Proverbs 6:31

ESV but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house.
NIV Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.
NASB But when he is found, he must repay seven times as much; He must give up all the property of his house.
CSB Still, if caught, he must pay seven times as much; he must give up all the wealth in his house.
NLT But if he is caught, he must pay back seven times what he stole, even if he has to sell everything in his house.
KJV But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.

What does Proverbs 6:31 mean?

Cultures are often harsh towards thieves as a deterrent. When one stands to lose much more than they could gain, the risks make theft less attractive. Even when the crime is motivated by supposedly noble goals–– stealing bread to stave off hunger, for instance––there is still a penalty attached. In the case of the thief who steals to satisfy his hunger and gets caught, he must perform restitution. "He will pay sevenfold," Solomon says, which is not an uncommon approach. However, when someone is truly desperate, "right judgment" frequently involves a level of mercy (John 7:24; Matthew 18:23–27).

The book and stage musical versions of Les Misérables heavily revolve around this exact idea. The main character steals bread as a starving child—and winds up suffering nineteen years of prison labor, and the stigma of prison afterwards. The callous lack of perspective from authorities is key to driving the story's progress.

In this context, Solomon is simply pointing out that even crimes of desperation bring consequences (Proverbs 6:30). Society typically doesn't hate or persecute a starving thief, but they also don't tolerate stealing. In contrast, an adulterer has no such excuses. That's not a sin of desperation, it's one of lust. As much as people might take pity on a destitute shoplifter, they have virtually zero compassion for someone who violates marriage with sexual sin.

Depending on the nature of the crime, in Solomon's day a captured thief may have to sell everything he owns to make restitution. That's a heavy cost, but the cost of adultery is even greater. Adultery is just as damaging—some might argue even worse—to a society than theft. This concept emerges in Old Testament law. According to Leviticus 20:10 adultery in the nation of Israel was punishable by death. We read in John 8 about a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers, the scribes and the Pharisees, appealed to the law of Moses as commanding that she be put to death, and they were ready to stone her to death. However, Jesus offered her forgiveness and commanded her to go and sin no more (John 8:1–11).
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