Two common misconceptions must be eliminated if we are to understand the meaning of [the Eighth] Commandment. First, the Commandment does not refer only to inanimate property. The Hebrew word is used in connection with both property and persons, and in Exodus 21:16 we read of “manstealing,” i.e., kidnapping, which is a capital crime. This commandment clearly forbids not only the theft of property, but also the removal of innocent persons against their will.
The second misconception is that the Ten Commandments, including this one, apply only to private individuals and not to governments. This notion, which has absolutely no foundation in Scripture, illustrates how far we have gone toward deifying government, for it is attributing divine qualities to rulers to say that they in their official (or private) capacities are exempt from the law. The Commandments, as both the Bible and the Westminster Confession say, bind all men without exception. Rulers and governments are commanded not to steal, murder, covet, lie, or do any other act prohibited in the moral law. Zacchaeus the tax collector stole from the people, and upon his regeneration he recognized his subordination to the moral law. King Ahab broke the Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Commandments in desiring and taking Naboth’s vineyard. John the Baptist in Luke 3:14 specifically applied the moral law to an agent of the government. There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that governments are above the moral law. And that moral law, as we have already seen, includes a prohibition on manstealing. Yet what are national service and the draft if they are not manstealing? There is no moral distinction between the actions of a private individual who kidnaps a person and a government that drafts its subjects under color of law. Both actions are clear violations of the Eighth Commandment.
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