The eighth commandment
“‘You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.’”
We steal from our neighbors when we fail actively to consider their interests. This statute showed that “finders, keepers” was not to be the governing norm among the people of God. An item of personal property – a beast, or a garment, or anything belonging to one’s neighbor – could become lost or misplaced for any number of reasons. That did not mean that the owner forfeited his ownership of the property.
Instead, lost items of personal property presented an opportunity for neighbors to aid one another in fulfilling their stewardship. Lost property was to be returned to its rightful owner as soon as ownership could be determined. Or if one’s neighbor needed some other form of help in exercising stewardship over his property – as in the case of an ox fallen – it was every neighbor’s duty to come to their aid. Thus coveting would be denied, stealing would be avoided, and the strife that could potentially arise in claims of disputed ownership would be avoided.
This series of In the Gates we present a detailed explanation of the Law of God, beginning with the Ten Commandments, and working through the statutes and rules that accompany each commandment. For a practical guide to the role of God’s Law in the practice of ethics, get The Ground for Christian Ethics by going to www.ailbe.org and click on our Book Store.