The Eighth Commandment.

You shall not steal(Deuteronomy 5:19).

The Eighth Commandment has been subject to various interpretations.  Rather interestingly, the Jewish rabbis have often interpreted it in a narrow sense, believing that it only refers to the kidnapping of people.  The argument for this was that, if it included the stealing of money or property, then it would render the Tenth Commandment: ‘You shall not covet…” redundant.  However, this would be to misunderstand the inward sinful desire that is dealt with in that Commandment as opposed the outward action that is prohibited here!

Although this Commandment can be taken as referring to ‘man stealing’, it also covers all forms of theft.[1]  However, there are two things that we would do well to remember in relation to this commandment.  Firstly, the system of judgement among God’s people was to be fair.  In chapter 1 verses 15-18 of Deuteronomy we read about the kind of men that Moses was to appoint as Judges.  We read that the men appointed were to be godly individuals. They were to be men who were respected, and they were to judge fairly, they were not to show favouritism when judging and they were not to be influenced by how wealthy, or poor a person was – neither by their status within the community. They  were also to remember that all wisdom comes from God.  This instruction was given so that people would not be disadvantaged by an unfair judgement against them.

Secondly, there was to be a real sense of social care among God’s people so that anyone in need should be cared for (see 15:7-11).  There was to be provision for those who were dependent on others for their well-being, whether this be because they were in the Lord’s service, as was the case with the Levites, or just because they were badly off, this being the plight of: ‘the alien, the fatherless and the widow’ (Deuteronomy 14:29 and 26:12).  Christopher Wright sums this up rather well.  ‘Only when Israel responds to the needy by enabling everyone in the community to eat and be satisfied can they affirm “I have done everything that you (God) commanded me.”’[2]  This obedience also took another form in its rejection of recognising any other provider rather than the Lord.

Therefore, any form of theft stemmed from a sinful lack of contentment.  It was effectively saying “I’m not happy with the lot God has given me in my life, so I’ll improve it so by my own actions”.  It fails to: ‘believe that condition best which God has carved out to you.’[3]  Once again, we can see the logic in the order of placing those commandments which relate to how we treat others and their property – after the ones which refer to God.  If we are putting God first, understanding exactly who He is, then we will be far more content, knowing we have the privilege of having a relationship with Him in the first place, rather than taking what does not rightly belong to us and thus demeaning other people’s lives.

My wife and I enjoy watching old movies, especially the ‘Film Noir’ type.  In the movie ‘Key Largo’, starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson, Bogart plays an ex-soldier held hostage with others by Robinson’s gangster and his henchmen, in a hotel on the Florida Keys. When one of the hostages challenges Robinson’s motives, arguing he is nothing but a ‘mindless thug’, Bogart tells them they have misunderstood him; what he wants is ‘more’!  Robinson agrees with this, and when Bogart asks him: “will you ever have enough?” Robinson replies: “well, I guess I never will have”.  And that line sums up what had inspired all his criminal activities, the constant drive to get more, by whatever the means whether they be fair or, in his case, foul!  What he has become is a little god at the centre of his universe who must be gratified – whatever the cost to others…

The above conclusion reveals the nature of sin: this lack of gratitude for God’s goodness to us, and the denial of His Kingship over our lives. It also shows our natural craving to become the centre of our corrupt little world.  Until we accept God as the Lord of our lives, and the place given to us in this world as best for us, we will never be content, and always wanting more!

[1] John D Currid, Deuteronomy, an EP study commentary (Darlington, Evangelical Press, 2006), 148.
[2] Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy, New International Biblical Commentary (Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1996), 272-273.
[3] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments  (London, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 168.

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