Monday, July 21, 2014

Could Jesus Have Also Said, “Go and Steal No More”? -- Exodus 20:15

“You shall not steal.”
We come next to the eighth commandment.  This one is a favorite of mine for two reasons.  First, when one considers the broadest meaning of the word ‘stealing’, one cannot help but realize that the seven commandments that come before it, and the two after it, if broken, do in one sense or another, involve ‘stealing’.  Second, it is a favorite of mine because this commandment can easily deceive us.  We find it easy to say “ah come on, that’s not stealing” when we take certain actions and convince ourselves that we are not hurting anyone.  I experienced that with one of my staff many years ago that was collecting cutlery from various restaurants being convinced that “the restaurant won’t miss this one fork”.  A colleague of mine did the same thing with shot glasses from around the world.
The Cambridge dictionary defines the word as “taking something without the permission or knowledge of the owner and keeping it”.  I would suggest that where younger children are involved (as living with three grandchildren has taught me), even if the owner knows it, but one does not have their permission to take it, it’s “stealing”.  And even if the other child was intending to return it later, it’s still stealing to the child that owns it.  (From my own observation, I can assure you the matter can even get more out of hand if the object in question is an item of clothing and the owner and the taker are sisters.)
The Oxford dictionary adds the element of taking something without “the legal right” to do so, implying that one may in some cases have a legal right to take something that was not his or hers at the time.
It is when we use the Merriam-Webster dictionary that the word ‘stealing’ takes on so many more meanings.  This source adds the possibility of the action being a “habitual or regular” practice or the taking being by force or trickery (which reminds me of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright).
Merriam-Webster also offers some very interesting synonyms for the verb “to steal” such as filch (suggests a quick and surreptitious snatching – I do that with chocolate chip cookies my granddaughters bake), heist, pilfer (implies stealing repeatedly in small amounts – think of white collar theft in office – a pen here, an envelop there, etc.), pinch, pocket, rip off, swipe, and thieve.  And some related words such as burglarize, rob, loot, pillage, plunder, carjack, hijack, poach, rustle, shoplift, abduct, and kidnap.  All of these bring various images to our mind.  And that’s a good thing because when God says “thou shall not steal” – He means you cannot be doing any of those things.
With all those possible definitions for stealing, we can see that each of the commandments that went before or come after this one, when broken, involve stealing:
Commandments 1 and 2: Stealing from God the worship that He alone deserves.
Commandment 3: Stealing from God the honor that He merits.
Commandment 4: Stealing from God the joy of regular celebrating of His work.
Commandment 5: Stealing from our parents the respect they deserve.
Commandment 6: Stealing from someone the dignity they deserve as individuals and stealing from our spouse the commitment they are entitled to from us.
Commandment 7: Stealing someone’s life.
(Commandment 8: Is the one about stealing itself.)
Commandment 9: As we shall soon see, is about stealing another person’s integrity.
Commandment 10: Is all encompassing as it is about stealing anything or anyone that belongs to others.
So what can we do about “stealing”?  Stay away from it.  Instead of stealing, we need to take actions that depict the very opposite of the word’s meaning.  Buy or purchase things for people.  Bestow (provide or give as a gift) things or money to others.  Contribute to their needs.  Donate to the welfare of others from the blessings God has given you.  Get into the habit of making presents to others, and that includes loved ones, friends, and even strangers.
There are no specified consequences for our stealing recorded here in Exodus.  Perhaps God realized how hard it would be for us not to steal in this life.  Or, just maybe, the consequences that He outlined in conjunction with commandments 3 (taking His name in vain) and 5 (not honoring our parents) were really meant to apply to all the commandments.  After all, we saw how all commandments are in one way or another, a form of “stealing”.
What amazes me is that those who have indeed done their best to fully trust God to provide and at the same time that give to others, rather than steal from them – are indeed blessed way beyond their own needs and their own giving.  I have often seen that in my own life.  We cannot out-give our Heavenly Father.
As we close our study on this commandment, having seen its relationship to all the others, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in John chapter 8 when He saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death in accordance with the law.  The story ends with Jesus saying to her, “Woman, go and sin no more.”  Maybe, if Jesus were dealing with you and I in trouble today, and He rescued us from the hands of our enemies, He would say to us, “John (or Mary or Bill or Sue), go and steal no more.”  For in doing so, Jesus would know that if we truly did that, and loved the One who said it, we would be fulfilling the very purpose for which He came to earth.
It is my prayer that we all stop “stealing” from God and from man.


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