Restorative justice: A biblical view of justice
Jul 18, 2012
We are obligated to live justly toward our neighbors, and, in part, that requires that we take appropriate preventive steps to guard his wellbeing and property.
The statute cited in our text above reflects the third facet of the Biblical teaching on justice, which we may refer to as restorative justice. According to the Law of God, when injustice has occurred, whoever is responsible for it must take steps to set things right again.
This statute shows how the practice of restorative justice was nuanced in order to encourage the practice of preventive justice. If the ox simply, without warning or provocation, killed a neighbor’s ox, the owner of the goring ox had to sell it and share the proceeds with the owner of the dead ox. Also, the two would share the dead ox, whether the proceeds of its sale or its meat.
However, if the goring ox was known to attack, and the owner did not keep it in, then a greater injustice would have been committed, requiring a greater act of restoration. In this case the owner of the goring ox comes away with only the dead ox, while the owner of the gored ox receives a new beast from the owner of the offending ox.
In ancient Israel, whenever someone was injured by the neglect or indifference of a neighbor, restoration was required in order to return justice to the community. Once restoration was made the injured party was satisfied and the guilty party was exonerated. Neighbors could quickly get on with being neighbors without grudges being built up against one another. No prison time was involved, and no revenge was needed. Restoration could include money paid to return an injured person to health or for lost opportunity costs (Ex. 21:18, 19), borrowed things that were broken or lost (Ex. 22:14, 15), or even lost items that one might find (Deut. 22:1-4).