Are you guilty of legal theft?

Have you ever hired a baby-sitter? Have you ever eaten out at a restaurant where you were expected to leave a tip? Did you ever hire someone to mow your lawn? If so, did you pay them fairly and honestly. Would they say that you were fair and honest?

The books of James and Colossians have some verses that tell us how to treat people who work for us, but first, let’s look at an example of disguised theft.

Genesis tells us about Laban and Jacob. They were related, but their relationship was full of dishonesty and deceitfulness. First, Laban agreed to give his daughter Rachel to Jacob as a wife in exchange for 7 years of service; however, Laban deceitfully gave him his daughter Leah instead and then demanded 7 more years of service for Rachel.

Gen. 29:15 ¶ Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?”

Gen. 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Gen. 29:17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.

Gen. 29:18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Gen. 29:19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.”

Gen. 29:20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Gen. 29:21 ¶ Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.”

Gen. 29:22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.

Gen. 29:23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her.

Gen. 29:24 Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.

Gen. 29:25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?”

Gen. 29:26 But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.

Gen. 29:27 “Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.”

Yes, Laban “honored” his original agreement and gave Rachel to Jacob; however, he did it in such a way that he got more labor out of Jacob than originally agreed to. Plus, he forced Jacob to marry Leah in addition to Rachel.

Next, we read more about Laban’s dishonesty. Notice the word “cheated”. How did Laban cheat Jacob.

Gen. 31:3 Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

Gen. 31:4 So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah to his flock in the field,

Gen. 31:5 and said to them, “I see your father’s attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me.

Gen. 31:6 “You know that I have served your father with all my strength.

Gen. 31:7 “Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.

Gen. 31:8 “If he spoke thus, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth striped.

Gen. 31:9 “Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me.

Gen. 31:10 “And it came about at the time when the flock were mating that I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the male goats which were mating were striped, speckled, and mottled.

Gen. 31:11 “Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’

Gen. 31:12 “He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you.

Gen. 31:13 ‘I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’”

Gen. 31:14 Rachel and Leah said to him, “Do we still have any portion or inheritance in our father’s house?

Gen. 31:15 “Are we not reckoned by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and has also entirely consumed our purchase price.

Gen. 31:16 “Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.”

Gen. 31:17 ¶ Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels;

Gen. 31:18 and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac.

Laban tried to cheat Jacob by changing his wages. For example, if Jacob’s wages were all the striped sheep and Laban saw that there were more striped than spotted sheep, then Laban would change Jacob’s wages so that Jacob got the spotted sheep instead of the striped sheep, and vice versa. Instead of willingly honoring the agreements he made with Jacob, Laban was always trying to figure out how he could change their agreements and get away with paying Jacob less than what they had agreed to. Fortunately for Jacob, Yahweh saw what was happening and protected Jacob; therefore, despite Laban’s efforts, Jacob became wealthy.

After Jacob left, Laban pursued Jacob. Notice in the following verses that we have another example of theft, but this one was not committed by Laban.

Gen. 31:19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s.

Gen. 31:20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing.

Gen. 31:21 So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:22 ¶ When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled,

Gen. 31:23 then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”

Gen. 31:25 ¶ Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword?

Gen. 31:27 “Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre;

Gen. 31:28 and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly.

Gen. 31:29 “It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.’

Gen. 31:30 “Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?”

Gen. 31:31 Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.

Gen. 31:32 “The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

Gen. 31:33 ¶ So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent.

Gen. 31:34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them.

Gen. 31:35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.

Next, Jacob confronted Laban about his dishonesty.

Gen. 31:36 ¶ Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me?

Gen. 31:37 “Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two.

Gen. 31:38 “These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten the rams of your flocks.

Gen. 31:39 “That which was torn of beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it myself. You required it of my hand whether stolen by day or stolen by night.

Gen. 31:40 “Thus I was: by day the heat consumed me and the frost by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes.

Gen. 31:41 “These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times.

Gen. 31:42 “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had not been for me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, so He rendered judgment last night.”

Gen. 31:43 ¶ Then Laban replied to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, and the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?

Gen. 31:44 “So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me.”

Gen. 31:45 Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar.

Laban did not outright “steal” from Jacob the way Rachel stole from Laban, but Laban’s actions were still dishonest. Laban made agreements with Jacob and then acted deceitfully to take advantage of Jacob and avoid paying Jacob what Jacob deserved.

What about you? Are you honest with people you hire, or are you deceitful like Laban? Do you leave a tip when you are expected to, or do you take advantage of the fact that the law does not require you to leave a tip? Do you look for creative reasons to avoid paying people what you promised to pay them, or do you gladly pay them what you owe them?

Consider the following verses:

Col. 4:1 ¶ Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.

James 5:4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

God is watching everything we do. Yes, there are ways we can legally get away with not paying people what we owe them, but we need to remember that God is watching and He knows when we have been dishonest.


Further Reading

Why should we obey God if we’re assured of going to heaven anyway?

What happens if we ignore God?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”