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In the Gates

Preventive Justice

Preventive Justice--These two statutes show that we must take care in the use of our own property that we not jeopardize the wellbeing of our neighbors by our own stewardship.

The eighth commandment

Exodus 21.33, 34

When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.”

Exodus 21.35, 36

When one man’s ox butts another’s, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and share its price, and the dead beast also they shall share. Or if it is known that the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not kept it in, he shall repay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his.”

These two statutes show that we must take care in the use of our own property that we not jeopardize the wellbeing of our neighbors by our own stewardship. Open pits had to be covered and dangerous animals had to be controlled.

It’s not hard to see how many laws in our own society – think of a construction site, for example, or laws about pets – derive from such statutes as this. The statute in this section represent a form of preventive justice in which, by proper forethought and consideration of our neighbors, we take actions with our own property to ensure that others are not harmed by what we do. They also present examples of restorative justice, in which property is returned to its rightful owner without contest.

This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to www.ailbe.org and click on our Book Store.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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