“Restitution” means the relinquishment of a benefit or the return of money or other property obtained through an improper means to the person from whom the property was taken… (Wikipedia on “Restitution”)
Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged Numbers 5:6-7
The idea of restitution as a remedy for wrongdoing is an ancient concept. It probably dates back to the Code of Hammurabi, and it is addressed in the Old Testament numerous times in the Laws of Moses. I cite these examples not because we can follow those laws to the letter. An “eye for an eye” is not the justice that Jesus advocated for. Those social and health laws were given in a time when social order was not uniform, and there needed to be a codified way to ensure justice. So, it is important to recognize the historical and cultural context of the restitution rules that are contained in Leviticus and Numbers, and other OT books.
However, there are so many great principles embodied in the principle of restitution as a way to deal with human brokenness that I need to share my thoughts on it.
The first thing that I noted was the language used in the book of Numbers. Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. Isn’t it interesting that the offense against another person is an affront to God himself? If we wrong another person, we have offended God. Pretty heavy consideration don’t you think?
The second thing we see is that restitution is not simply paying back what was taken or secured unfairly. There was a penalty – a hefty twenty percent interest cost. That illustrates the principle that there is always a cost for sin. As I tell my clients, when we put off doing the right thing, there is always a payment that includes interest. Better to deal quickly with the problem than put it off.
The ideal concept of restitution is for the offended person to be made whole by the person who perpetrated the offense. Jail or prison time for the offender does nothing to restore the one offended. Actual responsibility to make whole the offended party should be the first priority of justice.
Take the example of the reckless hit and run driver who hits and injures a young man causing him a serious head trauma. The young man may require medical care of some type for the rest of his life. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have that reckless driver spend the rest of his life earning money to help pay the cost of medical care for the victim as opposed to spending many years in prison?
This is just one example of how restitution is a practical remedy. Our prisons are bursting with inmates at significant cost to society. Wouldn’t a system that causes the perpetrators to repay their victims be a better plan?
I recognize that violent offenders must be restrained from harming society at large. However, for non-violent offenses, I think restitution should be the first remedy of choice.
Tomorrow, I will discuss the healing aspects of restitution for both the offender and the victim.
Prayer: Lord, we know that when we offend another person, we offend you. Help us to find ways to secure justice that restores us all, Amen.