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Confessing and Paying for Sins

Numbers 5:5-8 (GW)

5The Lord said to Moses, 6“Tell the Israelites: If you do something wrong to another person, you have been unfaithful to the Lord. When you realize your guilt, 7you must confess your sin, pay in full for what you did wrong, add one-fifth to it, and give it to the person who was wronged.
8But there may be no heir to whom the payment can be made. In that case, the payment for what you did wrong must be given to the Lord for the priest to use. This payment is in addition to the ram which makes peace with the Lord.

If I have committed $5,000 worth of vandalism damage (e.g. breaking glass windows on new houses and sliding glass doors), should I offer to make restitution for the $5,000 damage alone, or should I add to this offer one-fifth, i.e. $6,000 total?

How would this compare or contrast with Zacchaeus offer to repay 4 times the amount in his restitution (Luke 19:8)?

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The verse is saying that a person who committed a wrong to someone else must confess, pay it back with an additional fifth added, and bring a ram as a guilt-offering. This is in accordance with Leviticus 5:20-26 (Leviticus 6:1-7 in English), which requires the payment of the money with an additional fifth as well as a guilt-offering for a list of crimes such as stealing.

As the division of verses 23-24 (= 4-5 in English) would indicate, Jewish law required the extra payment of a fifth only in the case of swearing falsely (verse 24 = 5), while the ordinary case requires only paying back the theft with no extra penalty (verse 23 = 4). Following this interpretation, the case of Numbers 5:5-8 was restricted to the special case of one who falsely swore to a convert, who is likely not to have a relative to inherit him as verse 8 says (Mishnah, Bava Kamma 9:11).

However, a straightforward reading of the verses would seem to show that Numbers 5:5-8 is just a restatement of Leviticus 5:20-26 (= 6:1-7), which doesn't include the details of specific sins nor of the guilt-offering, but does add the requirement to confess the crime.

However, note that the passage in Leviticus doesn't name damages (such as your case of vandalism) as one of the reasons for this penalty. Damages didn't require an additional fifth, only the payment of the principle (Leviticus 24:21).

Zacchaeus' promise to pay back four times what he stole echos David's judgment for the rich man who stole the poor man's ewe (2 Samuel 12:6). David's judgment was in accordance with the law for stealing a sheep (Exodus 21:37), but Zacchaeus' promise to pay fourfold was above what was required by the law, so the choice of paying specifically fourfold might have been chosen with the story about David in mind.

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  • Good sir, thanks for your answer. I looked up your reference and could not find one for what you said, "This is in accordance with Leviticus 5:20-26, which requires the payment of the money with an additional fifth as well as a guilt-offering for a list of crimes such as stealing. As the division of verses 23-24 would indicate, Jewish law required the extra payment of a fifth only in the case of swearing falsely (verse 24), while the ordinary case requires only paying back the theft with no extra penalty (verse 23)." Are you sure of your Leviticus 5:20-26? – Jck Gutknecht Dec 12 '18 at 18:07
  • @JckGutknecht Sorry, the Bible I was using has a different numbering scheme than yours. In English Bibles Leviticus 5:20-26 is printed as 6:1-7. I will update the answer to clarify – b a Dec 12 '18 at 18:26
  • Thank you! And I am looking forward to your update. Article was terrific. – Jck Gutknecht Dec 13 '18 at 2:05
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I have a friend who also answers the question except for the part about Zacchaeus:

Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army

The same requirement is mentioned in other passages in the Law, such as Leviticus 22:14; 27:11-13; 27:27,31. I would say that the purpose of the added amount was deterrence, from the standpoint of preventing people from taking a casual attitude toward such transgressions that might result if the only requirement were to restore the value involved in the transgression itself.

Also, the offense would not only have been against the affected human party, but, in the final analysis, also against God Himself (as all sin is). The added portion could also then be viewed in that light, as a token of restitution to God.

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