Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through Ten Commandments in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened the series by looking at Exodus 20:1-3.
- Dave Jenkins looked at the second commandment in Exodus 20:4-6.
- Mike looked at Exodus 20:7
- David Dunham looked at Exodus 20:8-11.
- Matt Adams wrote on Exodus 20:12.
- Dave wrote on Exodus 20:13.
- Dave wrote on Exodus 20:14.
- Today Jason writes on Exodus 20:15.
Exodus 20:15, “You shall not steal.”
The law of God is something we are told to meditate upon (Ps. 1:2). The Bible speaks highly of the law of God because the Law is a revelation of God’s character (Ps. 119). When we look to the law of God, we are peering into the attributes of God. Unfortunately, modern Christians scoff at the law of God, believing it to be entirely unimportant and inapplicable to contemporary New Covenant Christianity. Because man in his sinful nature already suppresses the truth about God, it is clear from the pen of the Apostle Paul that even the unbeliever has the “work of the law” written on his heart (Rom. 2:15). For the Christian, however, the law has been written on the heart—not the work of the law, but the law itself (Ezek. 36:22-36). This means that man is held to God’s sovereign standard of righteousness regardless if he wants to or not.
The command against theft is a command with presuppositions. The first presupposition is simple: God is sovereign. Because God is sovereign, only He can make true law, and not arbitrary law like men. God is just in His nature, and His law is just because of this fact. “Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true” (Ps. 119:142, emphasis mine). God in His sovereignty is covenantal, which means that He binds Himself to His creation. He is both transcendent and immanent. One of the ways this Sovereign binds Himself to man is by issuing His law-word.
The second presupposition follows: God’s law is the ultimate standard of what is just, and what is unjust. In today’s culture, utilitarianism runs amuck—as long as the majority of people are happy and believe something to be true, right, and good, this is what should happen in society. This is problematic because it assumes that 1) man is sovereign and able to articulate justice without an objective standard, and 2) it rejects biblical law, the very self-revelation of God found in His Word. One only needs to be reminded of the arbitrary Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in June of 2015, which gave marriage rights to homosexual couples. (I bring this up because I just want to know: What law does the Supreme Court submit to in its interpretation? Surely they cannot submit to the Constitution because it is—allegedly—their job to ‘interpret’ it…circular fallacy, anyone?)
At any rate, God’s command against theft needs further definition before moving on. R.J. Rushdoony is helpful:
“Theft or stealing is taking another man’s property by coercion, fraud, or without his uncoerced consent. Cheating, harming property, or destroying its value is also theft. It is not necessary for the robbed to know of the theft for it to be a sin. Thus, to ride a train or bus without paying one’s fare is theft, even though the transportation company is unaware of the act.”
The third presupposition for the eighth commandment is this: God is the only sovereign who grants rights to personal property. If something can be stolen, this assumes that someone had legal possession of it. The Bible says that God owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). The Bible also says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). The point is obvious: God is the Ultimate Property Owner, which means that only God can grant the freedom to own things. The State is not the source of property no matter how corrupt its laws. The source of law and ownership comes from God. There are only three ways to gain wealth according to the Bible: either you earn it through work, you inherit it from someone, or you steal it; the third option violates God’s law.
Furthermore, when we consider that God is the only Person, who can grant property rights, He is the only one who can regulate it justly. For example, generally speaking, civil law makes a distinction between public crimes and private crimes. Public crimes affect communities and large groups of people; private crimes are more personal in nature (murder, adultery, perjury, etc.). In our society today (because justice is obfuscated by people given over to bribes—why in the world do we try and get people to admit guilt before they face a jury, let alone having two or three witnesses?), this type of civil law is backwards. Private crimes are often situated to make the State the victim, instead of biblical restitution with the actual victim; and public crimes are treated with more rigor.
Part of the problem with justice in the world today is that instead of looking to the perfect law of God (Ps. 19:7), man develops his own arbitrary laws. Instead of dealing with fraud, extortion, and other shameful means of gain, the State steps in, eating up taxpayer dollars, and claims to be the victim. Justice has become perverted. Instead of looking to the case laws of Exodus, which should be applied by the civil magistrate where restitution is made to the victim, we’ve settled on a completely broken system built on oppression from the power-state.
When God commanded the Israelites, and us today (Matt. 5:17), to refrain from theft (which stems from a violation of the tenth commandment!), He also asks us to treat one other the way we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10), and the entire summary of the Law can be found in the words of Jesus, “You shall love [fulfill the law] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40, emphasis mine).
It’s been noted that the First Table of the Law (commands one, two, three, and four) relate to God, while the Second Table of the Law (commands five through ten) relate to neighbor. The principle is clear: to love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God. Instead of thievery, honor your neighbor’s property and possessions. People who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ know that the only way to obey this Law is to turn to Christ by faith, believing in the promise that the Spirit of God will cause us to walk in the ways of God. Instead of scorning the law of God, we ought to embrace it, apply it, meditate upon it, and cherish it deeply. We don’t steal because God is not a thief.
 To learn more about the covenantal structure of the Pentateuch, as well as many of the books of the Bible as it relates to Ancient Near Eastern law treaties, see http://www.garynorth.com/SuttonCov.pdf.
 Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume One (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), 452.