Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
The Ten Commandments are the basis for biblical law. In these ten exhortations, we are commanded as God-followers to abide by these rules, which all have degrees of moral, civil, and ceremonial implications. Although we like to get down to the microscopic level and analyze the differences between these ten mandates, the truth is there is a certain continuity to the Commandments that we would do well to observe. Often, we spend our time discussing which commandments were on which tablets, focusing on the division of the Commandments, rather than discussing how each points to one another and emphasizing their unity in tone and nature. Coming to the final, tenth commandment, we have an excellent example of how we are dealing more than ambiguous statements, that we are dealing with a system of thinking.
The final commandments implores us not to covet what belongs to another. The Hebrew word chamad means “to desire” or “take pleasure in.” The act of taking pleasure or desiring something becomes sinful only when those things that aren’t ours, or when we grow discontented. The most explicit demonstration of sinful chamad is Eve, who was wooed by the crafty Serpent to the forbidden fruit:
Genesis 3:1-6 ESV, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Eve at this moment coveted in two ways. First, she was coveting the forbidden fruit. Notice the progression of how the fruit appeals to Eve. At first, Eve clearly indicated the serpent that this fruit was not to be touched. Once the serpent began to weave the seeds of deception into Eve’s heart, she started to look at the fruit differently. As Eve looked upon the fruit, deceived by the lies of the serpent, it appeared “good for food.” Eve began to rationalize the health benefits and taste of the fruit. As she looked at it longer, the fruit became delightful to look at; no longer was she worried about its benefits as much as she was about its attractive and enchanting nature. Finally, the fruit becomes “desired.” Eve, with her gaze fixed on the fruit, has moved from rationalization to enchantment to covetousness. She has to have the fruit, or she will be miserable.
Secondly, Eve demonstrated a spirit of covetousness because of the motivation for taking the fruit, which was that she desired to be “like God” (Gen. 3:5). Not only was Eve set on having this tantalizing image in front of her, but moreover, she had her sights set on what the fruit would serve as a means to bring her, a knowledge of good and evil and God-like status. Of course, her plan failed, like ours do as well. We often pursue self-sovereignty, deceiving ourselves into thinking we do not need God’s authority, that God will not see our sinful decisions.
Let’s take a brief moment now to see how this particular commandment weaves itself into the other commandments and the whole of Scripture. Coveting, we have seen, is at its core desiring something that doesn’t belong to us. A spirit of covetousness can reveal itself in more than just feelings of jealousy. To murder is to desire the death of someone when such authority doesn’t belong to us. Adultery is desiring relations with someone that doesn’t belong to us. Stealing is to take something we desire that doesn’t belong to us. Lying is often a desire to seek a result that doesn’t necessarily belong to us. Do you see the pattern? Coveting is often a summation of the final five commandments. But even inside of this, coveting manifests itself in idolatry, improper observance of the Sabbath, dishonoring our father and mother. All of the commandments flow together, and the act of coveting is no exception.
As Paul reminds us, coveting is also speaking to one central idea: loving your neighbor as yourself (Rom. 13:8-10). We see many acts in Scripture where coveting has overtaken men and women, such as Achan (Jos. 7:1), David (2 Sam. 11:3), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 4:2) to name a few. When we choose to fall into a spirit of covetousness, we are retreating to the days of the Garden, falling for the serpent’s crafty deceptions and promises that we can have what doesn’t belong to us.
To not covet is more than a disposition of jealousy. To covet is to not love our neighbors well. It is to not trust God to be our Provider. It is to feel that God is not capable of delivering what we need. It is to place a higher satisfaction on what we desire than God. Coveting is about not loving ourselves well, not loving our neighbor well, and not loving God well. No one wins in the scenario of covetousness. Thankfully, because we have this wonderful law of commandments, we realize our ultimate inability to perfectly keep these covenant commitments (Rom. 7:7), yet are awakened to the reality that God is able (Heb. 7:25). Through Christ has proved Himself a sufficient Provider, a faithful God that establishes and protects us (2 Th. 3:3). It is my prayer that the Lord will continue to protect and establish you and me against a spirit of coveting so that we may say with Paul:
Phil. 4:11-13, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”