The Way of Deception
The Eighth commandment, Lo T’ganav literally means, “NO you steal!” This is God’s instruction for combatting theft and deception. It is sometimes easy to ignore our complicity in this problem. We can perhaps quickly say that we are not pirates, burglars, robbers, or thieves. But then, perhaps we are not truly grasping the full implications of this command. This teaching underscores a deep systemic problem in society that has been a part of humanity for millennia. Paul characterized it as the ‘carnal’ attitude, that was opposed to God’s will and would ultimately end in death. The way of thieves was one of deception, as their intent was to gain through stealth what was not rightfully theirs. So do we follow this way or support it by our actions or attitudes?
Theft Comes in Many Guises
Theft in our society, the kinds that are reported, take a devastating toll on the economy. The cost of these crimes is in the trillions of dollars, and the cost in social/community capital is to the tune of one in every 3 businesses that fail. So whether it is dishonest employees, patrons, or employers the costs to society are enormous. But God takes it a step further, and he says that in the final analysis your debt incurred by theft is something you owe him. For in stealing, you have been disloyal to your Creator, and unfaithful to his instructions that were given for your good. The prophets gave God’s warning of punishment and national and personal disaster against those who embraced deceitful practices.
New Society, Same Old Story
Both Amos and Ezekiel warned the people about ‘cheating’ God through false religion. But God would also deal with those who robbed clients through deceptive business practices, or enslaved the poor through debt manipulation. Over 2000 years later we still have our religious snake oil salesmen. We also deal with payday loan sharks, deceptive marketing, planned obsolescence, and a tendency to pawn off cheap products at high prices. Of course governments then, as now, exact their tribute in the form of a multitude of tax schemes, and it is doubtful that we are ‘getting our money’s worth’ of services. These are all practices prohibited by the eighth commandment.
In many countries debts do not end with your death, but are passed on to your children – just another form of theft. And as much as the old saying is true about death and taxes, it would seem that in the US there are even moves to increase the death tax, robbing the next generation of the wealth that their parents laboured to save. Yet, one of the greatest forms of theft comes in the guise of ‘quantitative easing.’ Governments play this deceptive game by increasing the supply of currency, while deflating its value. God hates all forms of robbery.
Samuel’s Warning for Us
Our present situation was foretold long ago. God knew the consequences of rejecting his leadership and the laws he had given for the benefit of nation and individual. Samuel, a judge in Israel, was petitioned by the people to anoint a king to rule them. But though Samuel was hesitant, God told Samuel to anoint a king, but to also warn the people of the consequences. The king, wanting to be like other kings, would inevitably be subverted by his power, and begin to forget God’s commandments – especially the eighth one! The king would conscript soldiers to fight for him, he would enslave people to become his servants. He would create an elite class of subordinate rulers loyal to him and then he would redistribute the wealth of the nation to them. It would seem that God was right. There is cause and effect, and when the eighth commandment is forgotten then all these evils beset society. Our society is a textbook case.
Possessions or ‘Possessed’
On the other hand, God promised blessings to those who were content with living his way. Those following their Creator’s commands would be honest. They would labour to meet their own needs, and they would share their blessings with others less fortunate. This attitude of diligence with contentment would result in a clear conscience and gratitude for God’s gifts. Jesus gave the example of the wealthy landowner who foolishly relied on his physical assets, not realizing they could disappear overnight. And he warned people to avoid being ‘possessed’ by their material possessions. Jesus also told the story of the wealthy young man who wanted eternal life. But in the end, the man was more concerned about preserving his material goods than in following Jesus and having eternal life. So we need to ask ourselves a question.
Are we keeping the spirit of the eighth commandment? Are we avoiding the deceptive practices of our time, and the trap of wanting and taking what is not rightfully ours? Or, are we trying to cheat or deceive others … and God? Malachi, the prophet, warned the nation that they would be cursed for robbing God. This meant that they were not providing the resources needed to support those teaching God’s ways to the nation. So tithing – giving God his tenth – had become a kind of a test of their willingness to be rich towards God. This prophetic message was given for the benefit of all who through time have wanted to serve God. It is always good to examine ourselves, and ask whether we are doing the will of God in all matters. So how are we doing when it comes to fulfilling the spiritual implications of the eighth commandment – No You Steal, Lo T’ganav?