As Lord’s Day 42 of the Heidelberg Catechism shows, the eighth commandment has to do with so much more than just the crime of stealing. The concepts of selflessness, generosity, and good stewardship are all present in the exposition of this command. Today in URC Psalmody’s continuing series we consider the words of this Lord’s Day.
110 Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
A. He forbids not only outright theft and robbery,
punishable by law.
But in God’s sight theft also includes
cheating and swindling our neighbor
by schemes made to appear legitimate,
inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume;
or any means forbidden by God.
In addition he forbids all greed
and pointless squandering of his gifts.
111 Q. What does God require of you in this commandment?
A. That I do whatever I can
for my neighbor’s good,
that I treat him
as I would like others to treat me,
and that I work faithfully
so that I may share with those in need.
136, “God Loveth the Righteous, His Goodness is Sure” (Psalm 73)
“But in God’s sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate.” Although theft is the most obvious violation of the eighth commandment, the Catechism probes deeper to reveal that the subtlest deceit or fraud on our part is equally condemnable. As Asaph laments in Psalm 73, these “schemes made to appear legitimate” often garner great prosperity for the wicked in this life. However, he also realizes that God’s wrath will certainly fall upon those who practice such sins. Here are selected stanzas from the Psalter Hymnal:
The wicked are prospered and firm in their strength,
No pangs do they suffer, though death come at length;
They are not in trouble as other men are,
The plagues of their fellows they view from afar.
In garments of boasting and violence decked,
With wealth more abundant than heart could expect,
They scoff, and the helpless they proudly oppress,
The heavens and the earth they assume to possess.
The wicked, grown wealthy, have comfort and peace,
While I, daily chastened, see troubles increase,
And, wronging God’s children, I cried in my pain,
That clean hands are worthless and pure hearts are vain.
I went to God’s temple: my doubts were dispelled,
The end of life’s journey I clearly beheld;
I saw in what peril ungodly men stand,
With sudden destruction and ruin at hand.
157, “There Where the Judges Gather” (Psalm 82)
“In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.” Psalm 82 is a bold declaration of God’s wrath against men who use their power for selfish gain rather than benevolence. God owns the very peoples themselves (stanza 3); how much more their puny stashes of wealth!
There where the judges gather
A Greater takes His seat;
How long, He asks the judges,
Will ye pronounce deceit?
How long respect the persons
Of them of ill repute?
How long neglect the orphaned,
The poor and destitute?
Deal justly with the needy,
Protect the fatherless,
Deliver the afflicted
From those who would distress.
But you are wholly blinded,
You do not understand;
Therefore foundations totter,
Injustice rocks the land.
He speaks: I named you rulers,
Sons of the Most High God;
But you shall die as mortals,
And perish by My rod.
Arise, Thou God of judgment,
Thy sovereignty make known;
For Thine shall be the nations,
The peoples Thou shalt own.
11, “Jehovah, My God, on Thy Help I Depend” (Psalm 7)
“That I do whatever I can for my neighbor’s good.” In Psalm 7 David applies this principle even to his enemies, but laments that even these attempts at kindness have been returned with continued hatred. However, he remains confident that the Lord will judge “all nations of men” and reward those who are “faithful and righteous in life.” With New Testament eyes, we can add that God counts us among his faithful ones because of the work of Christ, even though all of us have broken the eighth commandment in some way.
When wronged without cause I have kindness returned;
But if I my neighbor maltreated and spurned,
My soul let the enemy seize for his prey,
My life and mine honor in dust let him lay.
All nations of men shall be judged by the Lord;
To me, O Jehovah, just judgment accord,
As faithful and righteous in life I have been,
And ever integrity cherished within.
Establish the righteous, let evil depart,
For God, who is just, tries the thoughts of the heart.
In God for defense I have placed all my trust;
The upright He saves and He judges the just.
64, “A Little That the Righteous Hold” (Psalm 37)
“[T]hat I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.” Psalm 37, a poem of wisdom, has much to say about the difference between the righteous and the wicked as it relates to the eighth commandment. Even though earthly minds balk at the thought of using one’s wealth for the benefit of the poor, the Christian, recognizing that all of his riches are a gift from God, is ready and willing to share with those in need. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4).
A little that the righteous hold
Is better than the wealth untold
Of many wicked men;
Destroyed shall be their arm of pride,
But they who in the Lord confide
Shall be upholden then.
He knows the days the perfect live,
To them a heritage will give
Which ever shall abide;
In evil times no shame they know,
And in the days of famine’s woe
They shall be satisfied.
Although the wicked prospered seem,
At last they vanish like a dream
And perish in a day;
Jehovah’s foes shall soon appear
Like fields once fair, now brown and sere;
Like smoke they fade away.
They borrow oft and pay not back;
But righteous men do nothing lack,
And give with gracious hand;
Those cursed by Him shall be destroyed,
But such as have His grace enjoyed,
They shall possess the land.