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How should we apply the 8th Commandment?

As presented in Exodus 20, verse 15, the commandment stipulates, “‘You shall not steal.’” The meaning of the word “steal” is “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force” (dictionary.com).

God instructed Moses how stealing should be dealt with among the people of Israel. Even though the detailed penalties of restoration, as described in that law, are no longer in force today, the principles most certainly apply.

“‘If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely–in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins:  then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering” (Leviticus 6:2-5).

That which belongs to another is to be carefully respected, and God’s commandment to not steal has detailed application even to the point of paying others for their work without delay:

“‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning’” (Leviticus 19:13; compare Deuteronomy 24:14-15; James 5:4).

God’s commandment especially focuses on those who steal as a way of life. Those who use false weights and dishonest scales are condemned as thieves (compare Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-15; Proverbs 11:1; 16:11; 20:10; Hosea 12: 7: Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11). Concerning the future government of God during the thousand-year reign of Christ on and over the earth, a prophecy in the Book of Ezekiel reveals that “honest scales” will be used (Ezekiel 45:10).

As a prerequisite for baptism, John the Baptist taught that those who have authority over others—especially their livelihood—should only do what was authorized:

“Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’ Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate (margin: shake down for money) anyone (the Authorized Version says: “Do violence to no man”) or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:12-14).

Jesus specifically included the commandment, “you shall not steal,” in His teaching (compare Matthew 19:18). Furthermore, He magnified applying the laws of God. Not only are we to not steal in the literal sense, but we must not allow ourselves to conceive of such actions:

“‘But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…’” (Matthew 15:18-20).

Some of the strongest reactions of Jesus during His ministry was against the pollution of the Temple by those who cheated, that is, stole from the people:

“Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a “den of thieves”’” (Matthew 21:12-13).

The Benson commentary includes the following annotation:

“A harbour of wicked men; a place where traffic is carried on by persons of the most infamous character, who live by deceit and oppression, and practise the vilest extortion, even in the house of the most righteous and blessed God.”

Judas, one of the original twelve apostles and the one who betrayed Jesus, was a known thief.

“Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said,  ‘Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:4-6).

Interestingly, we note that Judas’ position among the disciples was that of handling the money (John 13:29). Like so many who compromise God’s law, he corrupted himself in many ways—including being willing to take money to treacherously betray Jesus.

Paul strongly cautions Christians and includes those who steal among those who will not enter the Kingdom of God:

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Paul taught that one must repent of stealing:

“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

In this regard, we have the example of the rich tax collector who responded to meeting Jesus by renouncing his former practices:

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold’” (Luke 19:8).

Stealing brings about penalties and it is an important responsibility for parents of young children to teach them the difference between what is theirs and what belongs to others. Teaching that stealing is wrong is foundational to developing righteous character.

It is also important for all to understand that we must not steal from God. Indeed, the actions of Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6) was, among other things, an act of stealing from God since the tree belonged to God and He had forbidden them to eat from it. Because of this disobedience, they incurred the death penalty.  Chapter 7 of the book of Joshua recounts the sin of Achan who stole what God had forbidden to be taken by any of Israel (Joshua 6:18). Achan and his family were stoned for his disobedience.

The commandment, “you shall not steal,” has been flagrantly ignored by individuals and nations throughout human history. The consequences have been devastating for mankind as so many examples in the Word of God show. If it were possible to stop all stealing, consider what obeying just that one commandment would mean, and what if all of God’s commandments were kept?

Each of us can and must examine our own lives to see if we are guilty of stealing—a good starting point is to ask if we are stealing from God. It is His question to us:

“‘Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, “In what way have we robbed You?” In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:8-10).

Lead Writer: Dave Harris