You Shall Not Covet

INTRODUCTION: The Ten Commandments were given by the LORD to Israel, before they entered the land He had promised to them as an inheritance, with the LORD as their king. Christians should consider the importance of those commandments as they point us to Christ, so we may be prepared to receive our own inheritance in the kingdom of God. This last of the Ten Commandments addressing coveting, is possibly the most easily ignored of the ten. Even those who strive to follow the law of God are prone to exhibit this basic element of our fallen nature, for it cannot be consistently resisted without the help of the Holy Spirit.

NOTE: Numbers shown in angle brackets <> are the Strong's numbers to reference words from the original language, and AKJV denotes the American King James Version of the Bible.


A - The Tenth Commandment from God through Moses

"You shall not covet <02530> your neighbor's house, you shall not covet <02530> your neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor's." (Exodus 20:17 AKJV).

"Neither shall you desire <02530> your neighbor's wife, neither shall you covet <0183> your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is your neighbor's." (Deuteronomy 5:21 AKJV).

COMMENTS: Within this commandment is a list of items that were symbols of wealth and prosperity common for many centuries, and in our present era we can associate corresponding possessions of our day. The Tenth Commandment does not imply that the neighbor who has these material items has sinned, so the focus is on the one who allows envy of someone else to supplant contentment of how the Lord has provided for their own needs. Since coveting is a term of fairly strong emotion, there is even some implication that holding onto that feeling may motivate an individual to try to take from the neighbor, if that opportunity develops. The term covet can embody a positive meaning, so we need to be very careful to understand the manifestations of coveting that we must guard against, not allowing rationalization to disguise the true nature of our coveting that will be contrary to God's command.


B - Our character may be defined by the personal motivations we strongly desire or strongly dismiss

"Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness<01215>; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:" (Exodus 18:21 AKJV).

"When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted<02530> them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the middle of my tent, and the silver under it. ... And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them to the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why have you troubled us? the LORD shall trouble you this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones to this day. So the LORD turned from the fierceness of his anger. Why the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, to this day." (Joshua 7:21,24-26 AKJV).

COMMENTS: A very important character trait for leaders of large and small groups in God's chosen nation of Israel, was their personal abhorrence of covetousness, and the Hebrew term used in Exodus 18 tends more to the negative connotation than others that are also translated to this English term. Joshua took very decisive action when the Lord revealed to him a blatant act of covetousness by Achan that occurred when Israel overran Jericho as they first entered the land. The instructions from the Lord were as follows, "17 And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the LORD: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 And you, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest you make yourselves accursed, when you take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. 19 But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated to the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD." With clear direction from the LORD, Joshua had unusual authority to declare this death penalty judgment against Achan and his entire family. That action as carried out by "all Israel" also was to confirm the support of the entire community for the LORD's commands, and exhibit a strong deterrent to others in Israel who might consider the same path as Achan. The Hebrew term used in Achan's confession is one that can be either negative or positive, but Achan's motivation was greed, and he attempted to hide his action even though it would bring harm to many others in Israel. By these factors we know Achan's coveting in Joshua 7 was a matter of the heart in rebellion to God, even though in other circumstances the spoils of war would not be considered as goods unjustly taken from a neighbor. Who among us would want to be remembered in the way recorded for Achan?


C - Centuries after Israel entered the land, the writing of God's word had not changed regarding covetousness

"For the wicked boasts of his heart's desire, and blesses the covetous, whom the LORD abhors." (Psalms 10:3 AKJV).

"Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to covetousness." Psalms 119:36 AKJV).

"The desire of the slothful kills him; for his hands refuse to labor. He covets greedily all the day long: but the righteous gives and spares not." (Proverbs 21:25-26 AKJV).

"He that walks righteously, and speaks uprightly; he that despises the gain <01215> of oppressions, that shakes his hands from holding of bribes, that stops his ears from hearing of blood, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure. Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off." (Isaiah 33:15-17 AKJV).

COMMENTS: The two passages from Psalms contrast the actions of worldly desire to that of the man who seeks after the Lord, and asks for the heart change that will enable him to follow. The proverbs passage illustrates the type of person who is driven by dishonest gain rather than diligent work, and his course is said to kill him; but the one who is willing to share what he has is called righteous. Isaiah presents a beautiful word picture of the one who walks and speaks righteously, with coveting among things listed that he has avoided, and describing the continually sustaining benefits that are yet to come in the land of the King when he {our Lord} appears in all his beauty.


D - Covetousness was a major factor in Israel's decline and eventual dispersion

"And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." (1Samuel 8:1-3 AKJV).

"Yes, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain <01215>, from his quarter." (Isaiah 56:11 AKJV).

"Therefore will I give their wives to others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even to the greatest is given to covetousness <01215>, from the prophet even to the priest every one deals falsely." (Jeremiah 8:10 AKJV).

"And they come to you as the people comes, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness <01215>." (Ezekiel 33:31 AKJV).

COMMENTS: Even before the first king was established in Israel, the sons of Samuel demonstrated how leaders can take the course of covetousness, as Samuel's sons put their own desires first. Seeing this, the people went to Samuel and ask that he set a king over them before he died. Under King David, the last king anointed by Samuel, Israel had success in expanding territory and uniting the twelve tribes into a strong nation. However, after Solomon's death, Israel became a divided kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The people continued in decline as the prophets recorded how widespread and damaging the covetousness became, even among the priests and prophets themselves, until the children of Israel were dispersed by the Lord into captivity.


E - The new testament does not minimize covetousness

"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him." (Luke 16:13-14 AKJV).

"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet." (Romans 7:7 AKJV).

"But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints;" (Ephesians 5:3 AKJV).

"Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:" (Colossians 3:5 AKJV).

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:10 AKJV).

COMMENTS: How many Christians try to serve two masters, allowing the desire for temporal material wealth to divide our service to the master of our eternal soul? Since even non-Christians have some degree of moral standard, many may avoid the more generally accepted illegal or openly immoral acts, but Paul tells us that God's law should help us to recognize that covetousness is in the list with other reprehensible things to be avoided by a Christian who wants to honor the Lord. Paul told the Colossians that covetousness is idolatry; and he wrote to Timothy that the love of money is the root of all evil, and many who coveted after it have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not destroy it, and Christians now have His Spirit within us to direct us toward obeying the law as He enables us. Even in the Ten Commandments the LORD connected loving Him with obeying his commands wherein He said, "And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6 AKJV). The Lord Jesus did not alter this requirement as He also said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15 AKJV).


F - Reminders about avoiding covetousness while having the abundant life

"And he said to them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses." (Luke 12:15 AKJV).

"The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10 AKJV).

"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33 AKJV).

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21 AKJV).

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45 AKJV).

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5 AKJV).

"For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, You shall not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Romans 13:9 AKJV).

COMMENTS: How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. The temptations of material possessions and the luxuries of life can take our thoughts away from heaven. But that which seems to be so real and so fulfilling is only a shadow of true eternal existence. Possessions can be a blessing from the Lord if we do not allow them to become the objects of our affection and the desire of our heart. The Lord Jesus came in the form of a servant to bring others into relationship with Him, and those who are His disciples need to serve others even when they have positions of wealth or authority. There is nothing that we can give to the LORD God of material or knowledge, so we demonstrate our love to Him by lovingly giving to others. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith." (Romans 11:33-12:3 AKJV).


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord, I ask that you give me more understanding of the many ways that coveting may be manifested in my life, so I can avoid those things that result in my honoring you only with my lips and not with my whole heart. Teach me to continually seek your kingdom by reading your Word and practicing the conduct which is so often contrary to that of the world system. I want to be content whether in want or in plenty materially, knowing that you will never leave me or forsake me. When I have possessions, help me Lord to understand that I am only a steward of these temporal things, and show me ways to minister to the needs of others around me, but not neglecting their spiritual need in favor of physical needs alone. Guide me through those opportunities you present to share the gospel message of new life in Christ through belief in the heart and confession with the mouth, so others may become part of your kingdom. Amen.

Published 6 January 2009