1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
We have said that the Ten Commandments, and in particular, the last six, are important to obey if a nation or society expects to survive. These are just commonsense rules for building lasting relationships. We’ve also seen that our nation is rapidly moving away from obeying these commandments. We kill our young by the millions with abortions and euthanasia is preparing to take our older folks. Adultery does not hold the same shame that it used to have.
And, of course, the eighth commandment also is widely broken by government and individuals alike.
Exodus 20:15 Thou shalt not steal.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS PRIVATE PROPERTY
The Hebrew word for “steal” means, “to take that which belongs to another without his consent or knowledge” (TWOT). The implication of this is that there is such a thing as private property. This puts the Bible at odds with government systems such as Communism, which advocate government control of property. Karl Marx, one of the early formulators of Communism said: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm).
The Bible has many passages that demonstrate support for individuals owning property, versus it being owned by governments. For example,
1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. (Exodus 22:1)
The Bible also instructs people not to move boundary markers because that would be stealing your neighbor’s land:
14 Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it. (Deuteronomy 19:14)
Governments are notorious for interfering with the individual’s ownership and even use of private property. The Bible warns that would be the case. When Israel clamored for a human king, Samuel was quick to warn them of the consequences:
10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. 18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:10–18)
Based on the principles we see here, we ought to be cautious in how much we allow our local, state and national government to control ownership of property. They may claim good reasons for control—like environmental benefits. One city we visited on vacation requires home owners to plant a certain number of trees.
The regulations may sound like they give good benefits, but each inch we give will add momentum to a governmental steamroller that erodes private ownership of property.
Of course, there are cases for regulations to protect human beings from harm—such as regulating a factory’s emissions. Or, if a neighbor does something that affects the actual value of your own property, then regulations may be required there as well.
HOW DO PEOPLE STEAL?
1. Governments Steal
We’ve already mentioned that governments are good at stealing. The Bible shows us the story of how King Ahab and Queen Jezebel stole Naboth’s vineyard and his very life (1 Kings 21:1-16). Governments also steal in the way that they use the taxpayer’s money to support dubious projects or just simply allow it to be wasted. They take property and make it federal in order to protect it from people. They require homeowners to adhere to so many rules that they end up losing their homes.
I read a story of…
One woman who had intended to clear some fire-prone eucalyptus from her six-acre property found out that she had to pay a county planner between $1,300 and $1,500 to survey her property before altering the landscape, without any certainty that she would get permission to cut the trees down.
One neighbor said, “You will go through this misery of trying to get a plan approved. If you’re one of these citizens who wants to stay on the correct side of the law, you could really be off to the races with your checkbook.”
The homeowner decided to forego removing the trees, and her 2,800-square-foot home eventually burned down.
These were her trees on her property, and she could not cut them down!
The county planning department was sympathetic to her plight, but said they were forced to enforce state and federal environmental laws. (Wayne A. Grudem, Politics according to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010], 265–266.)
2. People Steal At Work
How do people steal at work? One way is obvious—they might appropriate their employer’s possessions for their own use. In 2009, the following was true—
- The U S Retail Industry loses $53.6 Billion a year due to employee theft.
- On a per case average, dishonest employees steal approximately 6.6 times the amount stolen by shoplifters.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that 30% of all businesses fail due to internal theft. (http://www.the-retail-advisor.com/you_hired_a_thief.html)
Employees can also steal from their employers by being unproductive. It could be anything from arriving late to work, leaving early, or, of course, wasting time on Facebook or Twitter. One 2012 estimate said that workers wasting time cost United State employers 134 billion dollars a year (http://www.ibtimes.com/workers-wasting-time-cost-us-employers-134b-lost-effort-infographic-903334).
3. People Steal In Many Ways
- Rioters who loot stores are stealing, not making any sort of social statement.
- Salesmen love to talk up a product before you buy it, but then they turn around and tell you how badly it could fail in order to get you to buy an extended warranty!
- Downloading songs or movies without paying for them is stealing, even if you want to believe that the big companies that make them have too much money anyway.
4. Christians Steal
As Christians, we need to examine our own hearts and ask in what ways do we steal. We are quick to say that we don’t steal (I read somewhere that George Barna once reported that 90% of Evangelical Christians said they never break the eighth commandment). But is that true? Or, have we simply narrowed our definition of stealing so much that we come through clean as a whistle?
Christians steal when they don’t use their God-given gifts for God’s glory. Those gifts may include things like talents or finances. Christians steal from God when we don’t given him the worship and praise that he deserves. Christians steal from God when we don’t obey his clear will given to us in the Bible. Christians steal when we don’t think that the ways of stealing I just mentioned are very important.
We could go on an on about how people steal, but let’s move on to an important question about stealing.
WHY IS STEALING WRONG?
There are several answers to this question, the first being one that any person, believer or not, could agree on.
1. Stealing Goes Against Others
Stealing disrespects another person. Stealing can ruin relationships between people. If enough people steal from a company, the company may have raise prices to recoup the losses—therefore affecting other people.
One scholar pointed out how stealing disrupts the social order (perhaps a bit overstated, but you’ll get the point):
The food thief makes others go hungry; the work animal thief interrupts farming; the kidnapper tears apart a family; the clothing thief makes another suffer from the sun or the cold. (Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, The New American Commentary, [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006], 2:465.)
The fact that stealing goes against others ought to be a good motivation not to steal, but we know that it really isn’t. If the large company that you are stealing from raises prices, what does it matter to you? You weren’t paying for the product anyway! If someone you don’t know gets hurt, what does that matter? You don’t know them.
So, for the Christian, there is another, bigger reason why it is wrong to steal.
2. Stealing Goes Against God
The Bible tells us that God is a good provider. Jesus said:
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:30)
The primary way that God has chosen to clothe us is for us to work:
28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephesians 4:28)
So stealing goes against God in that we don’t trust him to provide for us. By the way, did you notice what the purpose of working that was mentioned in that verse? It was to give to him in need. At the very least, that indicates that our attitude to be less about getting and more about giving. That’s going to require even more faith. Instead of just trusting the Lord to provide for what we need, we are to trust to him to provide enough for us to give!
Stealing also indicates a lack of faith in that God provides for others. When we steal, we fail to appreciate that God has allowed them to have or blessed someone else with a possession. We do not have the right to take what God has given to others.
So, in two ways, stealing indicates a lack of faith in God. That should be a serious concern to a Christian who has stolen something.
ACHAN STOLE FROM GOD
Turn to the book of Joshua and you’ll find one of the most famous stories of stealing in the Bible. The story takes place during and after the siege of Jericho in chapter 6. You’ll recall that God gave the Israelites some strange directions for conquering Jericho. They were to simply march around the city every day for a week, and then, after blowing their trumpets, the walls would fall down. But those were not the only instructions. The city and it’s contents were to be accursed and so…
18 And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19 But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD. (Joshua 6:18–19)
One person, Achan, did not obey this command. He stole from the Lord by taking certain things from Jericho as his own personal spoils of war. As a result, when Israel attempted to conquer their next city, God allowed them to be soundly defeated and routed. Joshua wondered what the problem was and God told him:
11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they were accursed: neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you. (Joshua 7:11–12)
The Lord revealed to Joshua that it was Achan that had stolen from the spoils of Jericho. Achan confessed his crime against the Lord:
20 And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: 21 When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. 23 And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua, and unto all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the LORD. 24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. (Joshua 7:20–25)
Why was the Lord so harsh with Achan? After all, he had only stolen a few things. You could say that he was making an example of Achan as a strong deterrent against anyone trying to do the same.
But remember also that Achan robbed God. He took what was specifically designated for God. As such, he sinned directly against God, the greatest being in the universe and such a sin demands the greatest punishment—death.
ALL SIN DESERVES DEATH
We are clearly told in Romans:
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
When we see God putting someone to death, especially in the Old Testament, our first thought should not be—that’s so unfair and harsh of God! Instead, we should think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Achan’s punishment is the punishment that we all deserve.
Where does that leave us? In really bad shape, but for the grace of God.
Even in the Old Testament, God had a plan to provide eternal forgiveness for our sins. In Isaiah 53 we read:
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, And he shall divide the spoil with the strong; Because he hath poured out his soul unto death: And he was numbered with the transgressors; And he bare the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
We know that it’s talking about Jesus Christ here. Christ was “numbered with the transgressors” in that he became a sin sacrifice for us. But he was also “numbered with the transgressors” when he died on a cross between two thieves—
38 Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. (Matthew 27:38)
What a literal fulfillment of Christ becoming sin for us! There he was, on the cross, considered to be just another criminal—a thief guilty of breaking the eighth commandment. No, on the cross, Jesus was in a sense, guilty of breaking all the commandments.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Have you broken the eighth commandment? You probably have more times than you can count. Then it’s a great comfort to know that Christ died among thieves for thieves like us. And remember what happened to the one of the thieves that recognized what Christ was actually doing on the cross?
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:42–43)
That can be true for everyone who relies on Christ to save them. Is it true for you?