In my last post I answered the question as to whether or not the concept of a nanny state was condemned in Scripture. If you’d like to read my thoughts on that then you may click here. Today, I wanted to address another question regarding personal wealth. I’ve been challenged on the idea of “my money” and “my property” as “troubling” by a reader. This post is a defense of sorts of my position. Enjoy.
The commandment “Thou shall not steal” presupposes the idea that people have personal property/wealth. Now there is a legitimate sense in which one might say that all things are God’s. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Gen 1.1), and in an ultimate sense all property, all forms of wealth, are the Lord’s (Exod 19.5; Psa 24.1; 50.12). In fact one of the first instances that we see the law of God put on display in the Bible is in the beginning.
No Trespassing, No Theft…
After God had created man, placed him in the garden, and eventually made the woman from his side, the Lord made it very clear to Adam that he (and his wife with him) had been given delegated authority on the earth. All dominion was given to mankind (male and female) in the sense of stewardship to their Maker. In light of this fact, all the earth was presented to the man and woman as a gift from the Lord.
He tells the man in Genesis 2:16, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…,” for “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Gen 1.29). The only caveat God placed on the man (and woman through him) was in regards to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That one, of two trees placed in the middle of the garden in Eden, had a “No Trespassing” sign placed upon it. The Lord warned Adam, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” (Gen 2.17a), and the sincerity of the prohibition was marked with a death penalty: “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17b). To attempt to steal from the Lord, which in this particular case was an attack on His sovereign position, was to meet dire consequences.
The ability to acquire wealth…
We are told in the Bible that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1.17; cf. Matt 7.11). He not only gives to His friends, but also to His enemies (Matt 5.45; cf. Psa 145.9). And so, He likewise expects His people to do the same thing (Matt 5.44; cf. Exod 23.4-5; Prov 25.21-22).
Therefore, it is rightly said that everything that we acquire in this life is a result of our heavenly Father giving these things to us. This includes the place and timing of our birth (Acts 17.26; cf. Deut 32.7-8). This includes our ability to acquire wealth (Deut 8.18), and even the lose of it (Deut 15.11; Prov 22.2).
After God offers the prohibition against theft in Exodus 20:15, He then lays out for His people a variety of case laws that pertain to not only what constitutes theft, but also the type of penalties to be enacted against the violator of the law (cf. Exod 22). The severity of the punishment was to fit the crime. If a person stole a possession then restitution was to be offered to reimburse what was stolen and to penalize the thief (Exod 22.4, 7-9, 12; cf. Luke 19.8). If a person sought to steal a fellow image bearer of God, to essentially rob them of their life, then the perpetrators life would be forfeit (Exod 21.16; Deut 24.7).
God expected that if a person wanted to acquire a commodity that another person had, then the person in question was to pay for the item. The owner set the limit for the price of sale. If the purchaser tried to rob the seller of their profit, then that act would be seen as theft and the individual in question would be counted liable. Equal weights and measures were the sign of just commerce amongst the people (Deut 25..13-16; Prov 20.10). Unjust weights and measures were the sign of corruption, and a call for God’s vengeful judgment to fall (e.g. Amos 8.4-7).
Although property pertains to more than just land, a persons land was considered their own sovereign domain. This was their heritage from the Lord. They were expected to exercise godly dominion over it, and to build a lasting inheritance for their offspring. To attempt to steal someone’s property by moving the marker was a criminal offense in the land of Israel (Deut 19.14; 27.17).
Wrong on all levels…
Theft is wrong on all levels and this includes theft by government coercion. I raise this issue because of the way in which the civil government here in the United States has encroached upon personal property of individuals and families in the form of theft, called public property. It is one thing for a community to decide what they want to do in a unified voice with their own personal property, but quite another for a government agency to assume that they have the legal right to put their fingers on what is not lawfully theirs.
In short, the “No Trespassing” sign in the garden has been extended throughout creation to the children of God. That is not a typo. All property, all wealth is a gift from the Maker, this is true, and all people come into possession of such things because of the common grace of God, this is also true. However, in an ultimate sense all property and wealth which is God’s, which is in turn lent to mankind in the form of legal stewardship is also temporary depending upon what the person does with the wealth and property afforded to him/her.
All the earth is the Lord’s and it is the meek that shall inherit the earth (Matt 5.5). The wealth of the people that do not serve God is held in reserve by the Lord for His people (Exod 3.22; Prov 13.22). This is why it is said that Canaan vomited the Canaanites out of the land (Lev 18.25), and it is also the reason why Israel was driven from the land through war with Assyria and Babylon between the years of (700-580 B.C.), and later in 70 A.D. by Rome (cf. Lev 18.22). Wealth and property are not guaranteed, they are on loan from God. While you have the property you own it is as a tenant, but if you are an unfaithful servant even what you have will be taken away from you (Lev 20.22; Luke 12.16-21; Matt 25.14-29).
Again this applies to individuals, families and nations. The law of “no theft” holds in a personal as well as civil governing fashion. Today, I want to present two biblical examples that verify what I have been discussing.
Civil Government and Personal Property
The Bible is filled with a lot of information. Some of it is prescriptive other parts of it are descriptive. A prescriptive portion tells how one should act; whereas, a descriptive part relays the events of the past to the reader. The judgment of the descriptive passage, like the prescriptive passage, is left to a determination of the Law-Word of God.1
The Tale of Two Kings…
David was a righteous man. Even a brief study of his life shows a heart that loved the Lord. Yes, it is true that he committed some egregious sins during his life. This shouldn’t surprise us since we are all sinners and our righteousness is imputed by God’s grace rather than an independent trait of our own. Left to our own devices apart from God’s sustaining grace and we are prone to stumble headlong into all sorts of despicable things.
Well, there is one event in the life of David that is offered that demonstrates a loving caring heart. One that loved God and neighbor. And it pertains to the subject we have thus far been discussing. What is interesting is that we have a counter example provided for us a little later in Israel’s history—but I get ahead of myself, I apologize.
At a time when a plague hit Israel because David decided to number the army of Israel (see 2Sam 24.1; 1Chron 21.1). To end the devastation being wrought by God’s wrath, David was commanded by the prophet Gad to make an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite (2Sam 24.18; 1Chron 21.18). When the king approached Araunah the man inquired as to why David had come? When David told him the reason (1Chron 21.22) the man offered to give to David the threshing floor along with wood and wheat for a grain offering (1Chron 21.23). But David said to the man, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (1Chron 21.24; italics mine).
I will grant that most commentators focus on the second portion of David’s comment “not offer[ing] burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” It is true that our service to the Lord should cost us everything, for our lives are forfeit or else carrying the cross of Christ is a meaningless sentiment. However, the first part of David’s explanation should not be missed. He understood that what Araunah possessed was his alone. This was his inheritance from the Lord God. To just take the man’s property without paying for it would have been a dishonorable thing. David realized that what the man possessed had value and that value was worth its “full price.”
A little later down the line another king came to rule and his name was Ahab. Ahab was an unrighteous king. But he saw the property of Naboth the Jezreelite as something he desperately wanted. King Ahab coveted Naboth’s beautiful vineyard. He said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money” (1Kgs 21.2).
On the surface this seems a fair thing to say. Naboth possessed a commodity that the king desired. The king offered what he believed to be a fair price for the land. But it is the owner that possesses sovereign authority to do with his possession as he sees fit. And, it doesn’t matter who is seeking to purchase it, if the owner does not want to sell, then God gives the individual the right to do with it as he sees best. So, Naboth responded to king Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1Kgs 21.3).
When the king’s wife Jezebel learned of this she said to her husband, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1Kgs 21.7). Jezebel had false charges brought about Naboth for blasphemy and had him stoned to death, so that her husband could steal the man’s possession. And God through His servant Elijah condemned the two of them to death (1Kgs 21.17-19).
What’s my point?
Two civil magistrates wanted the personal property of another. The one purchased the property because the owner wanted to sell it. The other stole the property and killed the owner because they coveted what the owner possessed. Theft is theft. Doesn’t matter if it is an individual or a civil governing official, the prohibition “Thou shall not steal” stands as a righteous standard that shall not be crossed.
Once again we see that socialism is evil. And just because someone tells me “Yeah, but our government already does it” doesn’t mean that the government or the person trying to defend it is right. It is wrong for the civil government to steal a family’s inheritance, their land or their money. And it is wrong for you as an individual to want them to do it so that you can have some form of benefit from it. I wish more people took the time to think through these truths. Saying this is my money or my property should not be viewed as a troublesome concept, but a biblical one. God gives and therefore it becomes ours and He says no one else has permission to acquire it by any means without our say so. Period.
1For example, Lot fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah is a prescriptive activity of what one should do when warned by God to flee an area of judgment. On the other hand, Lot sleeping with his daughters in a drunken stupor after being saved from the destruction of the cities on the plain is a descriptive passage of how corrupted he and his children were from living in a culture that tormented his righteous soul. This later event should be taken in light of God’s Word as a warning to guard one’s heart by God’s Law-Word, and not to follow the whims of pagan culture.