Ezekiel 18:7b - The Righteous Man Does Not Steal, But Instead Feeds the Hungry and Clothes the Naked

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

This may seem like an odd pairing. Who could argue with the prohibition against robbery? But how is robbery connected with the obligation to give food to the hungry and provide clothing for the naked? As with Ezekiel 18:7a, the connection is the requirement to care about the economic wellbeing of the other. In this case, however, the "other" is not the counterparty to a commercial transaction, but simply another person encountered in the course of daily life. If you meet people with an item they need but you desire, you are not permitted to rob them of it. If you meet people who lack an item they need but you possess in excess, you are required to give it to them, or at least meet needs as basic as food and clothing.

Behind this somewhat jarring admonition lies God's economic law: we are stewards, not owners, of all that we have. We are to see wealth as common-wealth because all that we have is God's gift for the purpose that there not be any poor among us (Deuteronomy 6:10-15; 15:1-18). This is clear in the laws requiring the canceling of debts every seven years and the redistribution of accumulated wealth in the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25). Once every fifty years, God's people were to rebalance wealth in the land as a remedy to the evils that are endemic in human society. In the intervening years, they were to live as stewards of all they possessed:

  • "You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God. You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely" (Leviticus 25:17-18).
  • "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants" (Leviticus 25:23).
  • "If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God" (Leviticus 25:35-38).

Ezekiel's decree in Ezekiel 18:7b is not directly related to the theology of work because it has little to do with the actual production of things of value. Instead, it is a part of the theology of wealth, the stewardship and disposition of things of value. But there can be a connection. What if you were to work for the purpose of meeting someone else's needs rather than your own? While that precludes robbery, it would also motivate you to work in such a way that provided food, clothing and other necessities for people in need. An example would be a pharmaceutical company that puts a compassionate-use policy into the planning of a new drug. So would a retail company that makes affordability a key element of its business model.  Conversely, this principle seems to rule out a business that can succeed only by charging high prices for products that do not meet real needs, such as a pharmaceutical company that produces trivial reformulations in order to extend the terms of its patents.