Laws about Property, 1-15

22:1  (21:37)2 “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and kills it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox, and four sheep for the one sheep.
22:2 “If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guilt for him. 22:3 If the sun has risen on him, then there is blood guilt for him. A thief must surely make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he will be sold for his theft. 22:4 If the stolen item should in fact be found alive in his possession, whether it be an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he must pay back double.
22:5 “If a man grazes his livestock in a field or a vineyard, and he lets the livestock loose and they graze in the field of another man, he must make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.
22:6 “If a fire breaks out and spreads to thorn bushes, so that stacked grain or standing grain or the whole field is consumed, the one who started the fire must surely make restitution.
22:7 “If a man gives his neighbor money or articles for safekeeping, and it is stolen from the man’s house, if the thief is caught, he must repay double. 22:8 If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house will be brought before the judges to see whether he has laid his hand on his neighbor’s goods. 22:9 In all cases of illegal possessions, whether for an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any kind of lost item, about which someone says ‘This belongs to me,’ the matter of the two of them will come before the judges, and the one whom the judges declare guilty must repay double to his neighbor. 22:10 If a man gives his neighbor a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any beast to keep, and it dies or is hurt or is carried away without anyone seeing it, 22:11 then there will be an oath to the LORD between the two of them, that he has not laid his hand on his neighbor’s goods, and its owner will accept this, and he will not have to pay. 22:12 But if it was stolen from him, he will pay its owner. 22:13 If it is torn in pieces, then he will bring it for evidence, and he will not have to pay for what was torn.
22:14 “If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor, and it is hurt or dies when its owner was not with it, the man who borrowed it will surely pay. 22:15 If its owner was with it, he will not have to pay; if it was hired, what was paid for the hire covers it.

Moral and Ceremonial Laws, 16-31

22:16  “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged and has sexual relations with her, he must surely endow her to be his wife. 22:17 If her father refuses to give her to him, he must pay money for the bride price of virgins.
22:18 “You must not allow a sorceress to live.

‘Practitioners of magic were outlawed on pain of death within the Israelite community (see Lev 19:31; 20:27). Each law concerning them is in apodictic or command form. This total intolerance may be due to their association with Canaanite religion or simply because their arts represented a challenge to God’s supremacy over creation.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

‘Witches and wizards were not permitted to live because they were in league with the demonic powers that operated in the godless religions of the nations around Israel. See Lev. 19:31, 20:27 and Deut. 18:9–12. Modern occult practices are an invitation for Satan to go to work and destroy lives.’ (Wiersbe)

‘Israel is forbidden to peer into the future, since God has given her other means of finding his will (Deut. 18:9–15). At a deeper level, we might say that to desire to know the future shows lack of faith, while to desire to control the future is even worse. With the decline of religion in the Western world, ‘magic’ has today taken on a new fascination as a substitute. Witchcraft is equally condemned in New Testament days (Acts 13:10; 19:19), but in spite of the practice of the church in the Middle Ages, there is no hint in the New Testament that mediums or witches should be put to death. We may assume that the Exodus ‘rule of thumb’ was designed to preserve the integrity of God’s community from such dangerous influences, alien to faith, in early days, and to show for all time God’s abhorrence of these things.’ (Cole)

22:19 “Whoever has sexual relations with a beast must surely be put to death.
22:20 “Whoever sacrifices to a god other than the LORD alone must be utterly destroyed.
22:21 “You must not wrong a foreigner nor oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
22:22 “You must not afflict any widow or orphan. 22:23 If you afflict them in any way and they cry to me, I will surely hear their cry, 22:24 and my anger will burn and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children will be fatherless.
22:25 “If you lend money to any of my people who are needy among you, do not be like a moneylender to him; do not charge him interest. 22:26 If you do take the garment of your neighbor in pledge, you must return it to him by the time the sun goes down, 22:27 for it is his only covering—it is his garment for his body. What else can he sleep in? And when he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious.
22:28 “You must not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.
22:29 “Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats. You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 22:30 You must also do this for your oxen and for your sheep; seven days they may remain with their mothers, but give them to me on the eighth day.

“You must give me the firstborn of your sons” – The law of the firstborn first appears in Ex 13, and is repeated here.

Does God demand child sacrifices?

This is the strange theory advanced by John Loftus in chapter 4 of God or Godless?.

I call it ‘strange’ because I had not come across it before.  I hastily looked up the passage he cites (Exodus 22:29-30) to see what I had been missing all these years.  We read:

‘You shall not delay to offer from the fulness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses.  The first-born of your sons you shall give to me.  You shall do likewise with your oxen and with your sheep.’

Taking this in context, says John, it means that God required firstborn sons to be literally sacrificed.  It is only much later in OT times that God is said to change his mind, and to outlaw child sacrifice.

This is extraordinarily inept.  As Exodus 13:13-15 has already made clear, first-born males of humans (and certain animals) were not slaughtered; they were redeemed – they were bought back from God by the payment of a price.

This rejection of child sacrifice goes right back to Abraham, who demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac but found that a substitute had been divinely provided.  John cites various examples of child sacrifice in the OT, but these can easily be shown to be beside the point, since being regarded by the biblical writers themselves as abhorrent as we ourselves find them.  To take just one example – the first mentioned by John – Jephthah’s action is sacrificing his daughter (Judges 11:29-40) is clearly regarded by the narrator as an horrendous act carried out as a result of foolish oath.  The rather obvious point that John seems not to understand is that Scripture does not necessarily approve everything that it records.  Far from it.

Turning to Randal’s statement, I find that he not even talking about the same problem as John.  (That, by the way, if one of the weaknesses of the debate format of this book: each writes his opening statement without having seen the opening statement of the other).  Noting that the OT explicitly repudiates child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Ezekiel 23:37) he assumes that the subject to be debated is killing of the children of the Amalekites (for example; see 1 Samual 15:3) by the Israelites.  That’s a stiff enough problem in its own right, but not what John means by ‘child sacrifice’.  Randal then proceeds to suggest that the texts that indicate that God commanded these ‘total’ killings might be actually mistaken.  But that’s not dealing with the problem, it’s avoiding it.

I have a little sympathy with Randal on this.  He wants to say, in effect, “We don’t know what to make of these problem passages.”  I’m not opposed in principle, to saying, “I don’t know.”  I just think he might have tried harder on this occasion.

So, my verdict is, ‘a plague on both your houses’ on this one.  It’s a goalless draw.  John has completely misunderstood the teaching of the Old Testament regarding child sacrifice.  And Randal has, in his attempt to deal with a rather different problem, simply ducked the issue.

In fact the law of redemption has already been promulgated in Ex 13:13 and is clarified there.

Tuell (UBCS on Eze 20:26): ‘Other texts in the Hebrew Bible qualify this demand. Parents are to redeem a firstborn son by offering a sheep in his place (Exod. 13:13; 34:20; but compare Num. 8:16–19, where the Levites, consecrated to sacral service, are understood to take the place of all of Israel’s firstborn).’

Stuart (NAC) explains: ‘The firstborn males of all humans and animals were God’s. Did he actually expect that these would be given over to him in their infancy? Yes and no. Only those animals suitable for sacrificing (lambs, goat kids, calves, etc.) were actually received at the tabernacle and slaughtered, cooked, and eaten (or dedicated entirely to God as whole burnt offerings). The firstborn male offspring of all other animals and humans were to be redeemed instead, bought back from God by the payment of a price that substituted for their lives.’

Durham (WBC) states: ‘Firstborn sons were dedicated in Israel to Yahweh both actually and vicariously, but in service, not by sacrifice.’

IVPBBCOT: ‘Israelite religion forbade human sacrifice, substituting an animal in place of the child (see Gen 22), and the service of the Levites in place of the dedicated firstborn (Num 3:12–13).’

22:31 “You will be holy people to me; you must not eat any meat torn by animals in the field. You must throw it to the dogs.