The 8th Commandment: You Shall Not Steal
What does "you shall not steal" mean?
You shall not steal is the eigth of the 10 Commandments.
Summary: "The 8th commandment forbids theft in all its forms. It recognizes the right of personal ownership of property." (IBSE)
Scripture: Exodus 20:15, "Thou shalt not steal."
Relationship focus: People and people
The Eighth Commandment
Though usually understood to prohibit the unauthorized taking of private property, this commandment is interpreted by traditional Jewish commentaries to apply to theft of an actual person, or kidnapping.
The Hebrew word translated “steal” is “ganab” The Hebrew Bible contains a number prohibitions of stealing and descriptions of negative consequences for this sin. The Genesis narrative describes Rachel as having stolen household goods from her father Laban when she fled from Laban’s household with her husband Jacob and their children. Laban hotly pursued Jacob to recover his goods, and intended to do him harm, but Rachel hid the stolen items and avoided detection. Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7 apply the same Hebrew word to kidnapping (stealing a man) and demands the death penalty for such a sin.
The Hebrew word translated “steal” is more commonly applied to material possessions. Restitution may be demanded, but there is no judicial penalty of death. However, a thief may be killed if caught in the act of breaking in at night under circumstances where the occupants may reasonably be in fear of greater harm. The ancient Hebrew understanding honored private property rights and demanded restitution even in cases that might have been accidental, such as livestock grazing in another man’s field or vineyard.
If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him, but if the sun has risen on him, there shall be bloodguilt for him. He shall surely pay.
If he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double. If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard.
If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution. If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double. If the thief is not found, the owner of the house shall come near to God to show whether or not he has put his hand to his neighbor’s property.
For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, "This is it," the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. — Exodus 22:1-9 (ESV)
In the book of Leviticus, the prohibitions of robbing and stealing are repeated in the context of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and the prohibition is expanded to include dealing falsely or fraudulently in matters of trade and negotiations. Wages owed to a hired worker are not to be withheld. Neighbors must not oppress or rob each other. Neighbors are to deal frankly with each other, protect the lives of each other, refrain from vengeance and grudges, and stand up for righteousness and justice in matters that go to court.
The book of Proverbs contrasts the response of a victim to a thief who steals to satisfy his hunger with the response of a jealous husband to adultery. The thief is not despised by his victim, even though the thief must make restitution even if it costs him all the goods of his house. In contrast, the jealous husband will accept no compensation and will repay the adulterer with wounds and dishonor, not sparing when his fury takes revenge. The book of Zechariah describes God as cursing the home of the thief and the home of those who swear falsely and Jeremiah describes thieves as being shamed when they are caught.
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