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.”
It is good to meditate on the Ten Commandments. As Christians, because of the cross, we are no longer under the Law (Gal. 2:10-24; 3:24-25; Rom. 6:14; 7:1, 4, 6). Nevertheless, God’s Law in the Mosaic Covenant is profitable and instructive for the Christian.
It is inspired by God, reflective of a righteous character, full of wisdom for living, and insightful on the nature of man. The Ten Commandments occupy the heart of the Law. They convey a timeless standard for personal ethics of a life lived in the presence of God and governed by God.
Earlier in my Christian life, I tended to minimize the tenth commandment – which forbids coveting. I considered it to be a nice add-on the other nine. After all, after grievous sins like murder, or adultery – it didn’t seem that extreme. Furthermore, “coveting” went a little further than conjuring up images of toddlers fighting over a nursery toy. However, this closing commandment speaks in a penetrating way to one of the basic roots of all sin. It points to how indwelling sin corrupts a God-given, fundamental exercise of the soul.
The Hebrew word for “covet” in its most neutral definition, means “to desire.” It is used positively in several passages. In Genesis 2:9, the fruit which God grew for Adam was “desirable to look at”. The attraction of the bride for her beloved is a celebrated desire in Song of Solomon 2:3. In Psalm 19:10, David righteously “desires” God’s Word beyond wealth. In this sense, we can see that it is a normal “exercise” of the soul, and good when rightly directed. So then, to obey the Tenth Command is not to shut off the “desiring muscle” of our soul-in fact that would be a self-defeating, impossible endeavor. Rather, it directs our desires in a God honoring way. This kind of desire for good things, is normal, natural, right and God-honoring. In fact, Scripture encourages us to desire: our spouse (Song 2:3, Prov 5;15-19; Eccles. 9:9, 1 Cor. 7:2-5), good food (Gen. 2:9, Eccles. 2:24, 3:13, 9:7), and His Word (Psalm 119:40, 174(. And there are many more good desires for us to cultivate and pursue, God himself being our first (Psalm 42:102).
The Tenth commandment doesn’t prohibit us from exercising the desiring function of our soul. It does however, forbid us from desiring what is not ours – this is what it means to “covet.” It warns against desiring in selfish, self-exalting and destructive ways that dishonor God and harm others. God has rightly forbidden this.
Coveting is desiring as it has been corrupted by sin. It grasps and longs for what God has forbidden, being deceived that it is actually good. It was a root feature of the very first sin. Genesis 3:6 “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.” Coveting is the root of sexual sin and adultery (Exodus 20:14, 17; Prov. 6:25; Matt. 5:27-28). And, while coveting is happening in the soul, inevitably, there can’t also be desire for God and good things, nor gratitude, praise, contentment, and love for God. Coveting makes for an entrapped soul, stuck worshiping at the feet of some creature-like idol.
Brothers and sisters, don’t get stuck there spiritually. Check your soul for coveting, and be quick to confess and forsake it. Many sins of action could have been avoided if they were uprooted at coveting. I encourage you this week, to aright your desires before God…and your desire for God.
More on this to come,