guilty; Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed. But if the man have no kinsman to recompense the trespass unto, let the trespass be recompensed unto the LORD, even to the priest; beside the ram of the atonement, whereby an atonement shall be made for him” (Num 5:6-8).
King David said the man who stole the lamb from his neighbor was to restore four lambs to his wronged neighbor. “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2Sam 12:5-6). This was consistent with the command in Exodus 22:1.
The highest percentage of restitution is found in Proverbs 6:30-31. “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.” Even hunger was not a justification for stealing and it needed restoration.
When we come to the New Testament, the story of Zacchaeus illustrates the obligation a man has to those whom he has wronged. His willingness to restore was a prerequisite to his salvation. Jesus pronounced salvation to his house based on his willingness to respect this Old Testament practice.
How would his salvation have been affected if a week later he had refused to restore to a man his overcharge and the additional fee? We would conclude that his salvation would have been short lived. The peace he gained by restoring other men would not have make up for willful neglect in restoring to yet another man.
Does God expect us to make all of our wrongs right? The answer is probably a “No.” If God would bring to our remembrance all the wrongs we ever did, some of us may be making good for wrongs for a long time. It may well be that God brings a few to our remembrance to reveal our commitment to Him and for our spiritual growth. It takes humility and commitment to face a wronged individual, ask forgiveness and seek a proper restoration. Those who do this prove their commitment to God by responding to the Spirit’s work within their hearts.
Does this mean we need to make a diligent search and find all trespasses of our past? What about the wrongs we have forgotten? God’s love and mercy seem to atone for all these sins He does not identify for us to amend. Even in the Old Testament, a person was only responsible for a wrong when he was made mindful of it (Lev 4).
Sometimes there is a question as to the amount of restitution. The offended person should certainly enter into the consideration. Many times they are simply willing to forgive without a lot of recompense. Our willingness to restore two, three or fourfold will prepare us to go beyond what most men would request.
What if we cannot restore the damages? Maybe terms of payment need to be considered. Maybe a loan needs to be made to make settlement. Humbly facing the wronged person and desiring to do everything within our power will usually help us work through restoring beyond our immediate means.
This Scriptural concept of Christian living needs to be seen among God’s people. It will enhance our testimony to the selfish society among whom we live. We have an obligation before God and man for the losses we have created in the lives of our fellow men. God will bless our humble obedience to this ingredient of our conditional salvation.