REFLECT: Has my desire for another’s possessions or loved one turned into a preoccupation to get what I want no matter whose it is, or who it hurts?
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:17).
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have with you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).
In some respects the tenth and last commandment is the greatest of the last seven that are more horizontal and describe our relationship with one another. This last commandment gives the internal aspect because it focuses on the desires of the heart. If we keep this commandment, all the other commandments are more easily kept. No system of law has ever had a statute that deals with intent because there is no human way to enforce it. It goes beyond regulating outward acts to requiring us to control our inner thoughts. The Apostle Paul said it this way: We demolish arguments and every arrogance that raises itself up against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey the Messiah (Second Corinthians 10:5 CJB).
We need victory over our thought life more than anything else. Covetousness makes people greedy and causes them to steal. Covetousness drives people to sacrifice the lives of others, even to kill, for what they want. Covetousness gives rise to that uncontrolled lust that plunges people into adultery. Covetousness endangers mutual trust and causes people to lie about themselves and each other to gain money, power, prestige or praise. In short, this commandment covers a multitude of sins.
So what does it mean to covet? Does it mean to desire something? Absolutely not. Desires are a normal and healthy part of human life. Our desire for food makes us hungry. That’s how we maintain our health. Our desire for sex is a vital part of love and marriage. This leads to the creation of life. We desire approval and respect. That’s what makes us bathe ourselves and brush our teeth. Another legitimate desire is to get along with others for common goals within society. Basically, without desires we wouldn’t have life.
So does coveting mean desiring something that we don’t have? Not exactly. For example, many people attend college because they desire an education, something they don’t have. But this is not coveting. Almost everything we call progress, improvement or civilization has come from a desire for something we don’t have. Desire is even important in spiritual matters. The Apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 12:31, eagerly desire the greater gifts. Jesus also said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. No, coveting is not merely a desire for something, even something we don’t have.
Covetousness is a desire that runs rampant over the rights of others and even over one’s own reason. It is out of control desire that will injure or destroy to get what it wants. It’s not wrong for a man to want a house, wife or a car. But it’s wrong for him to want his neighbor’s house, wife and car. This kind of desire is different because a desire for someone else’s belongings plants the seeds of a willingness to lie, steal or kill in order to fulfill that desire. When we feel this type of desire we may even destroy or injure ourselves to get what we want. Covetousness is a normal desire gone terribly wrong. It says, “I want this and I will get it whatever it costs me, whatever the consequences.” A practical substitute for the word covet might be greed. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.397
Nathan the prophet saw it in King David (Second Samuel 12:1-13). ADONAI sent Nathan to King David after he had committing adultery with Bathsheba, his neighbor, and murdered Uriah, her husband. But instead of confronting him with the actual crimes he had committed, he told him a story. There was rich man who had a large amount of land with lots of sheep and cattle. One day one of his very best friends came to visit him and he wanted to have a great feast. But he didn’t go out and find one of his own sheep to slaughter, he took his sheep from a poor man who had only one little ewe lamb, a family pet. The rich man could have chosen a sheep from his vast herd, but he took the only lamb the poor man owned. Nathan pointed out that David was the rich man, and covetousness was David’s sin.
When Jesus came He taught that the cure for covetousness was to surrender to the Lordship of Christ. He wanted change from the inside out. He said that wrong ideas and wrong desires lead to wrong actions. No matter how pious our outer life may be, if we yield inwardly to covetousness, we are guilty of breaking the commandment. Only when we first seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness will everything else be given to us (Luke 12:31). To accomplish this change we need a new birth, a conversion, a change of outlook and a change of values. Since covetousness is a sin of the inner life, our supreme need is to be set right within our hearts.
Are you master or slave to your desires? The only way to change, to become master, is to surrender to Jesus Christ. We must find a new Master who brings us peace so that we can agree with the Apostle Paul and say: For to me, life is in the Messiah, and death is gain (Philippians 1:21 CJB). The only answer to covetousness is to find our delight in ADONAI. So the New Covenant teaches us not to covet by being content in Jesus Christ.398
Yeshua summarized the Ten Commandments by condensing them into two. He said that the first and greatest commandment was to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). Then He went on to say that the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). He concluded by boldly claiming that all the Torah and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:40). Christ was saying essentially that love for ADONAI (that is, obeying the first four of the Ten Commandments) and love for neighbor (that is, obeying the last six of the Ten Commandments) constitute the basic teaching of the TaNaKh.
Messiah understood love, the most positive force in the universe, as the total intent and thrust of the Ten Commandments. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger says much the same thing in his definition of love as “the medicine for the sickness of the world.” The combination of ingredients in God’s prescription for human happiness known as the Ten Commandments is guaranteed, if taken, to keep us spiritually strong and healthy. To obey His covenant stipulations is to receive His bountiful blessings.399
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017