One of the ways I can tell if a book concerning property rights is any good is if it complains about workers being thieves of time from their employers. The minute a book or a person uses that expression, it is fairly obvious that the person making the comment has no idea what they are talking about, nor any idea about the sort of theft of time that God condemns, and as a result they lose any sort of credibility. After all, someone can only be a thief of time if that time does not actually belong to them, if they are not the owners of that time, and there is only one being in the universe that has a right to complain about anyone stealing time, and that is God. Given the way that His time is stolen from him all the time, by ourselves and by many other people, it should come as quite a surprise that few people who claim about the theft of time show any regard for the Sabbath or its pivotal importance as part of God’s plan. Rather, those who complain about stealing time are usually the contemporary versions of the Pharaohs of Moses’ day seeking to grind the faces of the commonfolk into the dust with cruel and harsh labors for their own selfish benefit, and who act as if people are slaves and they are the owners of the time that belongs to others as stewards of what God has given to humanity.
When the Sabbath is spoken of in Exodus and Deuteronomy, there are two different justifications given for the commanded rests that ultimately are complimentary to each other and not contradictory at all. Exodus 20:8-11 reads: ““Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Meanwhile, Deuteronomy 5:12-15: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
What can we see about the ownership of time from the Sabbath, remembering of course that there is a lot more to the Sabbath than these commandments alone ? For one, there are two complementary claims for the ownership of time by God. The Sabbath rests on creation, making it something far beyond Judaism itself, but rather making it for mankind. As the Creator, God blessed the Sabbath day and gave it to mankind. For another, though, the Sabbath is at threat from the exploitation of employers. By reminding Israel of the heroic efforts undertaken to free them from slavery, God was giving them a not very subtle reminder that similar judgment would come to them if they failed to honor the Sabbath and free others from exploitative labor themselves. This is not simply a matter of personal interpretation either, or populist political grandstanding. The most obvious demonstration of the connection between the failure to respect the time and property of ordinary people and divine judgment comes in Jeremiah 34:8-22, and it is worth quoting in full: ”
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them: that every man should set free his male and female slave—a Hebrew man or woman—that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage. Now when all the princes and all the people, who had entered into the covenant, heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves, that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go. But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection as male and female slaves. Therefore the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘I made a covenant with your fathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, “At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother, who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years, you shall let him go free from you.” But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear. Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight—every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor; and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom you had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves.’ “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the Lord—‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth. And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it— the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf— I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth. And I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his princes into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their life, and into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army which has gone back from you. Behold, I will command,’ says the Lord, ‘and cause them to return to this city. They will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.’””
The harshness of this point is not to be understated. The Sabbath applies not merely to Jews nor even merely to other Israelites but to mankind as a whole, and any nation that seeks to be blessed by God and claim to have a covenantal relationship with God has some serious requirements as it relates to the Sabbath and liberty. Do these societies exploit laborers? Do they promise freedom and then refuse to forgive debts after seven years and set those who have been enslaved at liberty? If so, God promises to them destruction upon their cities. Has God visited this judgment upon the cities of the United States because of a commitment to slavery? Yes, this is what happened in the Civil War, it should be noted, and would have been entirely predictable to someone who took the commandments of God seriously, who understood that to steal time from laborers by considering what belongs to God and then to the people themselves as chattel property, and who understood that God promised judgment both in history and in eternity for those who steal from Him. If we want to be concerned about the thieves of time, we should first be concerned with those who steal from God by exploiting other people.
After all, there is a great deal about our contemporary application of calls to have a great work ethic that is screwed up. 2 Timothy 2:6-7, in speaking about our hard work as soldiers of God (Christians), Paul makes the following statement: “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” If work is to be hard, then the profits of that work are to be enjoyed first of all and most of all by those doing the work. Did not James also warn us in James 5:1-6: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.” There is no condemnation I would give that would be harsher against thieves of time than that given by James promising judgment and condemnation for those who exploit others. Let us make sure we are not numbered among that crowd.
Let us remember the example of Abraham Lincoln, or let us learn it if we are not familiar enough. A great deal of the personal passion against slavery that Abraham Lincoln had came with his ability to identify with the oppressed. How was this possible, you might ask? According to the laws of the time when Abraham Lincoln was growing up, the wages of children up to the age of 21 belonged to their parents, and so from his youth Abraham Lincoln was hired out as agricultural labor so that his father could collect his wages and profit from them. As soon as he became of age, Abraham Lincoln went far away from his family and never came back. He did not even go to his father’s funeral, and there was no reconciliation between father and son, in large part because Abraham Lincoln rankled over the exploitation that he had suffered as a child where his learning was hindered and his wages in hateful labor were not used for his benefit but rather for his father’s benefit. That was a theft that burned deep in Lincoln’s soul, and gave him the ability to feel personal horror and anger at those who stole the labor and exploited the just property of those they considered slaves. That empathy is something that is often lacking today among those who complain about petty theft while exonerating far worse robbers.
In light of such biblical commentary, it is remarkable that we must hear many people complain about thieves of time in support of those who steal far more time themselves. And, to be sure, we must be faithful people known for our integrity and the value of our service. Even so, the worst thieves of our time are not those people who look forward to the weekend, or those who manage to ensure a decent living for themselves despite the best efforts of others to exploit and cheat them, but rather those who make great profits off of the backs of others who do not benefit from their work, and whose exploitation and the cries of exploited workers has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts, and who have stored up for themselves great judgment that will not be turned aside unless it is repented of. So far I see little attitude for repentance, little concern for the well-being and dignity of others, little interest in making sure that the hardworking of any profession are the first to enjoy the fruits and the profits of their labor, and such theft will be judged at some point. Like Thomas Jefferson so many years ago, I too tremble to think that God is just and that His justice does not sleep forever.
 See, for example: