The Ten Words: the Eighth

The fifth through tenth of God’s Ten Commandments focus on preserving and protecting persons.  Here, the eighth hones in on safeguarding and maintaining a person’s possessions.

In the reiteration of the Decalogue for the second generation of the covenant about to enter the Promised Land, Deuteronomy 5:19 reads, Neither shalt thou steal, emphasizing that God’s people should respect the right to personal property by their brethren and neighbors.

Psalm 24:1 reminds us of an even more foundational principle to this command—everything and everyone belongs to God, He is “loaning” all to each of us, and we are responsible to see God’s “investments” respected, protected, and increased with what and whomever He entrusts.  So the positive implied by the expressed negative, thou shalt not steal, is that we should be faithful stewards.

Do not take what does not belong to you.

What is most fundamentally our private possession but our own person?  In Genesis 37, it was evil for Joseph’s brothers to steal and sell him into slavery.[1]

John D. Currid explains the Hebrew for “steal” here means “to carry away” and that “it signifies running off with something that belongs to another by stealth, without consent”[2] (and thus, to receive such is the same).

Things the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) 142 includes as sins forbidden in the eighth commandment are, “man-stealing” and “receiving anything that is stolen.”[3]  Considering our own nation’s horrid history of stealing, selling, and purchasing stolen people, it is compelling how P. C. Craigie emphasizes that the eighth command primarily prohibits “manstealing” (1 Tim. 1:10), “… the taking of a person, presumably by force, and the ‘sale’ of that person for personal profit or gain,”[4] which he calls “the worst form of theft.”[5]  He points us ahead to Deuteronomy 24:7: If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.

Another relevant Scripture that shortly follows the first giving of the eighth commandment is Ex. 21:16: And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.[6]  Certainly, kidnapping people, holding them for ransom, or hijacking them are forbidden.  But thievery also can involve so many “smaller” things in life we tend to justify: “Any act that involves the manipulation of another human being for personal gain is tantamount to the crime.”[7]

The eighth commandment teaches to respect private property.  And again, what is more private and primary to all other of our possessions than to begin with honoring one another’s persons? 

Respect the ownership of the personal possessions of others.

Christ’s Golden Rule applies: we all wish to have our persons and possessions honored as proprietary.  So we teach our children that if another child doesn’t want to share his toy with them, they are not allowed to demand it or take it or play with it without his permission—nor keep it if it is shared with them.  As well, they are to learn to play with their own toys and be thankful and share them.  The same thing goes for us parents!

Craigie writes: “The law assumes the inviolable freedom of man under God.”[8]  So the WLC 141 elaborates of the eighth commandment that, among other things, The duties required … are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due … and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Remember, according to Hebrews 13:5, contentment is the antidote to covetousness (which leads to stealing).  And surely contentment will come when we fulfill God’s will to be thankful for what He has already given us (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

As Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, like all other commandments, the heart of the eighth is a loving heart.  No one who loves his neighbor will steal of his possessions—especially his own person.

For what and whom has God given you responsibility?  Along with yourself?  Be thankful for you and others and one another’s things, see your great responsibility to properly care for God’s property loaned to you, support the stewardship of others with their resources, and in all of life, Be Faithful Stewards.[9]

Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010.  He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.  He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.



[1] Genesis 50:20: But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

[2] John D. Currid, Deuteronomy (Webster, N.Y.:  Evangelical Press, 2006), 553.

[3] See the authors’ sermon on this catechism with emphasis on stealing men as forbidden here: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=2314144516.

[4] P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), 161.  Currid also notes that “The rabbis interpret this command in a narrow sense.  They understand it to refer only to kidnapping — that is, the stealing of a human.”  Currid, 148.

[5] Craigie, 161-162.

[6] See this documentary about the RPCNA’s Alexander McCloud’s, “Negro Slavery Unjustifiable,” based on this verse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5H9Ly8g6dk.  As well, see the author’s sermon on it: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=4211411893.

[7] Craigie, 162

[8] Ibid, 161.

[9] To listen to a sermon on this text and title by the author, which this article is based on, visit https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=1226212146507033.

 

Grant Van Leuven

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