The idea of reparations is as ancient as Leviticus. The idea came from God and the English word that gets translated in this context of life in Israel is restitution.
Exodus first mentions the idea of restitution (Ex 22:3), but the idea is developed in Leviticus 5 and 6.
Here the sin offering and occasions that put guilt on a person, even if unintentional, are expanded from chapter 4. There seems to be a distinction, however, between the sin offering for the intentional act, and the guilt offering for the unintentional act. The result of separation from God—intentional or not—is the bottom line, and restoration of that relationship is the goal.
The idea of punitive damages is as old as Leviticus! Punitive damages not only discourage the offender from doing it again but also sends a signal to witnesses to curb any desires of doing the same thing. I recently heard, however, that in civil cases, there is no sure system in place for collecting those damages. A court may assess damages in a civil case, but they are not in the business of collecting it. The victim has a legal right to invoice and collect but must take further legal action if the offender does not pay up. Often a victim is a victim again of injustice, indignity, and neglect when a civil court ruling is ignored.
Our world is not so far from the world of Leviticus, is it? Some of the same legal actions still take place. Humans are still involved. People are offended. People are victimized. Justice is attempted or badly missing. In the world of Leviticus, when someone is convicted of defrauding someone or stealing money, a surcharge of twenty percent would be added as damages to the person offended (6:5).
Lord, may we never let our stubborn pride and personal vendettas separate us from you or from one another. But we harbor offense in our hearts—not just moral failure but relational failure. Is there someone you want me to remember today? Someone I’ve wronged, perhaps by neglect? Someone I’ve dismissed as a human being this week? Have I sinned against you, Yahweh?
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.