25 April 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law----- "You shall not steal"

(Forgive the timing compared with the theme. This is a lesson from the day after Christmas, 2010.)

Exodus 20:15“You shall not steal.” How much, on average, did families in America spend this past Christmas? Over $1000. I'm not just talking about the extremely wealthy and well-to-do. We’re talking about middle-class families spent $1000 on stuff. So their kids could have a “good Christmas.” Which brings up another point—what is the determining factor of whether a child has a “good” Christmas? It's how much stuff he gets. So this desire to make sure kids have a “good Christmas” makes parents think that they NEED to shower their kids with a bunch of stuff. The kids grow up with this mindset, and they repeat the cycle—many times on a larger scale—and so on and so forth. BUT—at the same time, there are many people who don’t want to pay for the gifts they give. So what do they do to make sure their kids have a “good” Christmas? This is the mindset of a thief: “You have something that I don’t have. I want that. Either I don’t want to pay for it, or I can't afford it. But it doesn’t really matter to me; all I care about is what I want. And I really don’t care how many hours of overtime you had to work to pay for that, I want it and I'm going to take it from you. I'm going to have a good Christmas; to heck with you!” And that is what the heart says when it sets out to steal at any time of year, not just at Christmas—“You have something I want; I'm going to take it from you. PPPPFFFTTT.” So theft—just like adultery and murder—doesn't start with the physical act of stealing; it begins in the heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:19“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” It begins with coveting, which the apostle Paul calls idolatry in Colossians 3:5.

So we have the commandment “You shall not steal.” Stealing falls into many categories. And most of them are covered under this OT Law. There is the act of just flat-out taking something from someone. Then there are other acts which are, by default, stealing from another. Leviticus 6:1-51 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, 3 or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins: 4 then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or all that about which he has sworn falsely.” And we’re gonna stop right there for the moment. Let’s break each of these down.

Leviticus 6:2“If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping.” I'm going out of town. I call Richard, and say “I'm going out of town, I need to park my car at you house until I get back.” If he says “Okay”, then he now accepts responsibility for what happens to my car. While I'm gone, he sells my car to the scrap yard and pockets the money. I come back and I say “Hey Richard, where’s my car?” and he says “Oh, I went out this morning and it was gone! I don’t know where it went! Somebody must have stolen it!” And in all truth, someone did steal it—Richard! He has sinned and trespassed against the LORD by lying to me about what was delivered to him for safekeeping. He has stolen from me.

The next little phrase we see in verse 2 is “or about a pledge.” That is, if I go into business with Bo here, and Bo makes a deal with Dave, and tells Dave, “Well, you can just pay me and I'll make sure Wayne gets his cut”—but I never get that cut, and Bo tells me “Sorry, the deal fell through” but he can't stick around because he’s going out to buy a new boat—that is stealing.

Next phrase, “or about a robbery.” You come home from work, and you see a window busted out. Already, you know what’s happened. You walk in the house, TV’s gone, stereo’s gone—you name it, it’s gone. You’ve been robbed. I know who did it. I know the pawn shop they took everything to. I could help you get it all back. I have, basically, put in my lot with the creep that did it. I am helping someone steal from you. I have sinned not only against you but against God.

“Or if he has extorted from his neighbor.” What’s another word for “extortion”? Blackmail. Duress. If someone does something they don’t want other people to know about, and they have a car for sale—real nice Land Rover. I know about their little secret. I come to their door one day and I say “Hey John, how ya doin’? Nice car ya got there. How much of a discount can you give me if I don’t let people know about your little secret?” That is extorting my neighbor. Another way to think of it is what they call a “protection” racket. When the Mafia goes into a little store and tells the owner, “Nice store you got here. It would be a shame if it ever caught fire or someone busted it up on ya. Tell ya what we’ll do. You give us a cut of your profits and we’ll make sure nothing happens to it.” What this phrase is saying is if I benefit by threatening someone into a deal that benefits me and causes loss to them, that is stealing.

Then, verse 3 starts off with “or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it.” When we were little kids and we found something on the floor, and the rightful owner came up and said, “Hey that’s mine!” What little phrase were we likely to use? “Finders keepers! Losers weepers!” But this command is pretty self-explanatory. If I find something you lost, and I keep it, and I tell you “Nope, haven’t seen it!” I have sinned. If I am going through the checkout line, and I buy a Coke, and I forget and leave it at the cash register. I go out to the car, realize what I've done, go back in and the clerk says “No, I don’t know what happened to it”—same thing. If I'm walking down the sidewalk, and I see a $20 bill, and just kinda slip it into my wallet—do you know I have heard people who claim to be Christians who will say “It must have been a gift from God!” It was not a gift from God—it was a trap from Satan. Adam Clarke—
“On this subject every honest man must say, that the man who finds any lost property, and does not make all due inquiry to find out the owner, should, in sound policy, be treated as a thief. It is said of [one people] that if they met with any lost property, even on the public road, they never even touched it…so that golden bracelets hung up on the public roads were untouched by the finger of [thievery]. One [Greek philosopher had a law which said], Take not up what you laid not down. How easy to act by this principle in case of finding lost property: 'This is not mine, and it would be criminal to convert it to my use unless the owner be dead and his family extinct.' When all due inquiry is made, if no owner can be found, [then and only then] the lost property may be legally considered to be the property of the finder.”
In other words, if it ain't yours don’t touch it! It’s not yours—leave it alone!

So, to get the full context again, “2 If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, 3 or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins: 4 then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or all that about which he has sworn falsely.” Now, not only was the property to be restored, but the owner deserved to be compensated for the time and effort it took to get it back—and at the same time the thief also needed to inconvenienced for his actions—what we call “punitive damages.” So “He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering.” Say I stole $100 from someone. When the day came for me to give my trespass offering, I would repay that $100, and another 1/5—or $20—on top of it for a total of $120. And in this way, not only was that which was stolen returned, but I also suffered some kind of loss for my sinful actions.

Tax collectors—or as the KJV says, “publicans”—tax collectors in Jesus’ day would make the IRS look like a charitable organization. They would collect not only the taxes that the Roman government ordered, but they would impose their own “taxes” on the people, and collect above and beyond what the Roman government demanded. So when John the Baptist was baptizing in the wilderness, it says in Luke 3:12-1312 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you." John was not telling them to not collect taxes. He was telling them to only collect what the Roman government required. A little later on Luke tells the story of one such tax collector, a man named Zacchaeus. Long story short, when Jesus came and dined in his house, Luke 19:8Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." This man actually went above and beyond what the Law required—far beyond it. I dare say he went farther than any of the Pharisees would ever dream of going. He wasn’t simply adding a fraction of what he stole—he was giving back a multiple of what he stole. This was not one-fifth the value; this was four times the value. The Pharisees would have paid back $20 on every $100. He was giving back $400 for every $100 he stole.

Now, while we’re talking about taxes, let’s talk about taxes. People who are required by law to pay taxes—if they do not pay their taxes, they are stealing. There is a famous incident where the Pharisees test Jesus about the issue of taxes. Mark 12:14-1514 When they had come, they said to Him…“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 15 Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” That is what a lot of people ask these days. “I don’t think I should pay taxes, so I just don’t pay them.” Or they get paid in cash “under the table” so there’s no evidence. But what does Jesus say about taxes? Mark 12:15-1715 But He…said to them, "Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it." 16 So they brought it. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." 17 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." In other words, pay your taxes. Because the government is appointed by God. Romans 13:1-21 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. And Romans 13:5-75 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Now, this does not mean every single case of someone taking something from another’s field is theft. In fact, this same Law that said “Thou shalt not steal” has a provision for the poor and the stranger. Listen to this command to those who own the fields to leave something around the edges. Leviticus 19:9-10“9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.” And these commands make very good sense. They didn’t have 7-11’s back then. There was no Yitzhak’s Quikie-Mart. And when people would be passing through the countryside, they didn’t always have a large enough sack to carry all their provisions. In addition, Deuteronomy 23:24-25“24 When you come into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. 25 When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain.” You could take some grapes; you could glean some wheat, but don’t back your F-150 up into someone’s field and go taking all their harvest. If you recall when our study of the Sabbath, the disciples were walking through the grain fields and they plucked the heads of wheat—that was someone else’s field, but they were allowed, by the Law, to do so. So God gives this command so that those who faced such a situation would not suffer from hunger on their journey. Also, there were many poor among the people. And these commands provided for them as well.

And I believe that these commands had two purposes. One, of course, it provided for the poor. BUT it also allowed for two of Jesus great-great-great-great-grandparents to meet. Long time ago there was a farmer in Bethlehem, and his name was Boaz. A young woman named Ruth came to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, and they came to Boaz, who was a distant relative. Ruth 2:8-98 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them.” And then he goes and tells his servants to leave a little something for her when they reap. Ruth 2:15-1615 And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.16 Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her." Eventually Ruth and Boaz get married, they have a son named Obed; Obed has a son named Jesse; and Jesse begets 8 sons, the youngest being a boy named David. Mary and Joseph were descended from David, and that Jesus was born of Mary. So God used this command to leave gleanings for the poor to bring together two of Jesus’ ancestors.

Now, don’t take this to mean that we can simply go taking stuff from people because we think they have so much that they won’t miss it. “Aww, those people are so rich, they can buy another TV.” Uh, no—that is still stealing. And we’ll talk more about that next week.

Jesus Christ is Lord.