The Protection of Property

The Law

Exodus 20:15 Do not steal.

It is a self-explanatory concept, but many have difficulties with it. The prerequisite of robbery is property ownership. There is no stealing if private property does not exist. A prerequisite of a different kind to theft is stated below.

Exodus 20:17 Do not covet your neighbor's house; do not covet your neighbor's wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Without taking the first step of coveting, the final destination of stealing is never made. Moving boundary lines in an effort to plunder was apparently common practice as shown below.

Deuteronomy 19:14 You are not to move your neighbor's boundary marker from the place where people put it long ago, in the inheritance soon to be yours in the land ADONAI your God is giving you to possess.

It was a practice held to by government officials as well.

Hosea 5:10 The leaders of Y'hudah are like men who move boundary stones; I will pour my fury out upon them like water.

The Wells of Abraham

  • Genesis 20:14-15 Avimelekh took sheep, cattle, and male and female slaves, and gave them to Avraham; and he returned to him Sarah his wife. Then Avimelekh said, "Look, my country lies before you; live where you like."
  • Genesis 21:25 Now Avraham had complained to Avimelekh about a well which Avimelekh's servants had seized.
  • Genesis 26:12-14 Yitz'chak planted crops in that land and reaped that year a hundred times as much as he had sowed. ADONAI had blessed him. The man became rich and prospered more and more, until he had become very wealthy indeed. He had flocks, cattle and a large household; and the P'lishtim envied him.
  • Genesis 26:15-16 Now the P'lishtim had stopped up and filled with dirt all the wells his father's servants had dug during the lifetime of Avraham his father. Avimelekh said to Yitz'chak, "You must go away from us, because you have become much more powerful than we are."
  • Genesis 26:17-19 So Yitz'chak left, set up camp in Vadi G'rar and lived there. Yitz'chak reopened the wells which had been dug during the lifetime of Avraham his father, the ones the P'lishtim had stopped up after Avraham died, and called them by the names his father had used for them. Yitz'chak's servants dug in the vadi and uncovered a spring of running water.
  • Genesis 26:20-23 But the herdsmen of G'rar quarreled with Yitz'chak's herdsmen, claiming, "That water is ours!" So he called the well ‘Esek [quarrel], because they quarreled with him. They dug another well and quarreled over that one too. So he called it Sitnah [enmity]. He went away from there and dug another well, and over that one they didn't quarrel. So he called it Rechovot [wide open spaces] and said, "Because now ADONAI has made room for us, and we will be productive in the land."
  • From there Yitz'chak went up to Be'er-sheva.
  • Genesis 26:24-25 ADONAI appeared to him that same night and said, "I am the God of Avraham your father. Don't be afraid, because I am with you; I will bless you and increase your descendants for the sake of my servant Avraham." There he built an altar and called on the name of ADONAI. He pitched his tent there, and there Yitz'chak's servants dug a well.
  • Genesis 26:26-31 Then Avimelekh went to him from G'rar with his friend Achuzat and Pikhol the commander of his army. Yitz'chak said to them, "Why have you come to me, even though you were unfriendly to me and sent me away?" They answered, "We saw very clearly that ADONAI has been with you; so we said, ‘Let there be an oath between us: let's make a pact between ourselves and you that you will not harm us, just as we have not caused you offense but have done you nothing but good and sent you on your way in peace. Now you are blessed by ADONAI.'" Yitz'chak prepared a banquet for them, and they ate and drank. The next morning, they got up early and swore to each other. Then Yitz'chak sent them on their way, and they left him peacefully.
  • Genesis 26:32-33 That very day Yitz'chak's servants came and told him about the well they had dug, "We have found water." So he called it Shiv‘ah [oath, seven], and for this reason the name of the city is Be'er-sheva [well of seven, well of an oath] to this day.

In Genesis 20:15, Abimelech gave Abraham the right to live any where in the country. Isaac, the son of Abraham, presumably inherited the same right. In Genesis 21:15, the trouble begins with the wells Abraham dug. According to Genesis 26:15 & 20-21, the herdsmen of Gerar destroyed and appropriated the wells Isaac and his father had dug.

Wells were the life source for economic activity in those days. Gardens and herds do not do to well in desert environments without water holes. The wells are essential for survival.

What was the reason for the deprivation of property? Verses 12 - 14 show very clearly what the motive was. Isaac had become wealthy, and the Philistines were envious. So in reaction, the Philistines set off to dismantle the origin of Isaac's wealth in verse 15.

Isaac approaches the king for justice. We do not know this from scripture, but this is standard practice. Abimelech's statement in verse 16 appears to be a response to a question from Isaac something along the lines, "hey what's up with this!? Your people are stealing form me and destroying my belongings!". But Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, refused to punish the wrong doers; that is, he refused to perform his job as governor. His reasoning is listed in verses 16 and 28: "Isaac must be forced to leave, for he has become more powerful than us", and "Adonai was with Isaac (upon seeing the blessings mounted upon Isaac, see verse 12)". So fear of Isaac (or his power) and the fact that Isaac had a mighty God led Abimelech to refuse taking up his duties as king. We must not forget that there existed popular pressure from the philistines not to stand up for Isaac. In the truest sense, he gave into democratic peer pressure instead of standing up for what was right.

Abimelech's fear is in direct contrast to the happenings in 6 - 11. First, Isaac was fearful that he would be overtaken by the people of Gerar. Then, Abimelech promised to protect Isaac. When Isaac was no threat, the king did his job - but when Isaac was powerful enough to protect himself, the government considered him a threat, although he had done no wrong.

Adding insult to injury, after first ravaging Isaacs property, they annexed two sets of wells dug by Isaac. Again Abimelech decided against doing the right thing. Stealing always has priority over vandalism, for the benefit is greater; who destroys that which one could easily expropriate? If the herdsmen of Gerar were capable of stealing the first well, they would have done it. But after they saw that they could cause damage with impunity, in that the king did not stand up for righteousness, they sought to repeat the same act, but this time with profit.

We see the same "logic" in the heads of citizens and politicians today. When a company gets "too big", or an individual "too rich", the typical voting citizen becomes envious, and the politicians fearful. The envy turns to hate, and the politicians begin razing and expropriating the property belonging to the rich with a wink & a nod from the citizens. Eventually the citizens and government join forces in one accord to sabotage and steal from a common "enemy". Somewhere buried in all of the "justifications" for confiscating the property of others is, "he is too wealthy and / or too powerful". Today's catch phrases imitating the childlike maturity and envy of the herdsmen of Gerar are, "social fairness", "economic justice", "some have too much & therefore must give back", and "monopoly".

In effect, we have laws that criminalize productive work. The Bible commands us to work and produce. Under the Abimelech policy, those who are very success in this biblical act, are punished.

What is interesting about the end of this story is that Abimelech treats Isaac, as if he were equal to the king. This is only the case since Isaac had military power. Otherwise Abimelech would have treated him as a "subject of the realm". Isaac presumably could have "taken Abimelech on" and won, but chose to allow himself to be robbed, voted with his feet, and move elsewhere.

Ahab and the Vineyard

1 Kings 21:1-3 A while later, an incident occurred involving Navot the Yizre‘eli. He owned a vineyard in Yizre‘el, right next to the palace of Ach'av king of Shomron. Ach'av spoke to Navot and said, “Give me your vineyard, so that I can have it as my vegetable garden, because it's close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard; or, if you prefer, I will give you its monetary value.” But Navot said to Ach'av, “ADONAI forbid that I should give you my ancestral heritage!”

1 Kings 21:4-7 Ach'av went home resentful and depressed at what Navot the Yizre‘eli had said to him, since he had said, “I won't give you my ancestral heritage.” He lay down on his bed, turned his face away and refused to eat. Izevel his wife went and said to him, “Why are you so depressed that you refuse to eat?” He answered her, “Because I spoke to Navot the Yizre‘eli and said to him, “Sell me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it”; but he answered, “I won't give you my vineyard.” “Are you the king of Isra'el or not?” asked his wife Izevel. “Get up, eat some food, and cheer up! I will give you the vineyard of Navot the Yizre‘eli.”

1 Kings 21:8-10 So she wrote letters in Ach'av's name, sealed them with his seal and sent the letters to the leaders and notables of the city where Navot lived. In the letters she wrote, “Proclaim a fast, and give Navot the seat of honor among the people. Have two good-for-nothing men sit opposite him, and have them accuse him publicly of cursing God and the king. Then take him outside and stone him to death.”

1 Kings 21:11-13 The leaders and notables of the city he lived in did as Izevel had written in the letters she sent to them. They proclaimed a fast and gave Navot the seat of honor among the people. The two good-for-nothing men came in and sat opposite him, and these scoundrels publicly accused Navot, saying, “Navot cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death,

1 Kings 21:14-16 then sent a message to Izevel, “Navot has been stoned to death.” When Izevel heard that Navot had been stoned to death, she said to Ach'av, “Get up, and take possession of the vineyard that Navot the Yizre‘eli refused to sell you, because Navot is no longer alive; he is dead.” When Ach'av heard that Navot was dead, he set out to go down to the vineyard of Navot the Yizre‘eli, to take possession of it.

The story speaks for itself. Government greed rises to the occasion. The politician's wife, not content with her lot in life, hatches a plan to divert real estate. This is done in the name of, "I am king, right, I can take what I want!" The rightful owner is slandered by liars and convicted of alleged crimes. The observer must be astute when the government slanders another - especially when that person has something of value desired by the government.

The thoughtful should pause for a moment when politicians seek to increase taxes "big corporations" and those who are "filthy rich". We must be aware that being successful is not a crime, nor is possessing something the government would like to consume itself.

Author: Scott Wallace Brians
Date: October 2005
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Bible Text: Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern