The Eighth Commandment

Exodus 20:15

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2014

We have been studying the Ten Commandments.  We come to the Eighth Commandment – “Do not steal”.  This is a very important commandment.  It has applications to many areas.  This commandment has been in the news all week.  This week, there has been a lot of talk about one Nevada rancher who has allowed his cows to graze on someone else property.  For more than twenty years his cows have grazed on federal land and the government is not too happy about it.  There has also been talk about Russia annexed Crimea which even the UN described as illegal.

What God says about this commandment is also very radical.  It was completely counter-cultural.  It was different from what society in the ancient world said about stealing and is different from what society says about stealing today.  Many think that stealing is not that bad. It may be wrong but at least it is not as bad as murder or rape.   There are many ways we try to excuse stealing today.

Modern Justifications of Stealing

1.  It is a psychological disorder

Society regards it as a psychological disorder. We call these people kleptomaniacs.  They are people who steal out of obsession or compulsion.  It is not based on need.  They just love to steal.  God calls it a sin.  It is not a psychological disorder, it is a moral disorder.  It is no different from serial murderers or serial adulterers.   They also have a compulsion to commit their crimes.  Stealing was serious enough sin to make God’s top ten list.  It is serious enough to keep people out of heaven.

The Bible says that people, who engage in a lifestyle of stealing, even though they claim to be Christians, will NOT enter into the kingdom. I Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexualiy nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)  Notice that Paul mentions stealing twice in this passage.  He mentions both thieves and swindlers.

Some do this for a living. They are career criminals, rip off artists who con people and steal their money. Swindlers are people who rip people off and cheat people, like all of the online scams (Nigerian lottery). Paul said that these kind of people will NOT be in heaven. That is not to say that thieves cannot be saved, if they repent. Some of the Corinthians believers used to be thieves (I Corinthians 6:11). Jesus was crucified between two thieves (Matthew 27:38) and one of them got saved before he died (Luke 23:40-42). Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Bernie Madoff stole eighteen million dollars from investors but even he can be saved if he repents.

The OT said the same thing. Ezekiel 33:14-16 says, “And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die.  None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.” (NIV).

2.  It is not wrong to steal something little.

Stealing is wrong, even if you steal something little. As Dr. Laura Schlessinger said, “The commandment does not say, ‘Thou shalt not steal, unless it is a candy bar’”.  We should not even steal a paperclip, if it does not being to us.

The Ten Commandments deal with moral absolutes.  They deal with things that are always wrong.  Lying is always wrong.  Murder is always wrong.  Adultery is always wrong.  Worshipping another god is always wrong.  Today, we come to the Eighth Commandment.  It says “Do not steal”.  It is contemned in the OT and in the NT.  Eight times in the Bible we are told not to steal[1].  It is ALWAYS wrong (unless you are playing baseball but that is not really stealing).

That does NOT mean that all stealing is equal. There are degrees of sin. Stealing a pencil is not as bad as stealing a car and stealing a car is not as bad as stealing a person (kidnapping). We know this because the punishment was different. The punishment for stealing in the Law of Moses was restitution.  If you stole something, you were to pay it back and much more.

Exodus 22:1, 3b-4 says, “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep… Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft. If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double.” (NIV)  When Zacchaeus the tax collector met Jesus and came to faith, he said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (NIV)

Other laws at the time of Moses put people to death for stealing. The Code of Hammurabi contains three hundred laws from an ancient Babylonian king who lived around 1780 BC. Law number twenty-two states that the punishment for stealing was to be death but in the Law of Moses the punishment was not death but restitution.

In the Middle East, the punishment for stealing is amputation.  That is what the Koran says to do with thieves[2] but in the Law of Moses the punishment was for stealing personal property was restitution, not amputation. On the other hand, if you stole a person (kidnapping), the punishment was death.  The US for the longest time took death penalty off the table for kidnapping.  All you could get was imprisonment.  That all changed in 1994 with The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which Bill Clinton signed into law.   Now you can get the death penalty for it, although it very rarely happens. Evven Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and imprisoned three women in his home for decades only receivied life plus a thousand years in jail.

Exodus 21:16 says, “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession” (NIV).  Deuteronomy 24:7 says, If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.” (NIV)

3.  I am poor, so it is not wrong.

Does poverty does not justify stealing?  No.  We can’t have two sets of laws: one for rich people and one for the poor. If a poor person steals, we understand why they did what they did but they still broke the law and will be punished for it. Proverbs 6:30-31 says, “People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.  Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.” (NIV)

4.  It is okay to steal from the rich

ALL stealing is wrong, no exceptions. There were not to be two standards of justice; one for the rich and one for the poor.  One of the things God said in the Law of Moses is that we are not to be biased in favor of the poor Leviticus 19:15 says, “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (NIV)  Many have the philosophy of Robin Hood.  They think that is okay to take money away from rich people and redistribute wealth and give it to the middle class or the poor.  They believe in stealing from the rich, in taxing the wealth and punishing the rich (which ends up punishing achievement).  It is called the Buffet Rule which Obama supports.

Why is it Wrong to Steal?

The Sixth Commandment says that life is sacred. The Seventh Commandment says that marriage is sacred. The Eighth Commandment says that property is sacred. Property is a divine institution. There is nothing wrong with a person owning things and enjoying things, so long as that person’s life is not controlled or dominated by those things.

This commandment assumes the right to private property. The commandment says we are not to steal our neighbor’s possessions. That assumes that our neighbor has some possessions. You can’t take something from someone if they do not have it in the first place. This is not state but is implied. If stealing is a crime, property must be a right. Ultimately, God owns everything.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), the father of modern communism, thought that there was something wrong with property. He thought that property was bad and that property breeds selfishness. He taught that the goal of society was to reach a utopian state of full communism in which there was no social classes, no property, no religion and no state.

Another writer who believed that property was evil was the French writer Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865).  Proudhon called himself an anarchist. He was the one who came up the famous line that “property is theft”.  He called property robbery.  According to Scripture, property is NOT theft. God says that you have the right to own things. Other people have the right to own things and we have no right to take someone else’s’ stuff.

As kids, we have heard the phrase, “finders keepers, losers weepers” but did you know that this phrase is not biblical? Just because we find something does not mean that we should keep it. The Law of Moses says that if we find something that belongs to someone else, even if that person is our enemy, we are to return it to him. Deuteronomy 22:1 says, “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner.”

Exodus 23:4 goes even farther.  It says, “If you come across YOUR ENEMY’S ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it.” That’s interesting. You find something that belongs to someone you hate.  Return it to him or her. Jesus says in the NT that we are to love our enemies.  The OT said the same thing.

This is the Golden Rule.  It is doing to others as you would want them to do to you.  We would want someone else to return our animal if it happened to wander off and end up on their property. It is a little different if you find a quarter on the ground and do not know who to return it to. Finders keepers is not biblical and is not legal.  If you find something valuable (bag of money), you have to make a reasonable attempt to find the owner.

This is one commandment that is very convicting, because we have all broken it. We may not have broken the letter of the Sixth commandment and murdered anyone. We may not have broken the letter of the Seventh Commandment and cheated on our spouse but all of us have broken the letter of the Eighth Commandment.  You do not have to be a bank robber to commit this. Politicians break this one.  Preachers break it.  Churches break it.  Christians break this one. The question for you is this, Have you ever stolen anything? Are you a thief? There are many different kinds of stealing

How People Steal Today


This takes different forms. It can take the form, for example, of burglary (home invasion), mugging (street robbery), carjacking (stealing cars), piracy (stealing ships in the ocean)


Here people steal but do NOT use violence to do it. They may steal from retail stores (shoplifting). Others steal from hotels (towels, pens). Others steal copyrighted software (software piracy) or movies or music off of the computer (illegal downloads).

Not Returning Things

How many of us have borrow something from someone (book, video) and never returned it? We just keep it. Most of the time, we forget about it.  That is stealing.  Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously“.  It is not a sin to borrow something.  The righteous borrow things and return them. There are two different types of people. Which are you?

Not Paying Back Debts

Getting a loan and not paying back your loan is a form of stealing.  Defaulting on a loan is a form of theft.  Bankruptcy is a form of theft.  It is a legal way of eliminating your debt by simply not paying it.

Stealing from an Employer

Many would never steal from a person but would have no problem stealing from an impersonal organization, like office supplies. We rationalize that we are underpaid, overworked, it is just something little the company is wealthy and it will not be missed.

“Eight year old Jimmy comes home from school with a note from his teacher that says, “Jimmy stole a pencil from the student sitting next to him.” Jimmy’s father is furious. He goes to great lengths to lecture Jimmy and let him know how upset and disappointed he is, and he grounds the boy for two weeks. “And just wait until you mother comes home!” He tells the boys ominously. Finally he concludes, “Anyway, Jimmy, if you needed a pencil why didn’t you just say something? Why didn’t you just simply ask? You know very well that I can bring you dozens of pencils from work.[3]

Stealing from Employees

Employers can steal from employees by underpaying their workers, providing poor working conditions, and using them as slave labor. Laborers have the right to a decent wage, according to Scripture.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 says,  “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns.Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (NIV)  This verse deals with economic justice.  Here you have a poor person who works for you and you take advantage of him.  You do not pay him on time and he is depending on that money.  That is a form of stealing.

God takes this seriously.  James 5:4 says, “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”  God’s message to employees is, “A fair day’s WORK for a fair day’s wage”. God’s message to employers is, “A fair day’s WAGE for a fair day’s work”.

Cheating on your Taxes

Tax evasion is a form of stealing from the government (Romans 13:7; Matthew 22:17-21).  Some seem to think that taxes are theft.  That is not true.  Taxes are payments for the public goods and services we consume. The Bible says to pay them.  Paul says, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:7 NIV).  Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:21 KJV). He said to pay Caesar what you owe Caesar.

Dishonest Business Practices

Businesses can steal from consumers. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 says, “Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.” (NIV).

Merchants who are dishonest and try to cheat customers by using false scales to weigh goods are breaking the Eighth Commandment. This was a common practice in the Ancient Near East. It is also something that God hates.  He says it three times in the Book of Proverbs (11:1; 20:10, 23). Some businessmen and salesman will do anything to make a buck – lie, cheat, steal. Here stealing is taking place, not by underpaying people but by overcharging people.  Credit card companies and mortgage companies steal from consumers by overcharging them with incredibly high interest rates often in very small print.  It is called predatory lending.   People who offer loans at extremely high interest rates are called loan sharks.

Stealing Intangible Things

Some steal a grade by cheating on a test or copying someone’s homework. Athletes steal records through performance-enhancing drugs (steroids).  Some people steal other people’s identity.  It is identity theft.  Some preachers steal sermons.  I am not talking about taking an idea here or there and using it.  I am talking about preachers who take an entire sermon off the Internet and preach it word-for-word as their own by copy and paste.  Some pastors have been fired for that.  It is plagiarism in the pulpit.

Governments Can Steal

What are some ways that governments steal?  There are many ways they can do this.

1) Government can steal by excessive taxation.

While tax perse is not theft, it is possible for governments can overtax people. That is a form of theft.  In some places, the tax rate is almost 50%.

2) Government can steal by spying.

Governments can steal state secrets from other nations all of the time.  It is called espionage but that is a fancy word for one government stealing technological or classified information from other nations.

3) Government can steal by deficit spending.

Governments can steal by borrowing too much money.  When the government has a federal debt of trillions of dollars, it steals from our kids and grandkids (generational theft).  The US national debt right now is over 17 trillion dollars.

4) Government can steal by imperialism.

That is big fancy word for stealing land. Big nations often steal from little nations. The Bible talks about stealing land (Micah 2:2; Deuteronomy 27:17).   Did the US steal land from the Indians?  Yes but this does not necessarily let the Native Americans off the hook.  Unfortunately, every country and people group has been guilty of this throughout history, including the Native Americans.

American Indians were killing each other for territory long before the Europeans arrived. When an Indian tribe wanted land, they just took it from another Indian tribe.  Their lands were stolen from them by other Indian tribes before the white man even arrived.  Historically, they were not even the first to live on the land.  They came over from Asia and took it from someone else.

Churches Can Steal

The NT routinely describes many false teachers as motivated by greed.  II Peter 3:1-2, for example says, ““But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  And in their GREED they will exploit you with false words.” (ESV)

Some preachers are only in the ministry for the money. There are entire ministries based on greed.  They tell you that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy.  God wants you to live the abundant live.  He wants you to be prosperous.  He wants you to be rich.  Some even say that the more you give to the church, the richer you will become.

Some churches have become dens of thieves, like Jesus said. He said that some of the Pharisees were outwardly religious but inwardly full of greed (Luke 11:39). They even robbed poor people and took advantage of them. Jesus said, “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Luke 20:47 NIV).

Christians Can Steal

Can people can rob God today.  Is this even possible for a person to steal from God?  God says that it is. Malachi says that they were doing it in his day. Jesus said that the temple in his day became a den of thieves.  There were thieves in it.  Apparently, there are also some thieves in the church.  How is this possible?  How could human steal from God?  Malachi says that they robbed God by not tithing.

Do Christians need to tithe today?  Is tithing mandatory for Christians?  No.  Tithing is part of the Law of Moses and was not commanded until the Law of Moses.  It is not repeated in the NT and Christians are not under the Law.  It was also part of their tax system of the Jews.  We already pay taxes to the government.

Are Christians still commanded to give?  Yes.  Giving is commanded for Christians and should be generous but there is no command in the NT that we must give ten percent.  Does the principle of robbing God still apply today?  Yes. We rob God when we do not give Him what is His. When we take some things that belong exclusively to God, we rob him.

We rob God every time we miss church.  We rob God when we do not give.  God prospers and blesses us and we do not give anything back to Him.  We keep it all for ourselves.   We rob God when He gives us certain talents and abilities and we do not use them for Him.  We rob God when we take the honor and praise that belongs to God alone.  Herod robbed God and God struck him dead in Acts 12.  It is one thing to steal from man.  It is far worse to try to steal from God.


[1] Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; Leviticus 19:11; Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9; Ephesians 4:28.

[2] “And (as for) the man who steals and the woman who steals, cut off their hands as a punishment for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah, and Allah is Mighty. Wise.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:38-39)


2 Responses to The Eighth Commandment

  1. Tony says:

    Good job on the rewrite Alan!

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