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Moses broke the Commandment 'Thou shalt not steal' (Ex 20:15) - why? He also broke the Commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' (Ex 20:13). What is the Bible telling us here?

Ex 3:21, 22 - And I will grant this people such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that when you leave, you will not go away empty-handed. Every woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.”

Ex 12:35, 36 - Furthermore, the Israelites acted on Moses’ word and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. And the LORD gave the people such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that they granted their request. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.

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  • Please include a specific reference with your questions to prevent the question being closed.
    – Dottard
    Jun 14, 2022 at 22:54
  • This question is highly interesting - and as is often the case, is ambiguous. Having read it now at Ex 3.21 and Ex 12.35, it is true they ask permission - but it says 'but every woman shall BORROW of her neighbour'! Interesting word used in the KJV. ' And ye shall SPOIL the Egyptians'; presumably this means 'triumph over', or ''defeat',again kind of implying a less than consensual set of actions? Again at Ex 12.36 'so that they LENT unto them such things as they required'. It doesnt say anywhere that they GAVE unto the Israelites... so this is certainly worth studying on, perhaps.
    – j kovacs
    Jun 14, 2022 at 23:56
  • "Borrow" (of the KJV) is a most unfortunate translation of שָׁאַל which simply means to ask, enquire, request, etc. I has no connotation of borrowing.
    – Dottard
    Jun 15, 2022 at 2:36
  • Ok... I think the word 'lent' is the more problematic - the gold and silver etc were to my mind, either given with complete agency - or effectively 'stolen'... maybe it's a quibble, a mistranslation of the KJV, or maybe something more is contained within the narrative.
    – j kovacs
    Jun 15, 2022 at 2:55
  • We can only interpret the text we have as explained in my answer.
    – Dottard
    Jun 15, 2022 at 3:06

5 Answers 5

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Just as a side note, Deuteronomy 15 says:

12 And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. 13 And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: 14Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. 15 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt much longer than a mere six years, so according to the above principle they had earned everything the Egyptians gave them.

Additionally, the Israelites asked and the Egyptians freely gave. The only issue there may be incorrect translation from Hebrew.

Keep in mind that all of that wealth was later donated by the people as the materials for the tabernacle. Which pictures as a whole and foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ. He redeemed us from the power of Sheol and death (He plundered the devils' domain). And since then He has been building His temple where we, the believers, are the materials and ”a willing offering unto the LORD” (Exodus 35:29).

5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2)

19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2)

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  • Great answer, thankyou.
    – j kovacs
    Jun 16, 2022 at 0:00
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There seem to be two relevant Hebrew words used in both those passages of scripture. Consulting the book below, this is what I gleaned under the word SPOIL:

"5. To snatch away - natsal. Exodus 3:22 borrow,.. and ye shall spoil the Egyptians. Exodus 12:26 lent unto them... and they spoiled the Egyptians." (Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p 926, Robert Young, 8th edition, based om the A.V.)

Interestingly, Young's own translation of the Bible renders those verses as:

[God speaking to Moses from ch.3 verse 21] 'And I have given the grace of this people in the eyes of the Egyptians, and it hath come to pass, when ye go, ye go not empty; and [every] woman hath asked from her neighbour, and from her who is sojourning in her house, vessels of silver. and vessels of gold. and garments, and ye have [put] them on your sons and on your daughters, and have spoiled the Egyptians.'

[Moses writing the account of after the death of the first-born not covered by blood on the lintels, Exodus 12:35-36] And the sons of Israel have done according to the word of Moses, and they ask from the Egyptians vessels of silver and vessels of gold, and garments; and Jehovah hath given the grace of the people in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they cause them to ask, and they spoil the Egyptians.

Bear in mind that this is dealing with the Hebrew word 'spoil', where it has the meaning of 'to snatch away'. We all know that there are lawful occasions for snatching away. It is lawful to snatch someone away from a spot where they would suddenly, and immediately, be killed. In that case, the snatching away saves a life. It is lawful. It is not stealing a soul as in kidnapping a soul. That would be a wicked thing to do. That's not what is going on here.

The second relevant Hebrew word is shaal, to lend, and it occurs in Exodus 12:36 which reads (in the A.V.) "...so that they lent unto them such things..." However, Young's own literal translation reads, "And Jehovah hath given the grace of the people in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they cause them to ask, and they spoil the Egyptians."

This is where Young's concordance shows the difference between lending, as in lending money or goods, which need to be repaid, and the meaning of the word used in Exodus 12:36.

"LEND, to - 1. To cause to join, lend, lavah, 5. Exodus 22:25 If thou lend any money to any of my people... 6. To suffer to ask, shaal 5. Exodus 12:36 [as quoted above].

This shade of difference in meaning is shown by two different words being used. The word for lending money or goods, that need to be repaid, is not the word used in the texts you ask about. The concordance shows that, when the Israelites asked, they were given those things, and that was because Jehovah God caused the Egyptians to look favourably upon the Israelites when they asked, so as to hand over what was asked for.

God had promised that they would exit Egypt with much spoil (i.e. lots of wealth and goods), and so they did, because they did what God told them to do, and asked for those material items. No way could that be construed as 'stealing'!

Nor does the account suggest they were 'fleeing', as your question puts it. They were told to leave, post haste, by Pharaoh! Read Exodus 12:30-33. He'd had enough of them and of Jehovah's plagues! He finally wanted rid of them, and not only gave them permission to leave, but urged them to leave, and allowed them to leave laden with goods his people had given to them.

To answer your question in summary - nobody stole anything from the Egyptians when the Israelites triumphantly took their leave, at Pharaoh's urging.

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There are two questions that I will address separately.

You shall not "kill"

The verb used in Ex 20:13 is רָצַח (ratsach) which means, here, to murder, to kill illegally. The commandment does NOT prohibit killing more generally, else all the animal sacrifices would have been illegal. Therefore, recognizing this, most modern versions correctly translation the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder".

Moses was personally guilty of murder when he murdered an Egyptian in Ex 2:14. However, this is the only case where Moses is recorded as killing anyone. (That does not excuse the action at all, but simply states that this is the only instance we know of.)

"You shall not steal"

The verses quoted by the OP in Ex 3:21, 22, 12:35, 36 is not an example of stealing from the Egyptians because, as clearly stated, the Egyptians willingly gave the Israelites much material.

(Stealing is defined as taking something from another without their consent.)

CONCLUSION

While Moses was clearly guilty of murder for killing an Egyptian, neither he nor the Israelites were guilty of stealing.

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  • This is why he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, but could only view it from Mt Pisgah; a pagan hilltop site (see Balaam and Balak's story) - overlooking the 'field of Zophim' - the field of the Watchers (from which semi-divine lineage Moses came). It is two verses after he looks across the river Jordan into Israel that he dies, and is buried in a valley in the land of Moab; a tribe stemming from the lineage of Lot and his daughter. The word Moab means 'who is your father?/ 'the waters of the Father' pointing to this inner narrative of Moses. (Deut 34.5).
    – j kovacs
    Jun 15, 2022 at 0:57
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We are not told this in order to imitate it. And we can --- if we must -- have a good opinion or a bad one. I chose to think that since no blame is attached, what Moses did was good

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  • Welcome to BH. Yes, I agree. When scripture does not censure a person, it is unwise to publish a condemnation of them. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 15, 2022 at 14:38
  • Isnt it right to consider people's actions by the yardstick of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God for mankind's betterment?
    – j kovacs
    Jun 15, 2022 at 14:50
  • WE are given the Commandments for that but because we are I don't think he would have acted immorally. I wish I had the excellent compendium of Jewish commentary on this section by Nehema Leibowitz
    – user40388
    Jun 15, 2022 at 14:54
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Thieves. Think of this, if the Bible was true than plaques hit the land. People died. First born of Egypt as the last plaque. Why the hell would the donate their silver and gold to the people they believed caused all the trouble???

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