The obvious implications of the eighth commandment can be easily seen. Burglary and robbery are certainly forbidden by the words, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). But there are more subtle ways to steal than to break a window of a man’s house, enter and empty his gun rack, and clean out any jewelry boxes. As Christians, we are tempted to steal every day in all sorts of ways.
When you arrive late to work, have you considered that you are stealing from your boss? Or that it is thievery when you take an extra ten minutes on your lunch break? Or, have you ever “fixed” a number on your tax forms? That “little adjustment” is stealing from the government (see Romans 13:7). What about failing to tithe? Now you are guilty of stealing from God (see Malachi 3:8)! We can also steal affections, a man’s good reputation, as well as the credit for someone else’s accomplishment. To violate copyright laws is theft of a man’s creative productions, and to violate a patent is to rob another man’s idea for our own profit.
It is easy to steal in so many ways, even without intent, because our focus often is on ourselves. How do we combat this kind of selfishness? Scripture teaches that we should become givers rather than takers. As men of God, we ought to take to heart the following practical application of the eighth commandment:
This month, we will examine passages in Scripture that deal with stealing and restitution. We will look at the prophet Malachi’s warnings against the danger of robbing God. We will also survey Jesus’ teachings on the subject of giving and stewardship, noting that He set a perfect example of sacrificial giving in His Own life while on earth. In the New Testament epistles, Paul’s exhortation to the Christians of the church at Ephesus will be considered: “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).
Biographical sketches will be presented of the lives of Godly heroes, from both Scripture and history, who were givers rather than takers. Their examples can inspire us to be on guard against any temptations to steal and to learn to give generously and unselfishly as true stewards of God’s resources.
Evidence regarding the respect for and the protection and maintenance of personal property is evident throughout the Book of Genesis. However, not until Moses recorded the Law of God do we see just how precise and exacting God’s perspective was. In the following points, notice the careful regulation concerning commerce, lending, stealing, and restitution that are found in the Law of God:
- Weights and measures were to be accurate.
“But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Deuteronomy 25:15). This law seems minor, but it is an important regulation against stealing that is still recognized today. The next time you fill up your car at a gas station, take the time to read the inspection report asserting that the gas pump has been examined to be a true measurement of fuel pumped. This modern day example is one way that shows how the Bible’s regulations are important to all of us every day that we live.
- Stealing demanded restitution.
“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). There was no system of imprisonment for theft in the Bible. A man who stole was required by the civil authorities to make proper restitution. For an ox, which was a means of producing grain in the field, there was a fivefold restitution required. For a sheep, it was fourfold restitution. For most other thefts, double restitution was required. This civil requirement of restitution discouraged theft, satisfied the victim, and avoided the massive public expense of lengthy imprisonments that plague our modern legal system.
- Unjust usury was to be avoided.
“Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury” (Deuteronomy 23:19). The term usury as used in this passage means interest of any kind. The Israelites were permitted to charge usury when lending to other nations, but they could not impose interest upon their fellow Israelites.
- Taxation was to be fixed rather than graduated.
“The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls” (Exodus 30:15). Although this verse is specifically about a sacrifice offering, later references to civil taxation follow the same pattern here. Our modern system of a graduated income tax, though it sounds “fair,” demonstrates the injustice of forcing the rich to give a greater percentage than the poor. This requirement is unjust and leads to corruption where votes and favors can be bought by politicians who promise to redistribute wealth.
- Private property was respected and preserved.
“In the year of this jubile [sic] ye shall return every man unto his possession” (Leviticus 25:13). Every fifty years, all debts were canceled and each family had the opportunity to return to the land of their own possession. The lender could not discriminate based upon how close the year of jubilee might be.
- Inheritance was to be passed through the generations.
“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). By contrast, our modern system of the death tax results in the government stealing much of a man’s inheritance.
- Tithes were to be regularly and generously given to God.“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s: it is holy unto the LORD” (Leviticus 27:30). The tithe is a constant reminder that all we have is a gift from God. According to Deuteronomy 14:23, God asks for our tithe for this purpose: “that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.” By giving a tenth to Him, we are acknowledging that we are stewards of His possessions.
As we can see, these practical instructions from ancient Israel are very applicable in our lives today. The list given here is not exhaustive, but it would be a wonderful day if Godly men would humbly take these truths and apply them daily in the home, in the church, and in the state.