This chapter is more about what will happen to the Israelites if/when they disobey the laws God has given them. And, for me, some interesting things emerged here. Notice the following differences involving the theft of animals:
"If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep." (vs 1)
"If a stolen animal is found alive in his possession — whether ox or donkey or sheep — he must pay back double." (vs 4)
Did you see the difference? It’s interesting, isn’t it? If a person steals an animal and it is found alive in his possession, he must pay back the offended party double. However, if he has killed it or sold it, he has to pay the owner back four or five times. Why? As far as the owner is concerned, what does it matter if the animal is found or if it is gone? Why is the owner at a greater loss if the original animal has disappeared?
Actually, it makes no difference to the owner. The difference, I believe, is in the thief. A criminal novice is likely to be less bold and brazen, to make mistakes, to "get caught" with the animal. However, a thief who steals the animal and then quickly gets rid of the evidence — by selling it or killing it — shows a greater degree of brazenness. (Perhaps he got caught with the original animal the first time around and isn’t about to let that happen again!) Thus, the more "painful" consequences.
The whole world has fallen into sin, and God is interested in turning us around. Just because the ultimate consequences of sin are not imposed by God, this doesn’t mean that He doesn’t use lesser imposed consequences to discipline us. The difference is that God uses imposed consequences to get our attention and turn us around... so He can save us. And in so doing, He takes into consideration the mindset and the attitude of the transgressor.
God (and thus, God’s law) is not arbitrary. Nothing He does is a coincidence or an accident. Everything He does is done for a very good reason... for our healing and salvation. As a good parent yanks a knot in the tail of an out-of-control child, so God disciplines us — for our benefit. And though, like children, we may not understand it all now, we will thank Him later for knowing just how to reach us with His discipline.