Week 7: The Eighth Commandment
This week The Rev. Robert Wareing teaches us the Eighth Commandment ("You shall not steal." Exodus 20:15) and how Jesus’ teaching changes our hearts, actions and attitudes about our possessions.
When God gave Moses the commandments on Mount Sinai, He gave them to Moses and to a specific group of people who had a historical relationship with God. So it was that the laws were understood against the backdrop of that relationship. The Israelites understood God as the sovereign creator and provider of everything. For a time and a season, they were given oversight of portions of His creation.
In Scripture, God is consistently presented as the owner of all the Earth and everything in it. In a way, He is the owner of Canaan and of the people of Israel. The Old Testament uniformly and repeatedly projects the world as God’s possession by right of His creation and sustaining providence. (For examples, see Genesis 1:31; Job 38–41; Psalm 33:1–10; 50:10–12; 104; 135:6; Isaiah 40:12–31; Jeremiah 10:10–16; and Daniel 4:34–35.)
As Creator and Judge, God continually exercised His oversight over the lives, welfare and wealth of people and nations; and therefore all people were held accountable to Him for their use of their own property. In Leviticus 25:23, we read, “The land shall not be sold forever, for the land is mine.” The Old Testament emphasizes to the Israelites that they possess their land by God’s grace, not by merit.
The only transference of real property (land) in ancient Israel should be through inheritance. Every Israelite family was allocated a plot of land at the original apportionment, traditionally held to have been in the time of Moses and Joshua (Numbers 26:52–54, 33:54; Joshua 13–22), and it was believed that this ancestral plot should remain either directly in the family's possession or, at least, in the possession of the clan. Consequently, there really should be no sale of land. Theological justification for this point of view is given in Leviticus 25:23: "But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is mine; you are but strangers resident with me." This view regards God as owner of all property and the Israelites as only temporary tenants who may not buy or sell land. Additionally, there is a complete absence in the Bible of any laws concerning the renting of property.
Jewish law provided additional instructions against land theft. In Deuteronomy 19:14: “Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” This warning was also repeated in Deuteronomy 27:17: “Cursed is the man who removes his neighbor’s boundary stone;” in Job 24:2: “Men move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen;” in Proverbs 22:28: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors;” and in Proverbs 23:10: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless.” (For more on this, see the article Ownership and Property in the Old Testament Economy by Dr. Walter Kaiser.) It is also worth noting that Israelite property law was marked by a strong concern for the rights of the individual. There were specific safeguards for the rights of the less fortunate (e.g. the poor, widows, orphans, etc.).
In his book How Jesus Transforms The Ten Commandments, author Edmund Clowney invites us to hear the eighth commandment in a new way. He writes, “Jesus transforms the eighth commandment, 'You shall not steal,' by helping us to set our hearts on true treasure.” (p.108) He very ably makes the case that humanity misses the mark when we set our sights upon things that are transitory and passing away.
As we look at the eighth commandment today, I invite you to consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (For more on this, see God’s Psychiatry by Dr. Charles Allen.) This parable contains three basic ways that humans deal with property. We have three lead characters in addition to the victim:
- A Taker – The thief who stole that which belonged to another. (i.e. “What’s yours is mine–I’ll take it.”)
- A Withholder – The priest walked on by and failed help the man in need. (i.e. “What belongs to me is mine and I will keep it.”)
- A Giver – The Good Samaritan who provided for the man’s needs. (i.e. “What belongs to me belongs to others and I will share it.”)
As we contemplate “Thou shall not steal,” it is important to note that “stealing” is not limited only to the taking of the property of another. “Stealing” covers a broad range of actions including fraud, identity theft, selling substandard products, theft of someone’s character by the things we say about them, cheating and so on.
Questions for Reflection
- What are you taking with you into eternity?
- Who are you in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Which of the three ways that people deal with property do you most relate the most?
- How have you “taken” things that did not belong to you?
- What would your life look like if you fully grasped that all you have belongs to God and fully respected the rights and property of others?
- Look at the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1–10. What changed his heart and life from someone who took more than they deserved to someone who offered generous reparations to those he had wronged? Where in your life do you need to encounter Jesus today to free your grasp on possessions?
A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, You made all things, and You are Lord of all. Teach us true reverence and gratitude for what You have made and have entrusted to our care. Change our hearts and lives that we might think of others more than ourselves and our own fears and striving for more. Where we have held on too tightly, loosen our grip that we might seek first Your kingdom and trust in Your provision and care. In Jesus’ name, amen.