אִם־בַּמַּחְתֶּרֶת יִמָּצֵא הַגַּנָּב וְהֻכָּה וָמֵת אֵין לֹו דָּמִים 22:1
Exod. 22:1 “If, during a burglary, the thief should be found, and struck and killed, no blood guilt shall be for him.”
אִם־זָרְחָה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עָלָיו דָּמִים לֹו שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּם אִם־אֵין לֹו וְנִמְכַּר בִּגְנֵבָתֹו 22:2
Exod. 22:2 “If the sun would be shining over him, blood guilt shall be for him. He shall surely make restitution. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold because of his theft.”
Considerable discussion exists among the rabbis about these two verses. It’s actually somewhat comical to read their translations in all the popular bibles. Numerous words are added in the English that are not there in the Hebrew to make some kind of sense of the Hebrew. The potential blood guilt would have to be to the one who finds, strikes, and kills the thief, presumably the homeowner or shop keeper. The verse means that no one is liable for the death. Yet taken together, the two verses don’t make much sense. Consider the following. The only way to begin to reconcile the two verses is to accept that the “for him” in v. 22:1 refers to the owner, while the “for him” in v. 22:2 refers to the thief. They still make little sense even with this assumption, because the thief is dead in either verse. So we need another assumption to go along with the first one. We have to assume that the thief isn’t struck and killed in v. 22:2 but is still alive and has been discovered during the burglary. But if he’s been discovered before he could escape with the spoil and no one has been killed, why is there blood guilt on him? And what must he make restitution for, if the spoil is found and hasn’t been removed?
Some help is available in this seeming dilemma. Verse 22:1 can be translated alternatively as:
“If, during a burglary, one should find the thief, and strike and kill, no blood guilt shall be for him.”
This allows v. 22:1 and the first part of v. 22:2 to be reconciled. But the dilemma still exists. What does the last part of v. 22:2 mean now? The thief is dead. How can he be sold?
There is only one way to come to terms, if only partially, with these two verses. We must combine likely variations in the translation of v. 22:1 with the understanding that v. 22:2 has to be a continuation of v. 22:1 with no change in the conditions of v. 22:1. We must assume that the thief in v. 22:1 is the one who strikes and kills. Thus the correct translation of v.22:1 is:
“If during a burglary, the thief should be found, and he would strike and kill, no blood guilt shall be his.”
I prefer this translation, as now the meaning of the two verses becomes relatively clear. In v. 22:1 the thief does not earn blood guilt because it is dark, and he should not be held responsible for the death of the one who found him. It was most likely an accident in the darkness. However, if the sun is shining and he can see the person, then the assumption must be that he intended to murder the one who found him. Finally, to reconcile the last part of v. 22:2, we must assume that the thief had gotten away with his loot, and was subsequently found out. Then if it can be proven that he was the thief, he is to make restitution or be sold. But what of his punishment for the death of the one who found him? So this doesn’t work any better than the other alternatives.
I must conclude that there is no way to totally understand these two verses. There seem to be no other variations in translation that we can entertain, and every interpretation leaves us with a logical dilemma. Therefore, I should be convinced that the scribe was too hasty in recording these two of God’s ordinances and left out some words that further defined necessary conditions.
However, I can see a possible solution to the puzzle. Is it possible that the verses are incorrectly defined? Could v. 22:1 and the first part of v. 22:2 be one complete verse, and the second part of v.22:2 really be separate and a prelude to v. 22:3? That part of v. 22:2 would then read:
“He [the thief] shall surely make restitution. If he has nothing, then he shall be sold because of his theft.”
This makes reasonable sense, and helps to tentatively solve the dilemma. I like this alternative the best.