Do Not Steal

Exodus 20:15


What a simple, yet so complex commandment! You might be thinking, “I never stole anything!” Are you absolutely sure your not a thief? Let’s see!

STEALING is to take away another man’s property by force or fraud, without the knowledge, and against the will of the owner. This law intends to preserve and secure every man’s property to himself.

The OT understands property to be an extension of SELF of its owner, so that theft of property is a violation of person, not just a person’s wealth, as anyone who has been the victim of burglary knows.

Except for kidnapping, where the penalty is death, a fine or restitution is the punishment under the Mosaic Law. Exodus 21:16 decrees that—

Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.

It is beyond any stretch of the imagination that Christians could participate in black slavery before the Civil War, and believe they were not violating God’s Law. To have purchased a black slave, who was kidnapped from his or her family in Africa, was to be a co-conspirator in theft of a human being.

Prior to the Civil War, the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dred Scott Case ruled that a black person is not a human being. Those Justices who placed themselves above God’s Law and handed down that appalling decision will be in dire straits on that Great Judgment Day when they stand before the Righteous Judge at the Great White Throne. Therefore, it will be with the Justices, who have sanctioned the stealing the life of unborn babies.

Theft of property in Israel is considered a tort, that is, the injured party is restored so far as possible to the pre-theft position and beyond according to Exodus 22:1—

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.

As an apparent deterrent, OVERCOMPENSATION, was called for in certain cases, though this would hardly have deterred the rich.

The Eighth Commandment is extended to include any form of dishonesty in Deuteronomy 25:16—

For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

Included in THESE THINGS is the command, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (25:4). Here God taught them humanity, even to their beasts that served them, and much more to their servants or other men who labored for them, especially to their ministers of the Gospel according to Paul’s application of this command in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11—

For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the ploughman ploughs and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

Theft is an attack on the dignity of human beings and their work. God dignifies human beings by giving them work to do, from which they can expect to receive some of the fruits of their labor.

Work and enjoying the fruit of one’s labor is fundamental to God’s intentions for man at creation according to Genesis 2:15-16—

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.

Genesis 3:19 is added because of the Fall—

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:10—

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Theft is a refusal to accept God’s fundamental design: work to eat! The humanity of both the thief and the victim is diminished when this basic design and rule is violated. Moreover, human beings are to make use of God-given gifts in and through their work. For the thief not to consider these gifts and the blessings they bring is to treat with disdain what God has given him.

As we observed in THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS a few weeks ago, everyone who uses their God-given abilities, resources, and time will hear from the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” But the one, who buries what is entrusted to him in the ground, will hear, “You wicked, lazy servant! Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The Master said to the unfaithful servant, “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” Not to give God a return on what He has entrusted to us is to steal from Him. In Malachi 3, the LORD charged the Israelites with robbing Him in tithes and offerings. Robbing God often has serious ramifications that people often fail to consider. Haggai 1:3-7 puts before Israel for consideration the fact that their leaving the Temple not built was stealing from God and He was taking retribution—

Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.”

Here stealing takes the form of doing nothing when something should be done. Exodus 23:4-5 also makes this point—

If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

God’s commands builds into the social structure the responsibility for the preservation and well-being of the property of the neighbor, even if that neighbor is your enemy!

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, would not the Priest and Levite, who passed by, be as blameworthy as the robbers of stealing the man’s life if he died?

Basic to the understanding of the Mosaic Law is that the people of God do not possess property because they have some natural right to do so but only by the grace of God according to Deuteronomy 8:18—

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

The United States is a nation blessed by God with wealth. This raises profound issues regarding the affluence of our modern society. The attachment to things, the extravagance in life-styles, and the mountains of waste generated, all in the face of incredibly widespread hunger and want, raise the question of theft to new levels.

The prophets rail against Israel at precisely this point. Micah 3:1-3 gives one of Scripture’s most piercing images of the ravages of theft—

Then I said, “Listen, you leaders of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel. Should you not know justice, you who hate good and love evil; who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones; who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot.”

The LORD accuses Israel’s government of being a cannibal, feeding on those it is their responsibility to defend. No nation under God, has the right to take from the poor and give to the rich—that is stealing!

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address hits the nail on the head as to what makes this nation great—

That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Once a government is not for the people, but for its leaders, freedom vanishes and the people shall perish. No government has the right to enslave its people in poverty so it can be well fed and fat. Israel is proof! God’s prophets cried out against such injustice and unrighteous, calling it theft!

At whose expense is wealth gained? Does it not constitute theft to overtax, pay inadequate wages or benefits? New definitions of theft need to be considered in view of the complexity of modern society, not least its corporate and governmental structures.

In his Commentary on the Bible, John Wesley wrote—

This command forbids us to rob ourselves of what we have, by sinful spending, or of the use and comfort of it by sinful sparing; and to rob others by invading our neighbor’s rights, taking his goods, or house, or field, forcibly or clandestinely, over-reaching in bargains, not restoring what is borrowed or found, withholding just debts, rents or wages; and, which is worst of all, to rob the public in the coin or revenue, or that which is dedicated to the service of religion.

OVER-REACHING IN BARGAINS is STEALING! Never thought of that one! That must be some old fashion idea! Then, I questioned, “Now how did John Wesley come up with that one?” Possibly, he took it from Leviticus 19:13—

Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

The word for DEFRAUD also means to oppress, violate, or extort. Here’s some synonyms (equivalent terms) for DEFRAUDING: cheating, beating, bilking, chiseling, flimflamming, gypping, overreaching, reaming, and swindling.

When I bought a radio dirt-cheap—much below cost, I certainly didn’t defraud the store! The price was right there on tag! Or did I? Someone experienced a lost! All things being equal I held back the wages of someone! Of course, we know what happens—the store overcharges on something else to make up for the lost—they steal from other customers!

Here’s another perspective. It is estimated that one out of every 52 supermarket customers carries away at least one item not paid for. The other 51 pay more for their food to compensate for the loss. Isn’t overcharging for an item defrauding your neighbor?

Do you know what the synonyms of BARGAIN are? BUY, CLOSEOUT and STEAL. Next time you get buy that bargain item, will you have a guilty conscience? Some how I doubt it! We have grown accustomed to taking advantage of one another, or being taken advantage of!

Proverbs 20:14 seems to have been written especially for buying an automobile—

It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

Even today, shopping in the Old City of Jerusalem thrives on such dealings. The merchant overstates the price and its up to the customer to convince the merchant how low to bring it. There’s something inherent in human nature to want to take advantage of another. And these merchants know how to manipulate human nature often to their own benefit.

A few weeks ago, I priced a coat at Bon Ton. One week it was 50 percent off the original price of $80.00—which brought it to $40.00. The next week Bon Ton ran a clearance sale: one-third off the lowest ticket price, which was $59.95—bringing the cost of the coat down to $39.97. That is a great bargain of three cents over the previous week! People must fall for these kinds of sales all the time; otherwise the stores would not run them. Is such deception stealing?

We have all opened a container to find it did not contain what it claimed on the label. A Bureau of Weights and Measures official estimates that the total loss to U.S. consumers coming from short counting reaches into millions of dollars a year. I have combined four passages to show God’s opinion of such practices—

The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight. Differing weights and differing measures—the LORD detests them both. The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud. Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? (Proverbs 11:1; 20:10 Hosea 12:7; Micah 6:11).

Packaging is even designed to defraud the customer. A large box, little contents! People who cannot read the label are victimized! Often that is the poor!

Many of you like to eat out. It is easy to be a thief at the restaurant! You pay your bill, but don’t leave a tip for the waitress or waiter who has given you reasonable service! What did Leviticus 19:13 say—

Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

In our culture, it is a given that waiters and waitresses work for tips. Thus, when you choose to eat at a restaurant, you have hired the services of those who wait on you. If the service is reasonable, it constitutes fraud and robbery not to adequately tip!

Thefts are of various kinds; there is private theft, picking of pockets, shoplifting, burglary, or breaking into houses in the night, and carrying off goods; public theft, or robbing upon the highways.

But what about domestic theft? It occurs when a husband or wife takes away their family’s money or goods, and conceals them, or disposes of them without the other spouse’s knowledge and consent. Marriage is oneness, not independence! Husband and wife are accountable to one another for the family’s finances. Dishonesty and trickery is deplorable!

What about Christian parents who rob their children of spiritual growth by not teaching and instructing them in the Commandments? Deuteronomy 6:6-9 sets forth that—

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.

In other words, the Word of God is to be made a part of the home, the center of conversation, and the means of instructing the children to love the LORD and obey Him. The NT places that responsibility on fathers in Ephesians 6:4—

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

To forego such training and instruction defrauds a child of knowing God and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at a tender age.

Theft occurs everywhere! Children rob their parents, and workers appropriate their employer’s effects. Breaches of contracts are robbery as all overreaching debt in trade and commerce that result in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy nothing more than legalized stealing if the debts are never paid. In Biblical days, many people were slaves because they did not pay their debts. Exodus 22:3 states that—

A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.

I doubt the United States would have the incredible credit card debt it does, if unpaid debt resulted in the one being sold into servitude to an unknown master.

Unjust contracts, not making good and performing payments, detention of a labor’s wages, unlawful usury, unfaithfulness with respect to any thing deposited in another’s hands, advising and encouraging thieves, and receiving from them violates the Eighth Commandment.

Insurance companies are bilked out of millions of dollars in false claims. What about the woman who sued McDonalds for millions after she carelessly spilled hot coffee on herself? Isn’t that stealing?

Academic cheating is widespread from grade school through graduate school. Cheating is stealing— stealing a grade from the teacher and school that one does not deserve. Additionally, it is stealing from one’s self as well as from the employer who hires the cheat. Because of cheating, the thief will lack the education and skills required to do the job. Eventually, the cheater reaps what is sown! Instead of success, comes failure. A generation ago, a person may have gotten away with cheating, but not so in today’s down-sizing climate, which is becoming more competitive with each passing day.

Carelessness with other people’s property is a form of stealing. Exodus 22:14-15 deals with borrowing—

If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.

One Sunday morning, in the middle of the 19th century, in the old Oberlin meeting house, revivalist Charles Finney used for a sermon sub point, “The Sin of Borrowing Things and Not Returning Them.” His comment was pointed, “When I went to my tool-house yesterday with some men on hand to my work, I found it practically empty. President Mahan had borrowed my plow and never sent it back. Professor Morgan had sent for my spade and I do not know where it is. Deacon Beecher has had one of my monkey wrenches for so long a time that the memory of man cannot recall how long ago it was borrowed. What does it mean,” he shouted eloquently, “that among the best of us there is such a carelessness concerning our fundamental everyday obligations?”

This sermon was most effective, for next morning before dawn one conscience-stricken neighbor tried to restore a sawhorse that belonged to Finney and he had to be rescued from Finney’s watchdog. All the rest of the morning there was a stream of neighbors’ boys carrying borrowed tools—only a part of which Finney could recognize as his property!

What the Eighth Command requires is stewardship, which is the antithesis of stealing. The wider implications of this commandment are discussed in Ephesians 4:28—

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Here Paul call for four things: Honesty, Work, Industry, and Liberality. Gambling is stealing because whatever is won does not come through either one’s work or another’s generosity. The winner has not labored for it. Nor the loser donated it to the winner in the spirit of charity. Rather, the loser has gambled in the hope of taking something away from his opponent, not losing it.

The soldiers who crucified Jesus cast lots—they gambled—for His seamless garment. Did it belong to them? NO! Mary was there; certainly, the soldiers should given the garment to His mother!

What kind of men hung on the crosses beside Jesus?

Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left (Matthew 27:38).

Do you think it was by chance or accident that two thieves hung next Jesus? And thieves crucified Him! I don’t think so! Why robbers? Because everyone who is honest with himself or herself will identify with the robbers!

Adam and Eve were the first thieves in history! They robbed God—they took and ate the fruit which the LORD had forbidden. He gave them everything, but one thing and they stole it! And they passed their sin nature to us.

In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were among the richest thieves! They got rich by overtaxing their country men. Significantly, Zaccheus, the rich chief tax collector of Jericho, on his conversion stated he would make restitution, paying back fourfold to those whom he had defrauded. Equally interesting was his wow to give half his good to the poor.

What do you think: “Is one a thief until restitution is made?”

As we understand what Scriptures unfolds about what it means to steal, it is very convicting—isn’t it? You are a unique person if you never broke the Eighth commandment!

We are all thieves at heart! That’s why two robbers hung next to Jesus!

There is Bad News and Good News with the two robbers! Luke 23:39-43—

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The human race divides with these two robbers. One recognized his sin and confessed it before Jesus; the other remained a MOCKER! These two robbers are a perfect illustration of 1 John 1:8-9—

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The Ten Commandments is the most explosive material in the Bible when combined with preaching and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit’s in regards to sin, righteousness and judgment. The Ten Commandments are designed to bring us to Jesus in order to receive God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Unconfessed sin contaminates and pollutes everyone, even the believer. The Bible is very clear; it takes confession of our sin to be purified from all unrighteousness. With stealing, restitution must be added— you cannot ask God for forgiveness and keep another’s property—if you do, you’re continuing to steal!

Hebrews 12:1 is written to the Christian; it says —

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Repentance combined with confession of sin is the way to throw off the sin that so easily entangles us. Anger, hatred and bitterness demand reconciliation, so stealing requires restitution—YOU SHALL NOT STEAL.

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