I’ve marked all the times in the ESV in this passage that the Hebrew verb שָׁלֵם [šālēm]   is used. It is a verb that can mean many different things:  “to restore, to repay, to make restitution; to reward; to make a covenant of peace.” [OT Word Study Dictionary] In this passage it means “to repay, to make restitution.”

By my count it is used 14 times in Exodus 21.33-22.15. This leads to the question, “Why is God so concerned about restitution?”  I mean, he could have just said, “apologize to the guy from whom you stole stuff and it is all good.”

I think if we understand the nature of the word  שָׁלֵם [šālēm] that it will help us understand why restitution and repayment when we have wronged someone is so important.  This verb is taken from the same root of the Hebrew word “shalom.”  Shalom means “peace, harmony, wholeness, or completeness.”

Since God is so concerned about restitution, it must involve more than just a simple apology, it includes turning relationships back so that they are restored to peace and harmony.  God certainly understands that harmony is not restored where repayment/restitution is not made.  In other words an apology or asking forgiveness is a good start if I steal something from my neighbor, but full shalom is not reached until I have returned what I have stolen.

God has a twist for the Israelites though.  Restitution in God’s eyes does not take place until they have returned four or five times what they had stolen! But why so much?  I suspect that it’s because if I steal my neighbor’s car and later return it, he may still hold a grudge against me for stealing his car.  If I steal his car, but then return four cars to him, I think he will not hold a grudge, he may even be happy! that I stole his car.  Now we are on VERY GOOD terms because I have blessed him and our relationship is restored to peace, harmony, and completeness.

Restitution takes on even greater importance when we consider it in light of our sin against God.  Yes, it is good to apologize and seek forgiveness for our sins, however, shalom is not restored until repayment/restitution is made.  But how can we make repayment to God for our sins?  It seems impossible.

But…“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1, ESV)

God brought about shalom with us “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  What we could not do [bring about peace, make restitution/repayment for our sins], God did through his own Son.  Renn’s Expository Dictionary explains:

“In the New Testament it is clear that “peace” finds its ultimate expression in an intimate relationship with God, made possible by the saving work of Christ. Indeed, the person of Christ is declared as the embodiment of peace, bringing about the eternally permanent reconciliation between humankind and God.”