Let me start out by saying that I was a thief! Yes, and this may come to a surprise to my mother, but as a child I would steal from her.
I grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York City. We lived in poverty. I didn’t really understand what that meant as an adolescent boy, but my mother and her husband worked hard to pull themselves out of the constant lack of finances.
My mother hid our poverty with Christmas gifts and once-a-year school shopping trips.
In our house we had a plastic piggy bank that was not shaped like a pig, it was a man with a yellow rain coat. We called him Barney, but he wasn’t from the Flintstones.
It was my mother’s public savings account and every so often she would make a deposit of pennies and other small change. Every day, I could see it as I went about my limited responsibility as a child — thinking and doing child things.
Every day a candy truck came into the neighborhood, playing a song like a Pied Piper, calling all the children in our ghetto to come and get sweet treats.
Yes! It’s true, we had to wait for candy, snacks, soda and small toys to drive into our neighborhood in order for us to have daily access to goodies. Even though we had a neighborhood store, the candy truck would come straight into our collection of 6, 13 storied buildings. The truck was called, Johnnies, and it is still in operation up to this day with the same owner/driver John Patrilo (see recent picture below).
One day I ran from my 13th floor apartment, down the stairs and into the cul-de-sac (in our poverty we called it “a dead end.”). He was in the street with flocks of children, like pigeons after breadcrumbs, surrounding him.
I had a few dollars of Birthday Money left and looked over the insane amount of choices pictured on the side of the modified bread truck. Even as a kid, I was looking to get as much as I could for the money I had and chose about 2 or 3 items of lesser quality so that my money would stretch. If I couldn’t get more for less, than I certainly wanted more for the same.
When it was my turn, I moved up to the window, which was cut out of the side of the truck and I was ready to make my order. Then I saw something behind Johnny.
It was a small display of Matchbox Cars. They were amazing to look at and I asked, “How much?” and Johnny said “One dollar.” Unbelievable, those cars were at least $1.99 at Thriftway (the main street shopping center).
I decided to get a toy car and a snack.
I want to say that I fell in love with Matchbox cars on that day, but in actuality, I fell in lust. The car itself did things that the other, lesser cars I had, didn’t do. Like, when you pushed them, all the wheels turned and the car would zoom and careen into the foot of my dresser.
It was like they had greased the wheels of this car, that fit into the palm of my child hands.
This is usually where stealing begins. You want something you can’t really afford and instead of being patient until your Birthday Money is replenished, you begin to think about “not” having something.
I wanted those cars, but I knew at that price, the cars would be gone by the time my birthday came around or some other rare “money” event.
Barney stood quietly keeping his treasure hidden within. I watched him and he watched me. He didn’t speak, but I knew what he was saying.
He was saying, “Your mother doesn’t know how much money she has in me.” His eyes never moved, but I knew he could see me when I walked by.
It was true, my mother just put in pennies and nickels. I picked him up and he was at least halfway full. I turned him upside down and the hole at his feet had a soft plastic disc. The money wasn’t even stored like other piggy banks, where you had to break it to get at the treasure.
No, Barney, would allow me to take out what I needed without anyone knowing.
Over the course of a year, I increased my toy car collection and my mother never seemed to notice that I was stealing from her.
If she had, she would have stopped me and corrected me. She would have told me that I didn’t need to steal because she would provide me with the things that I needed and sometimes, she’d give me a little more. She wouldn’t have let me steal, because she was a grown up and understood things I couldn’t until I got older. She understood that stealing would get me into serious trouble when I became an adult.
People are Always Stealing Gods
Judges 18 tells us the story of something similar. It is about a group of people, called the Danites. They were one of thirteen family groups (tribes) and eleven of the other tribes had been given a piece of property, but not them.
So they sent out spies to go and scout the land, hoping to find land that they could take. The Danites knew that all the land had someone living on it, so they had to see who was weak enough and wealthy enough for them to take the land by force.
Those spies came across a man named Micah and stayed at his house.
As they came to Micah’s house, they recognized a young man and new that he was a Levite. The Levites were one of the 13 tribes but they were not given a promise of property (that’s why they are normally called 12 Tribes). The Levites property was unique in that God said that He would be their property.
This Levite worked for Micah as Micah’s own personal priest. This isn’t what God had instructed the people to do. There were no Personal Priests in God’s agenda, the priests were all His.
The Danite spies ask the Levite to ask God if they would be successful in their mission to scout the land and provide a place for the Danites to conquer. The Levite said, “Yes.”
They went out from Micah’s house and was successful in their recon mission. On their way back to their tribe, they returned to Micah’s house.
In the religious culture of the People of Israel, they were taught that the LORD God of Israel was One. He wasn’t one among many. He was the One and True God and all others were false gods. He also instructed them not to create any image to represent who He was because since He was the Creator of everything, how could the Creation represent His true likeness.
However, when these spies came to Micah’s house, they stole the idols that Micah had and the other superstitious items that the Levite used when communicating to God.
The spies took the Levite’s words as if they were coming from God and they took those false gods and the Levite back to their people.
They stole gods. They stole gods that had no power, but gods that they could possess in their hands.
Why does God command us not to steal?
Stealing shows a lack of reliance on God. He will provide for you if you follow Him. But we don’t want to follow Him and still expect the blessing of provision. Then, we rationalize that stealing is okay.
I wanted those cars and rationalized that I should have them and stealthily stole from someone who loved and cared about me. I was a dumb kid, I was small and ignorant but those feelings were real to me and I acted on those feelings of desire.
The little plastic image we called, Barney, became my source for provision. If I couldn’t get it from my mother, than I will get it from him.
The Danites did the same thing. They lusted after the supposed power of the idols in Micah’s house and wanted to possess that power.
This was their failure, and they would continue to spread the disastrous outcomes of their failure to their families and nation. They forgot that there is only One God and even though they were not acknowledging Him, He was the cause of their success.
What is God telling us through this story?
God wants us to respond to this story in Judges 18 with an attitude of reliance and repentance. We must rely on Him to provide for our needs, and we also must repent, because we have stolen from others to get that daily bread.
You might be thinking, “I’ve never stole from anyone.” That might be true, but have you stolen from God?
Abundance is from God. Prosperity is from God. Your breath is from God. Have you taken what God has given and used it in a way that isn’t pleasing to Him?
Thank God for Jesus.
Jesus came into our existence so that we can stop stealing from God and others. He came to bring us life and life more abundantly and connected that abundance to a life dedicated to following Him and the One who sent Him.
But wait, there’s more…
He not only gave us His Son, but His Son has sent us His Holy Spirit. When we submit our ways of doing things to the Holy Spirit’s way of doing things, we slowly begin to lose our desire to steal. Our desires begin to change as the Holy Spirit empowers us to become more like Jesus. Jesus never stole. He only gave…everything!
Father I thank you that I had that experience with my idol, Barney. I am grateful that my foolishness as a kid didn’t affect Your love for me. I repent from my thinking that other things and people will satisfy my desires, when I should have been trusting in You. I’m sorry, please forgive me.
Jesus, thank You that Your blood covers a multitude of my sins. You see all of my sins, some are worse than stealing money, and yet, You forgave me. Thank you for that forgiveness and I walk in that forgiveness.
Holy Spirit, thank you for being able to reflect on my behaviors. Thank you for making the Word alive as I read it and then You point to times in my life when I acted just like those Bible characters. They were real people as I am a real person. The only difference is that they did not have You living in them. I sometimes forget that You are living with in me, when I am awake and when I am asleep.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Ford Pickup Truck Matchbox