The Song of the Mountains – verse XXXII
“We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!” Gollum.
The ring, the precious, gave Gollum unnaturally long life. It poisoned his mind. It became the object of his obsession. It empowered him. It possessed him. Ultimately, it destroyed him.
Not that mountain again.
Often overlooked in theological treatments of the Ten Commandments is the simple fact that they address, almost exclusively, issues of the heart. The Ten Words, as “commandments,” while apodictic in nature, speak to the heart of the human condition in relationship – to God, and with humanity. How do we resist the natural urge to be self-centered, and self-preserving? How do we understand the working of the Holy Spirit on the renewed man in Messiah? The Lord’s revelation to Moses.
Another short verse.
Once again in the Song of the Mountains series I address a short verse: Exodus 20:15. Two words in Hebrew, and three words in English; taking much more language to explain.
Exodus 20:15 reads,
“Do not steal.”
As we read this verse, we first notice that there is no direct object – so we are not told what not to steal. Depending on the situation and circumstance, people are inclined to steal items that may be necessary, or enticing. Across the human landscape, what is necessary and enticing varies dramatically.
Yet, these few words, “do not steal” have broad understanding and application. Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz explains, “Property represents the fruit of industry and intelligence. Any aggression on the property of our neighbor is, therefore, an assault on his human personality. This Command also has a wider application than theft and robbery; and it forbids every illegal acquisition of property by cheating, by embezzlement or forgery.”
This understanding is derived from the meaning of the verb root, גנב (ganav), meaning, not only to thieve or carry away what is not yours, but also to deceive or take by stealth. Therefore, when we read, לֹא תִגְנֹב, the Lord is not only speaking of stealing the cookie, He is also warning about cheating someone out of the bakery as well.
This command, given to an early nomadic and later agrarian society, had deep significance; as stealing even the most basic component of life could place not only the direct owners life in danger, but ultimately his family as well. Theft is an assault on humanity.
Perhaps this is why the penalty for stealing was so severe. In some cases, the thief was to pay four or five times what they stole; further, they could be subjected to the death penalty, as in the case of kidnapping (Ex. 21:16; 22:1-15). Moreover, the apostle Paul, when he lists those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, includes, “nor thieves, nor greedy of gain, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10).
Thieves are not only subject to earthly punishment, but also divine judgment.
There is a deeper significance to the eighth commandment, actually three important points that we learn:
- Stealing demonstrates a lack of faith in God, as one who steals is not trusting in the Lord’s provision. The apostle Paul offers us this inspired instruction, “And my God shall fill all your need according to His riches in glory by Messiah Yeshua” (Phil. 4:19).
- The eighth commandment is also a guardian of the sanctity of stewardship.
- Its connection to stewardship implies that we must develop an honest work ethic.
Who does it belong to?
King David wrote in Psalm 24:1, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord.” The Lord Himself says, “Every animal of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). Why is this important? Well, doesn’t stealing imply that one owns what he possesses? But if everything belongs to the Lord, how can it be stealing when we take it from another human being?
The eighth commandment presupposes a right to property. While everything belongs to the Lord, He blesses humanity with property that they are to steward, and to aid in living – not only for themselves, but others as well. The idea of “private property” as we understand it, and stewardship thereof, is actually rooted in creation – not in the kindness of the state or surrounding community. This command assumes, quite strongly, that God has given humanity ownership of property.
Part of our purpose.
Humanity was created to be stewards of God’s creation, to enjoy the fruits of his labor, and to regard that which the Lord has provided him to steward as his own, albeit in a temporary way – the existence of death bears witness to this temporary condition of ownership. We conclude then, that when one man steals from another man, he is actually stealing from God; not in a philosophical sense, but in a very real sense.
From the eighth commandment, we then can derive three lessons:
1) We must not steal from others.
2) We must steward our possessions with diligence.
3) We are responsible to provide for those in need: a theme repeated frequently in the Law of Moses.
Again, the ten commandments address matters of the heart, and what we set our hearts on. Not only does the eighth commandment presuppose private property, but it also presupposes a work ethic. Labor, and the enjoyment of its fruit, is the antithesis of theft. Those who work, or have worked, in any capacity, know the value of work. Knowing the value, and investment of labor, should cause us to respect and value the labor and fruit of the human other.
Not as valued.
Nevertheless, this is not how work is viewed by everyone today, work is seen as a necessary evil; not as part of the Lord’s plan for humanity. It is however, an endeavor that is woven into our human fiber. Work was intended for Adam, he was to tend the creation; but he would do so effortlessly – no sweat! Labor is an institution of creation, and an integral aspect of the human being. Work is a gift, not a curse.
What does Yeshua/Jesus say?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).
Material blessing, the fruit of honest labor, is not a sin. What we do or do not do with the blessed fruit might be a sin however. How we view the fruit of labor, and the Lord’s blessing, will most probably influence what we do with it. Yeshua in Matthew 6:19-20 is cutting to the quick of how we value material possessions. Are they really what we treasure?
The temptation to steal is evidence of our fallen, or sin inclined, nature. Theft deprives the other of what they have right to. We often treasure what we do not possess, creating an urge – or need – to acquire that which we desire.
Where is our treasure? What is the nature of our treasure? From whom do we receive blessing? How is the Lord using desires for what we do not have to continually reform the heart?
This is an issue of faith, and one of the heart. How are we using the blessings that come to us? How are we using our physical strength to fulfill the gift of tending to His creation? Are we building heavenly treasures? Or are we attempting to keep moth, rust, and the thief away from what is “ours”?
Are we on an seemingly endless hunt to retrieve the “precious,” or do we recognize the precious nature of our relationship with the Lord, and those in the human community?
Shalom. Be well.