The well-known painter, Norman Rockwell, often painted humorous scenes that resonated with American culture. Among his more memorable paintings is a scene from a butcher’s shop. Behind the counter is a jolly butcher, with his apron stretched over his belly and his pencil tucked neatly behind one ear. Also in the picture is his customer, a respectable looking woman of perhaps sixty. Like the butcher, she looks pleased. The two of them exchange a knowing smile, almost as if they were sharing a joke, but the joke is on them.
The painting shows what each is secretly doing. The butcher is pressing the scale down with his finger so as to raise the price. At the same time, the woman is trying to get a better deal by pushing the scale up with her finger. The reason both of them looked pleased is that neither is aware of what the other is doing.
The Eighth Command
Honesty is a rarity. Yet, even people who do not read the Bible respect the eighth commandment:
“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)
While the Bible’s promotion of honesty is simple and straightforward, it becomes more complex in real life. Stealing has become big business in our wireless age. A survey of 583 companies in the United States revealed ninety percent of those who responded said their organizations’ computers had been breached at least once by hackers over the past twelve months. More than forty percent of the businesses surveyed stated they had spent more than $500,000 in security measures in an attempt to stop the security breaches.
In the United States, someone steals another’s property every three seconds. (Source: Mark Rooker, The Ten Commandments). Stealing goes by many names in our society: burglary, robbery, larceny, hijacking, shoplifting, embezzlement, extortion, racketeering, pick pocketing, or purse snatching. Yet, no matter the name, it’s all the same – it’s stealing.
The Necessity of Integrity
The act of stealing is the secret taking of another’s property without the owner’s knowledge or permission. Put simply: to steal is take something that doesn’t belong to you. This includes withholding what rightly belongs to another. And, as if stealing itself were bad enough, often this immoral act is often followed with acts of deception and trickery.
Ask any mother of a preschooler and she will tell you children possess a keen sense of ownership. One of the first words each of our children learned was, “mine!”
The whole human race is a band of thieves. Stealing is when we underpay our taxes. Stealing is making false claims about disability and Social Security. Stealing is when the employer demands longer hours than agreed upon. Stealing is keeping some transactions off the books. Stealing is false advertising and deceptive packaging. Stealing is when a salesman exaggerates the value of their product. Stealing is a credit card company charging twenty percent interest.
Stealing happens at work. Stealing is filling out false time cards. Stealing is calling in sick when you want a day off. Stealing is when you fail to put in a full day’s work for your employer. Stealing is surfing the internet at work. Stealing is emailing your friends on company time. Stealing is playing computer games instead of putting in a hard day’s labor. According to some estimates, as much as one-third of a product’s cost goes to cover various forms of stealing that occur on it’s way to a retail store. Employee theft and shoplifting together account for the largest source of property crime committed in the US annually.
Stealing is insurance fraud. Stealing is plagiarism. Stealing is identity theft. Stealing is violating copyrights. Stealing is cheating on a test. Stealing is gambling. Again, the whole human race is a band of thieves.
Stealing in the Bible
In the Old Testament, dishonest acts included secretly moving boundary markers (Deuteronomy 19:14), the use of false measures and weighted balances (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), selling goods of inferior quality (Amos 8:4-6), and charging interest to poor people (Exodus 22:25). The Bible says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)
There are all kinds of examples of stealing within the pages of the Bible:
Achan steals items that were devoted to God (Joshua 7:1). Micah steals 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother (Judges 17:1-3).
When Naboth, an average citizen of ancient Samaria, had a vineyard that King Ahab of Samaria wanted, Ahab’s wife Jezebel conspired to get the property for her husband (1 Kings 21:8-14). Jezebel colluded with false witnesses to charge Naboth and execute him for his trumped-up crime. As soon as Naboth’s body was cold, Ahab took possession of his property. The king is confronted by the prophet Elijah and it is Elijah who tells him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Have you killed and also taken possession?” And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood’” (2 Kings 21:19). Just a short time later, dogs are licking up the blood of the king after his death (1 Kings 22:28).
The prophet Nathan tells the story of a man stealing a sheep from a poor family before King David. David is incensed and demands that the poor family be repaid four times the amount stolen. Nathan points his finger in the king’s face in order to tell him that David himself has stolen. Only the king has stolen another man’s wife, or as it is known today, committed adultery (2 Samuel 12:1-4).
Early in the pages of your Bible, Joseph is kidnapped by his brothers and sold into Egyptian slavery.
Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a short man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see Jesus over the crowds. When Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus turned from his sin and said he would restore fourfold anything he had stolen (Luke 19:1-10).
As the story of Jesus continues, we encounter more thieves. We discover that even one of Jesus’ followers is a thief; Judas stole from the moneybag when the money was supposed to be going to the poor (John 12:6). Jesus Himself was crucified between two thieves (Matthew 27:38). Jesus refers to Satan as “the thief” (John 10:8-10). People who steal have no part of the kingdom of God outside of experiencing Christ’s forgiveness on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
The Goodness and Importance of Hard Work
There’s more to the eighth commandment than meets the eye. This command not only forbids stealing and promotes honesty, it also encourages work. In the opening pages of the Bible, we witness God at work (Genesis 2:1-3). More than simply serving as a model for humans, God commands everyone to work. Prior to the first sin of Adam and Eve, God commanded Adam to work. After Adam and Eve’s first sin, work becomes harder, or drudgery. Nevertheless, work is seen as good in the perfect Garden of Eden. So, we see that work is not a bad thing (1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). The Bible teaches the value of honest labor. Work is God’s gift to us as we receive dignity and respect from our work.
Avoid Stealing by Giving Generously.
There is still more to the eight commandment than simply being honest. Listen, carefully to how the New Testament expands God’s eighth command:
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)
As Christ’s people, we know that we actually have no rights over property or wealth (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8). Nothing is “ours” for it all belongs to God. I do not own my house or my car any more than I own library books or the latest Netflix DVD. Everything – in different ways – has been issued to me on loan. They remain the possessions of someone else and one day they will be returned to Him. The difference is that while the librarian may merely smile and say, “thank you,” God is going to ask me what I did with all that He loaned to me. So, we delight in being generous and we don’t make generosity a duty.
Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the week. For the introduction to this series, visit: Three Reasons Why the Ten Commandments Remain Important. For previous posts, see the featured posts column on the right hand of your screen.