Exodus 22:2 NKJV

2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. 3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

I have been trying to figure out what the above text is referring to but I'm a little bit confused here.In one instance if a thief is found stealing & gets killed along the process there is no guilt for his bloodshed but the next verse seems to be saying otherwise

How can this text be understood?

  • Here's the full context of the last part of verses 3: 37When a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep.— 22 If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case. 2If the sun has risen on him, there is bloodguilt in that case.—He must make restitution; if he lacks the means, he shall be sold for his theft. 3But if what he stole—whether ox or ass or sheep—is found alive in his possession, he shall pay double. JPS (1985). Tanakh (Ex 21:37–22:3). Philadelphia – Perry Webb Jun 2 '18 at 7:25

The distinction is clear: if the thief breaks in during the day ("if the sun has risen on him"), there is guilt for his bloodshed and he may not be killed, but if he breaks in at night there will be no guilt for his bloodshed.

The reason for this distinction is explained here,

A thief caught breaking in by night may be killed without any guilt being incurred by his death, but not if the act take place by day. In the dark the householder would probably not be able to recognize the burglar, so as to bring him to justice, nor would he know whether he might not intend murder: a mortal blow, given in defence of his life and property, would therefore be excusable under the circumstances: but no such excuse could be made for it in the light of day. (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges).

  • I think you mean "he may NOT be killed". – fdb Jun 1 '18 at 20:36

The juris prudence of the Torah is largely lex talis aka "an eye for an eye" where retribution should be commensurate with the crime. God may punish double or more for sin but humans must not murder for a property crime.

If a householder kills an intruder the judges should presume that he was in fear for his life and rule the killing self defense and hold the householder innocent.

If however the intruder can be seen in the light of day to simply be stealing then if the householder kills him over property then the householder is a murderer.


This law took away any protection a thief might imagine he had from the cover of night.

So, the risk assessment for a thief during those days was, perpetrate my crime:

  • at night -- the cost of being caught will be my life.

  • during the day -- the cost of being caught will be full restitution. If I have nothing with which to make restitution, I will be sold into slavery.

"Is the thing I'm coveting worth the cost?"

Such a system wouldn't deter everyone who might consider theft, but Israel didn't need a prison system. The cost of security, policing and welfare would be nowhere near the levels they are today had such judgments remained part of the justice system.

Here is a graph of this particular type of crime in Australia:

![enter image description here Courtesy Crime Statistics Australia

What is immediately obvious?

Well, head and shoulders above all other groups are the two groups 10-14 and 15-19. The reason for this is, the law treats those under 18 differently to the rest of the community. Notice there is very little change from year to year in the other groups.

Those adults of a criminal mindset will take into account the leniency of the justice system towards minors in their risk assessment of committing a crime, and will send their children to do it for them. This would not be the case under the Law that was given to Moses. A man would be very reluctant to commit such a crime knowing the cost, but he would be very, very reluctant to send his son to do it for him.

The trend downwards for the two groups over the years in regard to this crime is not explained. However, it would foolish to imagine that children or their parents have been deterred by the system, or that the community has not borne a greater cost in regard to security, police numbers, and expenditure on welfare.

  • Are you saying that a higher percentage of burglaries are committed by teens because they were sent by their clever criminally minded parents to take advantage of the greater leniency toward young offenders? – Ruminator Jun 4 '18 at 5:13
  • @Ruminator. Without a doubt! Parents, step-parents, uncles. Parents can pass criminality on to children,Effects of Criminal Parents on Children. – enegue Jun 4 '18 at 6:01
  • Without a doubt? Where is the evidence that criminality was engendered specifically to take advantage of sentencing leniency? I'm sorry but this is shoddy research. – Ruminator Jun 4 '18 at 13:30
  • You are an amusing chappy, @Ruminator. – enegue Jun 4 '18 at 13:49
  • Consider me a refining fire of the LORD: Psa 66:10 For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. – Ruminator Jun 4 '18 at 13:54

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