One who deliberately takes that which belongs to another without permission, especially one who practices fraud and deception or who steals secretly. The ways of thieves were much the same in the past as today. They came to steal usually at night (Job 24:14; Jer. 49:9; Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39; John 10:10; 1 Thess. 5:2-5; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15), and one of their common entrances was through a window. (Joel 2:9) On the other hand, robbers and highwaymen lay in wait and fell upon their victims in lonely areas, where it was virtually impossible to get help. Often they did not hesitate to use violence or to threaten and endanger the lives of those whose valuables they seized.—Judg. 9:25; Luke 10:30, 36; 2 Cor. 11:26.
The original-language terms rendered “rob” and “robber” can also refer to withholding from another what is rightfully his, or getting things from others by fraudulent means or by appropriating to one’s own use that which one was obligated to give to others. By failing to pay tithes for the support of true worship at the temple, the Jews of Malachi’s time were ‘robbing God.’ (Mal. 3:8, 9) Proverbs 28:24 speaks of one robbing his father or his mother, evidently meaning depriving his parents in some way of what was rightfully theirs. Jesus Christ condemned the money changers for having made the temple into a “cave of robbers.” This suggests that the money changers were charging exorbitant fees for their services.—Matt. 21:12, 13.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “Other congregations I robbed by accepting provisions in order to minister to you.” (2 Cor. 11:8) There was nothing fraudulent about Paul’s receiving provisions from others. But evidently he spoke as though he had robbed those congregations in the sense of having used what he had received from them to supply his needs while laboring, not with them, but in behalf of the Corinthians.
In some cases ‘stealing’ may refer to the justified act of taking what one has a right to take, the emphasis being on the stealthy manner in which the act is executed. For example, Israelites ‘stole’ the body of Saul from the public square of Beth-shan. (2 Sam. 21:12) The aunt of young Jehoash saved his life by ‘stealing him away from among his brothers,’ who were killed by wicked Athaliah.—2 Ki 11:1, 2; 2 Chron. 22:11.
CONDEMNED BY GOD
Most of the Biblical references to stealing, however, pertain to the unlawful taking of what belongs to someone else. Jehovah’s law to Israel explicitly stated: “You must not steal.” (Ex. 20:15; Lev. 19:11, 13; Deut. 5:19; Matt. 19:18) A thief had to make twofold, fourfold or as much as fivefold compensation, depending upon what the Law outlined. If he could not do so, he was sold into slavery, evidently regaining his freedom upon making full compensation. (Ex. 22:1-12) In addition to making compensation, the disgraced thief (Jer. 2:26) was to bring a guilt offering and have the priest make atonement for his sins.—Lev. 6:2-7.
Eventually the nation of Israel came to disregard these laws and, as a consequence, Jehovah allowed robbers and thieves from within and without to plague the nation. (Deut. 28:29, 31; Ezek. 7:22) Fraudulent practices, especially the oppression of poor and needy persons, became common.—Isa. 1:23; 3:14; Jer. 7:9-11; 21:12; 22:3; Ezek. 22:29; Mic. 2:2.
While the thief who steals for hunger’s sake may not be as reprehensible as one who, like Achan and Judas Iscariot, steals out of greed and because of a bad heart (Josh. 7:11, 20, 21; Prov. 6:30; Matt. 15:19; John 12:4-6), those desiring God’s approval cannot be guilty of thievery. (Isa. 61:8; Rom. 2:21) Although Christians are not under the Mosaic law, they are under command to love their fellowman. “Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor”; therefore, thievery has no place among Christians. (Rom. 13:9, 10; Matt. 22:39; Jas. 2:8) Any thief wanting to live under God’s kingdom rule must repent of his former course of conduct and learn to do hard work for a living. (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 4:28; 1 Pet. 4:15) And the genuinely repentant ex-thief can rest assured of Jehovah’s forgiveness.—Ezek. 33:14-16.