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You Shall Not Covet...

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,

 thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant,

nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. (Exodus 20:17)

By Steve and Mila Thompson, Midnight In America

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“Thou shalt not covet…” is the last of the Ten Commandments given by God to Israel.  Yes, given to Israel, not just Moses (Exo 19:9, 20:1, 20:18-19).


Most people do not think much of this last commandment, and to many it seems the ‘least’ of all of the ten.  Surely, it is not as bad as murder, adultery, stealing, etc., right?  It is also listed last, and that, to the human mind, implies that it is not as significant as the other nine.  However, a closer look at this commandment will reveal that the sin involved with coveting can be the most subtle and one of the most dangerous kind


First, just what is ‘coveting’? 


Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘covet’ as: “To wish for earnestly, to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably; to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another”.


That sounds innocent enough, and it seems that this can be easily avoided.  But is that really true?  I will relate a recent experience that I went through, which God used to teach me about this commandment, and the dangers coveting presents.


I often recite the Ten Commandments in my mind.  I do this in order to remind myself of them, and I do it whenever I am tempted to sin.  All sin can be traced to the breaking of one of these commandments.  It is much easier to avoid sin, no matter how big or small it seems to us, when we link that sin to a commandment.


As I pondered the commandments, I thought of my natural human tendency to resist them and my weakness in keeping them without the Spirit of God to help me.  Whenever I got to ‘number ten’, I would think that I had pretty much conquered coveting.  In my mind, I no longer coveted for anything.  I did not desire the materialistic things of the world that many of the people with whom I come into contact possess.  Yes, I was pretty proud of myself.  That should have set off an alarm in my brain, but it didn’t.


One day I was standing out on my deck in the back of my house.  I noticed that my next-door neighbor had recently installed a new central air conditioning system.  The unit was huge, and when it ran it was as quiet as a mouse.  I then thought of my own unit, installed in 2002, which is much smaller and has given me a lot of headache. So, as I looked at this new unit my neighbor had installed I wished I had one just like it.  I then started to wonder how my neighbor could afford such a unit, and then I tried to figure out how I too could afford one.  At that moment, I got a Word from the Lord.  It was very subtle and simple, yet it hit me like a ton of bricks.  He said to me, “You see there!”


I must admit that I broke out into laughter.  Not because I was ignoring the fact that I had just sinned, and that is very serious.  I laughed because of the way the Lord showed me my own folly.  It was quite clever, but it was also deadly serious.  I had let pride convince me that I was above coveting (or breaking this commandment).  The Lord showed me my pride, and showed me that I could easily succumb to the temptation to covet.  I now thank the Lord for my neighbor’s air conditioning unit.  Every time I go outside I look at it, and it serves as a constant reminder to me of my mistake.


It is not necessarily a sin to want something.  We purchase things every day that we either need or want.  However, there is a fine line between simply liking something and thinking for a moment that we would like to have it, and coveting that object. 


To covet something is to embrace a desire that becomes so strong that it begins to take you over.  You become obsessed by it.  (Actually a demon is behind it.  All obsessive behavior is demonic in origin.)


Let’s look once again at that definition of ‘covet’:


“To wish for earnestly, to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably; to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another”.


The difference is obvious.  Once we begin to dwell on the object of our desire, as I did, that is when we begin to covet.  If left unchecked, it can grow into something greater in evil.


One might say, “Ah, but if I desire something that is in a store, that is not breaking the commandment for it says you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  So, is this true?  Let’s take a closer look, and try to look at this from God’s view, not ours.


Everything in this world, except for the air we breathe, belongs to someone.  An item sitting on the shelf of a store belongs to the inventory of the owner of that store.  If the store is a corporation, then it belongs to multiple people.  There is no getting around it.  To take this a step further, God is the ultimate owner.  He owns everything because He created everything (John 1:3), regardless of what men might think.


Buying what we covet does not erase the sin.  It is the lust for the item that is sin.  Further, if we buy something that is beyond our means, that too is sin.


That was a technical, physical look at the issue.  Being Christians, we are also to look at things from a spiritual perspective.  We must strive to think as God thinks.


The wisdom of God is beyond our ability to understand without His help.  That wisdom shines with His placing this commandment ‘last on the list’.  Why?  Because breaking the tenth commandment can, and will lead to the breaking of any of the previous nine commandments if we let it.


Coveting causes us to break the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment:


    "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"

    And He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'

    "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

    "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Mat 22:36-40)


Covetousness is one of the foul characteristics of selfishness. Selfishness is an ugly idol of the Self, which is ever busy pleasing, serving and worshiping itself. Self is a killer of love for God and another human being. That is why selfishness breeds every sin imaginable. All commandments are broken because of it; and all sins ever committed have selfish motivations (pride is just another side of selfishness).


When we covet, we display a lack of love, and do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind.  Something else is then present in our being that we, at that moment, love more than God.  Likewise, if we covet something that belongs to our neighbor, we display a lack of love. For how can we love someone against whom we have evil thoughts and desires?  Coveting leads to jealousy, jealousy leads to bitterness and resentment, resentment leads to hatred, and hatred leads to even more evils.  These are not traits associated with love.


In the materialistic driven society we live in today it is very easy to fall victim to the perils of disobeying the Tenth Commandment.  We are constantly bombarded with a huge variety of media to obtain physical objects and pleasures.  The world pushes us to covet.


It is ok to have wants and desires, and to fulfill them, in the right perspective.  God commanded the nation of Israel: “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.”  (Deu 14:26).  This was given to them in regards to the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a week-long assembly to rejoice in the Lord.


However, we should be content with what we have and not let our wants and desires develop into covetousness (Heb 13:5).  The covetous will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).  Desire and seek, first and foremost, the Kingdom of God.  The riches we will inherit from our loving Father are far greater than any physical desire or acquisition we have on this wretched earth.


We may say that coveting is a symptom, a sign of selfishness (like pain is a sign of a problem in the physical body system). That is why it is so important to guard ourselves against coveting, not underestimating it. Jesus teaches and calls us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love others as we love ourselves (and even more). For that to be possible, the idol of Self must be demolished. The less of Self we have left, the more love for God and man can fill our inner being. We are exhorted to crucify the old nature daily, in order that one day we can say about ourselves, like Paul did, “I do not live anymore, but Jesus lives in that body of mine”.


Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it. 

Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to covetousness. 

Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things,

And revive me in Your way (Psa 119:35-37, NASB).



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