It was a most unsettling thing. At the age of seventeen, I went on a visit to the stunningly beautiful Oregon coast in the United States for a short holiday break. There I caught up with two young ladies who attended my high school, Hudson’s Bay in Vancouver, Washington. One of them graduated with me. We went to visit the local convenience store; while one of them was having a friendly chat with the owner at the cash register, the other was piling foodstuffs into her purse. ‘We have to do it this way,’ she told me later. ‘We don’t have enough money and if we didn’t do this we would starve.’
My reaction? Horror! I had never seen someone brazenly steal first-hand. They didn’t seem to have a problem with it, either. As a new Christian, and even before becoming born again, I knew that stealing was wrong. What I didn’t realise at the time is that you don’t have to be Christian to know that stealing is not just wrong — it’s a crime. Most cultures understand this, but Western Civilisation was built on the ten commandments, so it is especially pertinent.
As we continue our series into the ten commandment, we now focus our attention on the eighth commandment, found in Exodus 20:15: You shall not steal! The Hebrew word for ‘steal’ is ganav, which means thief, steal, obtain something illegitimately, often (though not always) by stealth. We know stealing is wrong thanks to the eighth commandment.
While the eight commandment is short, the ramifications are large. You will be amazed how vast and complicated the network of stealing is today, and what we can do about it.
In North Wales, United Kingdom, is a charming (Irish) seaside town called Llandudno. Enjoy a walk on the pier or boardwalk; but beware, the seagulls of Llandudno are the most aggressive you will find anywhere in the world. My wife was eating a wrap for lunch. While she turned her head for just a moment, the seagull swopped down and took the entire wrap from her hand. Gone. As for me, the same thing happened except I managed to keep most of my wrap; the seagull managed to get a big bite.
Or, what about your adorable two year old granddaughter finding the cookie jar and helping herself to as much as she likes?
Question: Did the seagull ‘steal’ my wife’s wrap? Did the two-year old granddaughter steal the cookies? Most people would say, ‘No.’ The seagull was hungry and did what any seagull would do. Young children may not know any better, though you would be surprised how quickly they learn.
But what if it was a teenager or adult who grabbed my wife’s wrap, instead of a bird? What about the two high school friends in the Oregon Coast convenience store? Did they steal. No doubt about it, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes.’ What are the implications?
- Private property: Biblically speaking, people have a right to private property. Scripturally speaking, it all belongs to God and we are mere stewards, but legally and naturally, we are the owners. (Note: Part of the resistance to socialism is that the governing elite fights against private property: What is yours is actually ours; What is ours is ours (though usually invoking that everything they do is for ‘the people’ but in reality the ruling elite benefit from taking what belongs to others.’ No one should be denied their rightful property except by due process of law. Apart from that, it is theft and a denial of justice.
- Image of God: From the very beginning, it is understood that God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26). While the meaning of this label is subject to discussion, it clearly means moral responsibility and a clear conscience.
- Crime: It is universally recognised that theft is a crime and there are severe penalties if caught and convicted. We will learn that theft is not just the petty shoplifter: it can be a sophisticated work in the highest echelons of business, government, culture, and, sadly, sometimes in the church. All of these are crimes. Remember Bernie Madoff, an American financier who was once chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange? He ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, by ‘payment for order flow,’ a form of kickback. The scheme was worth around $65 billion and people lost life savings over it. Madoff was sentenced for 150 years and died in prison.
- Sin: Whatever form it may be, theft is not just a crime … it is a sin, too. Not every thief will be caught and tried in a human court, yet all will stand before the great white throne judgement of Revelation 20. The punishment here is far, far worse, than Madoff’s 150 years – it is for eternity.
As we continue to look at this important topic, realise that theft is far more extensive than merely shoplifting. It can happen electronically and online. During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, scammers were raking in big money all by text messaging and internet. Underage carjackers, emboldened by the Left’s attacks on the police, bail reform which means ‘no bail,’ and leftist district attorneys who basically don’t enforce the law, are proliferating in American cities. Marxist activists are teaching how to take over an entire Walmart store with ‘only ten people,’ or how to block a highway ‘with only five people.’
Realise this: God’s King and Kingdom are coming. You will never have to worry about being a victim of theft in the kingdom. But in the meantime, we need to know more about the eighth commandment, why people steal, how to stop it, and begin to lay the foundations of an honourable life.
TO BE CONTINUED>