What motivates stealing?
You shall not steal.
In the beginning (5 mins)
Read Genesis 2:8-17 (esp. 16-17). Discuss what is written there in the context of not stealing.
The huge positive in this section is the generosity of God to give to mankind a) an established garden and b) freedom to eat from anything in that garden. God has provided generously. The only thing forbidden is the one thing that they will desire enough to rebel. See Genesis 3:6.
The command to Israel (5 mins and optional)
The command in Exodus 20:15 is to not steal. As an exercise in getting to know the commandments, where does it fit in the order and is there a logic to it?
The following are ways of seeing the commandments. A guided discussion may allow people to observe things for themselves and there is no need to exhaust this for the sake of this study.
Commandments 1-4 can be characterised as Israel’s identity. They are monotheistic nation, unified in their worship of Yahweh and no other; strange in their refusal to worship him through images and monuments; charged with the sacredness of using his name carefully and demonstrating their national confidence in Yahweh by resting and celebrating the rest because He is the God who provides. Deut 6:5.
Commandment 5 provides the framework by which each generation will sustain their knowledge and commitment to the covenant with the LORD. Future generations will learn that the LORD is one and to be devoted to him only (Deut 6).
Commandments 6-10 are concerned with character and holiness – the horizontal relationships. Leviticus 19:18.
6 is fundamental that we would love one another. 7 is to keep and preserve the marriage covenant. 8 is to protect the property of others. 9 is to love the truth. 10 is to watch over your own heart.
So, 5, 6 and 7 will maintain a harmonious society from the family unit outward. 8, 9, and 10 will maintain our integrity and boundaries.
All of the commandments test our trust in God.
Israel’s history (10 mins)
Exodus 22 contains various scenarios of stealing plus more criminal acts. Scan over the chapter to compare how stealing, in Verses 1-15, compares to other crimes from Verse 16 on.
You may scan the chapter as one group or divide the chapter into chunks and discuss. The aim here is simply to absorb how the nation of Israel were to regard stealing compared with adultery or witchcraft. Other Ancient Near Eastern cultures would have removed a hand for stealing.
Read Deuteronomy 6:10-12. What does it say about stealing and what motivation do Israel have to not steal from one another.
God is promising Israel to take ownership of land that was not theirs but now is. The world is the LORDS and all that is in it. He chose to bless Israel and curse the Canaanites in this way. But there is no point in Israel stealing from one another because the LORD has provided all this for them. It was not theirs to begin with.
NB: the land gets divided proportionately between the 12 tribes of Israel with rules on how to lease land and every 50 years for the land to be returned to the original clan. The law included a maintainable equity system for ongoing generations. See Leviticus 25:8ff
The Gospel (10 mins)
Read Matthew 22:15-22. What does this have to say about stealing?
In one brief account, Jesus is able to testify that we must give to people what is rightfully theirs and also that we are capable of stealing from God.
Matthew 6 has much to say here about our desire to be for the kingdom of heaven and not for treasure on earth. We shall return to this passage perhaps for Commandment#10. Time permitted, read Matthew 6:25-34 (esp 33).
Christian Living (15 mins)
As generous as God was to Adam and Eve in the garden he has continued to show generosity to Israel and even more so to all who trust in the LORD for salvation. For Adam and Israel everything was provided for them. For us, we are given the kingdom of God and that is where our hope and love lies. We do not work for treasure that spoils or fades but for the kingdom of God which is freely given to us.
Read Ephesians 4:17-32 and discuss the areas of life listed there which match with various commandments.