The Ten Commandments — #8

TenCommandmentsA StubbornThings Symposium   7/17/14
Introduction  •  The idea of moral absolutes is a scary notion in this non-judgmental, moral relativist age. “Moral absolutism” fills one’s head with visions of Salem witch trials and thumb screws. And this is the vision that those on the Left with their anti-Christian campaigns have hoped to evoke.

But imagine trying to steer your ship without a compass. It’s of little use to say that “True north is somewhere between this broad range of numbers.” The idea of law, moral absolutes, and true headings has nothing inherently to do with moral exhibitionism, fundamentalism, or just being a hard-ass. Any good principle, as Libertarians regularly show us, can be taken to an extreme, including that of moral absolutes.

But without moral absolutes, we are rudderless. And moral absolutes, quite aside from the stigma intentionally imposed by anti-Christian forces, are not about lacking nuance or making unrefined judgments. Even with a moral absolute of “Thou shall not steal,” it is necessary to apply such absolutes to the specific cases which are always full of unique situations and sometimes extenuating circumstances.

It is the attitude of justice, instead of moral exhibitionism or fundamentalism, which should guide us in applying the moral absolutes. But to not abide by moral absolutes because one has bought into the anti-Christian, moral relativist message of the Left is actually not to lose moral absolutes. They simply appear in a different form and are often deceitful by nature. One of the moral absolutes of the relativists, for example, is the idea of “tolerance.” But they do not tend to tolerate conservatives, Christians, white people, straight people, or just honest, hard-working people who play by the rules.

This is why I unequivocally believe in the Ten Commandments. These are good moral absolutes. These are necessary moral absolutes. And it is by delving into the nuances of these Commandments via this symposium that we may learn justice and wisdom, both of which are necessary attributes for applying these moral absolutes in a constructive and fair way.

The Editor

Number 8: “Thou shalt not steal.”



The Israelites were a Jewish race of people that were just experiencing freedom after 400 years of being enslaved. They were accustomed to Egyptian customs, culture and laws. God chose Israel for a nation unto Himself and His desire for Israel was that they would go and teach others about Him. Israel was to be a nation of priests, prophets, and missionaries to the world. God’s intent was for Israel to be a distinct people, a nation who pointed others towards God and His promised provision of a Redeemer, Messiah, and Savior. God’s plan for Israel is to be accomplished through the removal of Egyptian (pagan) gods and establishing and implementing His laws. This newly freed nation of people needed established laws on how to live peacefully and harmoniously amongst their neighbors and, above all, holy before God.

Thou shall not steal is a short concise commandment that leaves the reader to interpret the different definitions of the word. Stealing, in the sense of the Hebrew word ganav, refers to both the act of carrying off by stealth that which is not one’s own (i.e., theft), but also to the deceptive inner disposition that accompanies the action. Ultimately, that deceptive inner disposition is a form of self-deception. The English definition is to take (something) from someone, without permission or unlawfully, or to appropriate (ideas, etc) without acknowledgment, as in plagiarism. During the time when Moses (aka “the lawgiver”) presented God’s laws to the people of Israel, they had already relapsed into all kinds of rebellious and sinful behavior. What could these people steal from each other? For one, they could steal each other’s possessions that they received from their Egyptian slave owners as they were leaving Egypt. If an individual today takes both the Hebrew and English definition of the word steal and try to associate it with what was going on during the time of Moses and the Israelites, one might erroneously think that it was easy to keep that commandment because the people did not have many possessions.

Present day conditions presents more opportunities for one to steal with individuals owning vast amounts of possessions. The rapid explosion of technology alone puts individuals in vulnerable situations to have just about everything from their identity to one’s entire bank accounts stolen. However, some things that are stolen are not often discussed. Employees can steal their employer’s time. Artist and writers can steal another’s work (music, manuscripts & poetry).

The word steal has a deeper meaning that encompasses more than just the unlawful taking of material things. Stealing has to do with respect for others. Respect for our neighbor’s belongings. Breaking the tenth commandment “thou shall not covet” could be a catalyst for breaking the eighth commandment. In fact, the eighth commandment can easily be associated with other commandments. When one bears false witness (lie), we steal our neighbor’s reputation. When one commits adultery, we steal another’s spouse (affection). If one kills thou neighbor, he steals his or her life. When we study the Ten Commandments, one must always remember that God is to be the source of everything that the Israelites needed then as well as everything that the believer needs today. God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and had continually provided for all of their needs. There was no need for the Israelites to steal anything from their neighbors.

What are some of the root causes for stealing? Laziness, greed, and selfishness are a few reasons individuals steal. The main root cause is unbelief. If we believe that God is truly the source of all of our needs, why would anyone need to steal from others? Why would anyone need to covet another’s possession? The answer is unbelief. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Individuals steal other’s possession because he or she is ungrateful and does not believe that God will meet his or her needs. All the commandments can easily be summed up with one sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Romans 13:9-10 RSV)

— Patricia Dickson blogs at Patricia’s Corner. She can be reached at



Sins are frequently intertwined: theft often results from covetousness, and it’s often accomplished through dishonesty. When an hourly worker falsifies his timesheet and claims more hours than he worked, he uses the means of lying for the goal of stealing, taking from his employer money that he has not earned.

The Christian’s duty is not just avoiding theft and refusing to take what belongs to others; he ought to take action to give others that which is due to them.

“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7 ESV)

This command – along with Paul’s teaching, in the same chapter, that the state is a divinely appointed agent of God’s justice – sheds some light on why so many politically conservative evangelical congregations feel duty-bound to show respect even to the most leftist political office-holders.

For myself, I remember that we are a nation of laws, not men, and that even the head of state takes an oath to uphold the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. A stealth radical has won the presidency and has proceeded to the undermine the Constitution at every turn, and I believe our deference to the Constitution allows and perhaps even requires us to hold this dishonest would-be tyrant in utter contempt, giving him the disdain that is due his dishonorable and dishonest behavior.

Indeed, Christians are supposed to pay taxes, rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

(In Matthew 22, Jesus highlighted the fact that the Roman currency bears Caesar’s image. We are to render to God what belongs to God; according to the Bible, man himself bears God’s image, and so we owe to God everything, our complete devotion and our very lives.)

Are we supposed to pay taxes not only for truly public goods but for a welfare state and other methods of wealth redistribution? Beyond the questions of prudence and unintended – but often very predictable – consequences, I have my doubts about the morality of a welfare state.

Milton Friedman distinguished between two types of public welfare, the first where “90 percent of us” agree to tax ourselves to help the bottom 10 percent, the second where 80 percent vote to tax the top 10 percent to benefit the bottom 10 percent.

“The first may be wise or unwise, an effective or ineffective way to help the disadvantaged — but it is consistent with belief in both equality of opportunity and liberty. The second seeks equality of outcome and is entirely antithetical to liberty.”

Is that first type of welfare not theft because of its broad popular support and broad tax base? I’ve begun to have serious reservations.

The question is, is there truly overwhelming popular support for a specific welfare program?

If there is such support, then a public program shouldn’t be necessary, as there should be more than enough people willing and able to fund private versions of that welfare program using voluntary charities.

If there isn’t such support, then welfare-statists are attempting to short-circuit the political process, disregarding the will of the people because they do not trust the kindness of the people.

The one thing I clearly remember from my college philosophy class is the idea that “ought implies can.” We have at least a partial duty to make amends for past offenses, when such amends are in our power, but we have no moral duty to travel back in time and prevent those offenses, because we have no ability to do so.

A moral imperative has other implications as well, and the command of “do not steal” implies that there are indeed things that can be stolen: the Eighth Commandment implies the existence of property, and the command is incoherent without that concept.

By attempting to frame welfare as a matter of justice rather than charity, Leftists attempt to undermine the concept of property. In sneering that property is theft, and in arguing that entrepreneurs didn’t build their businesses, Leftists are laying the groundwork for theft. Denying your right to your own property is the first step in taking that property from you.

The Tea Party is right to proclaim, you are not entitled to what another person earns. The presumption of entitlement is an obvious attempt to justify outright theft.

“Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.” (Psalm 128:1-2)

— John R.W. Kirke is a pseudonym of a Christian husband, father, and engineer who has written elsewhere under other names, including “Lawrence” in the comments at National Review Online. He remains deeply moved by the unpublished memoirs of Professor D. Kirke (1888-1949).

See Also:
The Tenth Commandment Symposium
The Ninth Commandment Symposium

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19 Responses to The Ten Commandments — #8

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    There are very many interesting points to ponder here. An interesting aspect of Iago’s comment on the value of reputation is that on another occasion he points out that a reputation can in fact be fraudulent. As my teacher pointed out in our discussion of Othello, these statements are not only both somewhat contradictory, they’re both accurate — about Iago himself.

    Brad brings up an important point, that the Christian ideal is voluntary charity, not state-enforced charity. It might be well to remind liberals that their version of charity was also Scrooge’s — BEFORE the Ghosts visited him. He pointed out that a good portion of his taxes went to support the workhouses and debtors’ prisons, so he had no need to give any more himself. Most liberals behave the same way.

    One minor correction: Cain murdered Abel because he was jealous that the latter’s sacrifice was accepted and his own wasn’t.

    Thinking of stealing from the office, I will note that most offices will allow employees to use the copier for personal items. When I was working third shift at Humana back in 1978 (this was when they were still a hospital-management company), I sometimes took advantage of that to photocopy works I was unable to get for myself. Some of them I’ve since gotten, such as August Derleth’s “The Lonesome Place” (about a horror conjured up out of children’s fears), H. B. Piper’s short novel Uller Uprising (a science-fictional retelling of the Sepoy Mutiny in India), and Pat Cleburne’s early 1864 paper proposing that the Confederacy free the slaves and enlist them as soldiers (which is why he was never promoted after that despite his superb record as a division commander).

    The ban on theft, of course, is a pretty basic necessity, as can be seen by the fact that people transgress it so frequently (and with such harm). And human minds are always creative at coming up with excuses. The liberal excuse for a kleptocratic welfare state is ultimately the false conviction that the private economy is a zero-sum game (which actually describes the government spending they worship), which in their view means that all wealth comes explicitly at someone else’s expense. It can happen that way (many a criminal has gotten rich off his crimes, at least for a while), but it more often happens that people become prosperous through their own effort. In Biblical times, the rich often were exploiters of the working poor, and much of Biblical preaching on the subject reflects this.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It might be well to remind liberals that their version of charity was also Scrooge’s — BEFORE the Ghosts visited him. He pointed out that a good portion of his taxes went to support the workhouses and debtors’ prisons, so he had no need to give any more himself. Most liberals behave the same way.

      That’s a great point, Timothy.

  2. William Manning says:

    Several months ago I was watching C-Span. George Will was giving a talk about the role of religion in society. During the Q&A a young woman at the back stood up and allowed as how in her travels through Europe she found that in some countries, forming a charitable organization of any sort is actually against the law. Moreover, many of her peers in those countries were baffled as to why anyone should want to do so. As her friends pointed out there are government agencies to take care of “those people”. Will didn’t comment but he shook his head affirming that he had heard of this or knew it to be true. Are there such countries with such laws? How easy is it to inculcate in a people the attitudes she encountered?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That squares with everything Mark Steyn says in “America Alone.” And it’s consistent with everything that Dennis Prager says: Socialism is not “compassionate.” It’s the opposite. It breeds narcissism and alienation.

      One of the things that makes (or made) America great are its myriad private institutions that serve various causes. There is no substitute for this. Government hand-outs are not charity. They are political tools. You sound as if you are wide-awake, William.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Do not forget envy and malice are often strong motives for theft.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Neil, you are a welcome addition to the panel. And the panel has again done a bang-up job. Is there anywhere else on the internet where such a thoughtful and concise exposition of the Commandments has taken place? None that I am aware of. Dennis Prager and Rabbi Daniel Lapin have done truly outstanding work in this regard. But other than that…well…if I do say so myself, the participants here have created, and continue to create, quite a resource. I just feel guilty that I can’t pay them — besides compliments, of course.

    I urge one and all to ‘share’ this symposium on Facebook and spread it around as best you can. No…not so that StubbornThings can eventually pass National Review Online in terms of readership but because each and every one of these authors deserves a wide readership and because Western Civilization is so desperately in need of connecting with its roots again.

  5. I love the references to Othello here. Iago, whom I believe to be the greatest of all fictional villains, sooner or later needed to show up in these discussions. His jealousies (“He is never jealous for the cause, but jealous for he is jealous.”), his appallingly successful lies (Everyone called him “honest Iago.) and his attempt to steal — not just for his own profit, but to see to it that no one else had any pleasure or profit — render him the antithesis of all these commandments.

    Interesting, isn’t it, that we all eventually discussed the thievery of government. It’s definitely on everyone’s minds.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Interesting, isn’t it, that we all eventually discussed the thievery of government. It’s definitely on everyone’s minds.

      Indeed. And government really ought to be on our minds, for we know that Government is taking the place of God (or, at the very least, the private, non-political sphere of civic and moral life which has always been central to America).

      Where once the church told us “Thou shalt not steal” now the government is telling us it’s okay. And people — including far too many Christians and Jews — have bought into this, if only because they’ve become hooked in the entitlement scheme, for if you have justified in your mind that you somehow deserve Social Security and the various other benefits (even if they are paid for off the backs of future generations), then the inclination is to acquiesce in regards to other people’s demands on public money and this general expansion of “rights” to mean “the right to other people’s property through government.”

      I’m not an Ayn Rand or libertarian absolutist lunatic. But without an emphasis on property rights and the moral imperative for people to get their own houses in order if they wish to prosper, it can only ever be this wimp, limping, slouch toward Gomorrah. Socialism inherently means a culture that thinks it is somebody else’s responsibility to supply them with stuff, whether current generations or future generations.

      We are witnessing the enacting of a Progressive anti-Ten-Commandments. It’s no wonder then that the Sodomites have gained ascendency. I have nothing personal against the Sodomites. But anyone who can’t see the big picture that is being painted by the enactment of the anti-Ten-Commandments is a fool. They could be summarized like this:

      1) I am the Lord thy God has been replaced with Big Government as god and provider.

      2) No graven images has been replaced by the kind of creepy Obama posters and iconography reminiscent of Stalinesque regimes.

      3) The idea of not stealing Divine attributes for oneself has been replaced by the semi-divine attribute of “victimhood” being liberally donned to steal earthly peoples of their freedom and property.

      4) Regarding keeping one day holy, nothing is holy to the secular-socialist-atheist Progressive Left. In fact, sacrilege and vulgarity are considered the highest forms of thought and art.

      5) Honoring they father and mother has been replaced with “Heather Has Two Mommies.”

      6) Thou shalt not kill has been replaced by a president who twice, while in the Illinois State Senate, voted to continue the legalization of partial-birth abortion.

      7) Thou shalt not commit adultery has been replaced by the hookup culture.

      8) Ditto what everyone has said regarding this current topic regarding stealing.

      9) Not lying has been replaced not just by politicians who regularly lie (something as old as time) but by a culture which includes fads, fashions, crafted imagery, advertising, and media such as TV where lying is the very Zeitgeist of this Kultursmog. Lying becomes a way of life and real becomes a forgotten element.

      10) Again, ditto the close correlation between #10 and #8, coveting and stealing. Socialism is premised on coveting and stealing even if it is called “social justice.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One addition I would add to the liberal corruption of the Ten Commandments: Their persistent policy of false accusations as a basis of politics (one which Henry Barbour disgustingly imitated to renominate Thad Cochran) is a clear violation of the 9th Commandment. Indeed, the 9th and 10th are the most important reasons why they hate the Ten Commandments.

        • Pst4usa says:

          I wholeheartedly agree Timothy. Just one correction, it was Haley Barbour. (although I am not sure how to spell his first name.)

          • Timothy Lane says:

            As best I can tell from what I’ve read, Haley and Henry Barbour are in the political business (mostly lobbying) together, but it was Henry who paid the Democrat consultants to smear McDaniel and Tea Party Republicans.

            • Pst4usa says:

              I will take your word for that Timothy, I did not know there was a Henry, but I had heard it was Haley that had paid for the smear. My apologies for not doing my research.

      • Pst4usa says:

        Brad, not only become the norm for the politicians, it has been sanctioned here in Washington by the courts. Just after we moved here, as I recall, someone sued over provable lies made in political TV adds, and the court said, no problem, as long as it is political that’s OK.

  6. Pingback: You shall not steal. | Eternity Matters

  7. Pst4usa says:

    Neil, very well said, your comment about 0bamacare is the same argument I have been using since its proposal. I will not participate in anyway, because the government cannot rightfully force me to steal from others just because they say “the rich” can afford it. This is not the first time or the only way our government has pulled this, it’s just the final straw for me. I will not comply, I will not consent.
    Thomas Jefferson put it like this.
    “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. ” also this one fits nicely.
    “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”

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