The Ten Commandments – Commandment 8

Title: The Ten Commandments - Commandment 8

Bible Book: Exodus 20 : 15

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: The Ten Commandments; Stealing



The sixth commandment protects life; the seventh commandment protects marriage; and the eighth commandment protects property. This commandment, like all the others, is one of the fundamental building blocks for a sane, orderly, God-honoring society. This eighth commandment has some powerful lessons for every one of us. Exodus 20:15 says, “Thou shalt not steal.”


The eighth commandment means that man has the God-given right to own property, and that that right is not to be violated.


God, of course, is the ultimate owner of all things, because he is the creator of them. In Haggai 2:8 we read: “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord....” Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” In Psalm 50:10 God says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”


However, God has entrusted to man the privilege and responsibility of being stewards or caretakers of certain material things--and he makes it clear throughout his Word that he intends that for practical purposes we be considered the owners of those things.

For example, in Deuteronomy 11:31 God spoke to the Israelites, through Moses, and said: “For ye shall pass over Jordan to go in to possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein.”

That principle of ownership is also seen in the sad case of Ananias and Sapphira, members of the first century church in Jerusalem. They sold their land and gave part of the proceeds to the church, but claimed that they had given the whole amount. Their lying brought down the judgment of God, and they died. But notice what Peter said before they died. In Acts 5:3-4 we read: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own?....”


So, the ownership of property is a sacred, God-given privilege--and stealing is a sin. The Hebrew word for steal--ganab--means, literally, “to take by stealth.” To steal is to intentionally take for ourselves that which belongs to someone else, either without their permission or by deceit.



Unfortunately, stealing has been taking place throughout human history. In Joshua 7 we read of how God brought judgment upon the Israelites, because, as he explained in verse 11, “...they...have...stolen....” Judas Iscariot was not only the betrayer of Jesus, but we also are told in John 12:6 that “...he was a thief....”

In 1529 Martin Luther said, “If all who are thieves...were hanged...soon...there would be a shortage of both hangmen and gallows.” Sad to say, stealing is also commonplace today--all across the world, including our own country. Take a look sometime, on the internet, at the FBI statistics regarding property crimes--the numbers will blow your mind. But really all you have to do is listen to the local news and read the local paper.

Bank robberies, home break ins, and other types of thefts abound right here in our own local area.

It’s ironic that some “bleeding hearts” try to vilify the victim, by trying to make him feel responsible for the crime. You might remember that ad that used to be heard on the radio: “Don’t leave your keys in the ignition, and make a good boy go bad.” Adrian Rogers said the ad should go like this: “Don’t leave your keys in the ignition; some punk might steal your car.”


I’ll just name some of the ways that people can, and do, commit theft--and there are many others.


One way is to steal outright--for instance, by taking things by stealth from someone’s home or from a store. In spite of all the sophisticated cameras and other technologies, shoplifting is on the rise. James Merritt cited some disturbing statistics; he said that every day there are between 1 and 1.2 million shoplifting incidents in America, causing a loss rate of almost $25,000 dollars stolen every minute!

He went on to say that of the $29 billion dollars in losses reported by retailers in a recent year, employee theft made up a larger percentage (44.5%) than shoplifting (32.7%). In fact, employee theft and shoplifting together account for the largest source of property crime committed annually in the United States. Each year retailers add a certain percentage to the price of all goods to cover their losses from shoplifting and from stealing by their own employees.

In 1946 the late Elton Trueblood wrote: “What is frightening in this regard is that we seem to be losing ground....If we are finally forced to use lock and key for everything we value, much of what is best in life will already be gone.” I wonder what Trueblood would say if he were alive today?

Another crime that is growing at an alarming rate is identity theft--by various means, including by the internet. I read that only about one percent of internet thieves are ever apprehended--so if you and I are wise, we’ll be extremely cautious about what we put on the internet.


Stealing is stealing, whether it’s from an individual or from the government. Often people try to rationalize away their guilt. They say, “Well, it isn’t right that I should be taxed so heavily,” or they’ll say, “Well, the government is going to misuse it, anyway.” But two wrongs don’t make a right. Certainly we want to avoid as much tax liability as we can by honest and just means--but breaking the law to get out of paying taxes amounts to stealing.

Jesus said, in Matthew 22:21, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s....” Romans 13:7 says, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom....” There are undoubtedly many inequities in the tax system, and there is much irresponsibility in government spending, including waste and outright fraud, and we certainly ought to do everything in our power to correct those problems--but none of those improprieties, nor all of them combined, give you or me the right to cheat. As Dr. George Truett used to say: “It is never right to do wrong.”


Dishonest advertising is one form of stealing--taking people’s money under false pretenses--and sometimes that happens in transactions between individuals. Sadly, that sin has been practiced since ancient times. In Hosea 7:1 (HCSB) God specified certain transgressions for which he was pronouncing judgment upon Ephraim and Samaria--and among other things, he said, “they practice fraud.”


The other side of that is that some buyers steal by taking advantage of a seller who is ignorant of his sale item’s value or is “over a barrel.” In Proverbs 20:14 we read: “It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.” Getting a legitimate bargain is one thing--but taking unfair advantage is quite another, and amounts to stealing.


One of the most pathetic forms of stealing is to take advantage of one’s parents, by playing upon their sympathies--especially in the case of elderly parents. Proverbs 28:24 says, “Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression: the same is the companion of a destroyer.”


Some employers steal by paying inadequate wages when they have the resources to do better. Here’s how the NIV translates James 5:4: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”


But the other side of the coin is this: the person who doesn’t give his employer a full eight hours of work for eight hours pay is also a thief. If you agreed to work for a certain wage, then you are honor-bound to give your best to that job. Coming in late, leaving early, taking excessive breaks, or being lazy on the job are simply forms of stealing--and even if your employer is unfair, you’re doing no better than he is. Colossians 3:23 says, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.”


Some folks borrow money and never pay it back--that’s stealing. Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another....” That Greek term for “owe” is a linear term, denoting continuous action. The idea is, “Do not go on owing any man anything, except love.” The debt of love is never closed--but all other debts are to be paid in full. Purposely not paying your bills is theft. When a person gets in a financial “tight” through loss of a job or some other difficulty, he needs to be honest with his creditors and explain his plight. Usually they will work something out with you. But never paying those debts is stealing, plain and simple.


There is also the practice of passing off someone else’s written work as your own. The modern term for it is plagiarism--but the Bible simply calls it stealing words, and sometimes even those who are supposed to be God-called leaders are guilty. Listen to Jeremiah 23:30: “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal my words every one from his neighbor.” Stealing words would certainly include cheating on tests--which, sad to say, according to some school officials, has become commonplace.


So, there are many types of thievery--and some folks are so brazen as to steal from God. In Malachi 3:10 the Lord says: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” Leviticus 27:30 says that “the the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.” Jesus said, in Matthew 23:23: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Tithes and offerings are certainly no substitute for the weightier things God expects us to do--but Jesus said, “You ought to tithe, and you ought to do these other things as well.” It’s not “either, or,” it’s “both, and.”



Stealing is harmful to the victims, in that they are deprived of what is rightfully theirs--plus in many cases the victim suffers psychological and emotional harm from the trauma of having been violated. In some cases, the victims experience physical harm during the course of being robbed . And if the thief professes to be a Christian, he also does enormous spiritual harm by his sorry example. Lost people are turned off by his hypocrisy, and fellow Christians are made to stumble.

In the long run, stealing never pays. Jeremiah 17:11 says, “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.” Proverbs 21:7 says, “The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them, because they refuse to do judgment.”


Listen to these sobering words from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”


How can we fortify ourselves, so as to resist the temptation to commit theft--whether theft of the direct sort, or of the more subtle type? First of all...


That’s the only foundation upon which to build a life of integrity.


If you’re not saved, reach out and receive God’s gift of salvation by meeting those two conditions set forth in Acts 20:21: “...repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Even if you have a past pattern of thievery, God will cleanse your heart and make you a new person. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One of them repented and put his faith in Jesus, and Jesus said to him, in Luke 23:43, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The man was miraculously changed, was no longer a thief, and was heaven bound.


If you’re a Christian already, yet have temporarily backslidden into thievery, claim the wonderful promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


Make restitution wherever possible and appropriate. That’s a normal response from someone who has truly gotten right with the Lord. In Luke 19 we read of how Zacchaeus “received him [Jesus] joyfully.” Then we read in verses 8-9:

“And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.”



Even if you’ve been guilty of theft in the past, if you’ve gotten right with God since then the Lord will help you--through honest work--to be strong and to resist temptation. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good....” Working conscientiously at an honorable job is therapeutic. It will build in you self-respect, and it will serve as a shield against the fiery darts of Satan.

If a person is disabled, or is simply unable to find work in spite of searching diligently and consistently, that is an entirely different matter. But if a person is able to work and has the opportunity to work, it is essential to his spiritual well-being that he do so.


Another important factor in resisting the temptation to steal is set forth in that same verse, Ephesians 4:28. Having adonished the born-again person to engage in honest labor, the inspired writer goes on to say, “...that he may have to give to him that needeth.” The opposite of stealing is giving. Giving to people in need builds spiritual strength in the life of the giver. That’s one reason that, according to Acts 20:35, Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


A third factor in resisting the temptation to steal is to cultivate the attitude of contentment with your lot in life. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be ambitious or try to get ahead, but it does mean that we are to keep our ambitions in check and to maintain the proper perspective--and even during the process of trying improve our lot in life, we are to be content with our present situation for the time being. Listen to the words of 1 Timothy 6:6-8: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”


There is still another factor in resisting the temptation to steal. Realize that the eighth commandment not only contains a prohibition, it also implies a positive duty. The best defense is a good offense. Romans 12:17 says, “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.” We’re to make a conscious, determined effort, in all of our dealings, to avoid that which is questionable or suspect. We are to “bend over backwards” to do that which is right and aboveboard. In other words, when in doubt err on the side of caution, rather than risk doing something which falls into the category of subtle dishonesty.


So, stealing is sorry business.

The late Adrian Rogers told of a man who was slated for a major promotion with his company. It was generally understood that he was the man, and the official notification was only a few days away. But one day, just prior to that anticipated date, this man was in line in the company’s self-service cafeteria. He didn’t know that the CEO of the company was in the line behind him, just a short distance back, and happened to be looking at him. The man slated for promotion picked up a 3-cent pat of butter and placed a slice of bread over it so that the cashier would not see the butter. The CEO went back to his office, called the chairman of the board, and said, “We’ve got the wrong man. He’s not a man of integrity, and he’s not the man for the job.” That man, who had been slated for promotion, missed out on a prestigious job that would have paid him a large salary, all for a 3-cent pat of butter! But more importantly--even if prestige and salary had not been involved--he sold his integrity for 3 cents!

But there’s no need for anyone to live dishonestly. Jesus died for your sins, and for mine. He invites us to repent and to trust him as our Lord and Savior. If you’ve never done so, will you surrender to him today and let him save you? If you’re a Christian who has gotten off the track, will you confess your sins and rededicate your life to Christ this very morning? God will cleanse you, and give you a new start. He says, in Jeremiah 31:34, “...I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Once we’ve asked God’s forgiveness through Christ, then we need to take God’s word that he’s done what he promised, and we need to go on from here. Corey Ten Boom, the colorful Dutch Christian who wrote The Hiding Place, put it this way: “Bury your sins in the deepest part of the ocean and hang a sign there that says, ‘No Fishing.’”

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