What Does it Mean not to Covet
According to the dictionary covet means:
- .To feel blameworthy desire for (that which is another‘s)..
- .To wish for longingly. To feel immoderate desire for that which is another‘s. 2
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says:
“… The Tenth Commandment prescribes, ‘Thou shalt not hamad covet,‘ which refers to an ‘inordinate, un- governed, selfish desire.‘ (BDB, p. 326).“ 3
As previously noted, our consumer economy is founded somewhat on the acceptability of coveting. The advertising industry exists to cause us to desire things we don‘t need. This is because either others have these things or we desire the image others have that go with them.
This passage identifies a number of specific items that are not to be coveted. These include: the neighbor‘s home, wife, staff, tools, or anything that belongs to someone else. Taking Christ‘s teachings about who is a neighbor, I think we can take this command to apply in a very broad spectrum. In the electronic age in one sense everyone is our neighbor.
We can immediately find two examples of what happens when one covets that which isn‘t one‘s own. The first example is that of a man of God, David. We find the account of this incident in 2
Samuel 11. The verses I'm sharing are 1-4, but you should read the entire chapter.
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king‘s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bath- ing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?“ So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.“ 2 Samuel 11:1-4 (ESV)
What is the result of the adultery, out of covetousness, with Bathsheba? Her husband Uriah was murdered through the machinations of David, there was a dead child, and continuing trouble in David‘s family over the remaining years of his life and beyond. Notice that first David looked on that which wasn‘t his and then coveted it.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world“ (1 John 2:15–16 ESV).
Look at God‘s response to David‘s actions in 2 Samuel 12: 1-15 (Tree of Life Version)
Then Adonai sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one was rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had an exceedingly huge flock and herd, 3 but the poor man had nothing at all, except one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished, and it grew up together with him and his children. It ate from his own morsel and drank from his own cup, and nestled in his bosom, and it was to him like a daughter. 4 Now a traveler came to the rich man, but he was unwilling to take one from his own flock or herd to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. Rather, he took the poor man‘s lamb and prepared it for the man that had come to him.“ 5 Then David‘s anger blazed hot against the man and he said to Nathan, “As Adonai lives, the man that did this deserves to die! 6 So he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did such a thing and showed no pity.“ 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says Adonai, God of Israel: It is I who anointed you king over Israel, and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I also gave you your master‘s house and your master‘s wives into your bosom, and I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. Now if that were too little, then I would have added to you so much more. 9 Why then have you despised the word of Adonai by doing such evil in My eyes? Uriah the Hittite you have struck down with the sword, and his wife you have taken to be your wife, and him you have slain with the sword of the children of Ammon 10 So now the sword will never depart from your house—because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 “Thus says Adonai: Behold, I am going to raise up evil against you from your own household, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 Indeed you have done it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and under the sun.“ 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Adonai.“ Nathan replied to David, “Adonai also has made your sin pass away—you will not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have made the enemies of Adonai greatly blaspheme, so even the child born to you will surely die.“ 15 Then Nathan went to his house. Then Adonai struck the child that Uriah‘s wife bore to David and he became very sick. child that Uriah‘s wife bore to David, and he became sick.“ (ESV)
The next account is that of another king who certainly couldn‘t exactly be called a man of God, and that man was King Ahab. This account is found in 1 Kings 21, and I‘ll read selected verses from the passages.
“Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.“ But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.“ And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen …“
Ahab was bent out of shape, and Jezebel came up with an idea to get him what he coveted.
&ldqo;So she wrote letters in Ahab‘s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ’You have cursed God and the king.‘ Then take him out and stone him to death.“
So Ahab got what he coveted. But, Elijah brought him God‘s word.
“Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab e$very male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin“ (1 Kings 21:1-4, 8-10, 21-22 ESV).
As Spock said to Stonn at the conclusion of Amok Time:
“After a time, you may find that having is not, after all, so satisfying a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true … "4
For us, this is a logical problem, because the Lord didn‘t put us here for “wanting.“ With the two examples we have seen, “taking“ is certainly contrary to what is expected of us. It obviously undermines whatever witness we have. God promised judgment on Ahab and Jezebel, and that judgment certainly came to pass.