The command to not covet may be the root command guiding all of our interactions with anything, or anyone, outside of ourselves.
- Exodus 20:17 – Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
This command comes as the very last instruction of the Ten Commandments. And yet, wise men and rabbis over the millennia have commented that it may be the most significant commandment of the ten, as it relates to everything we do in life.
Let’s examine this a little closer. If we view the Ten Commandments in two sections, we can put the first five under one heading: “Commands that apply to God and his authority.” The second five can come under the the heading, “Integrity in interacting with others.”
We can see how abiding by the tenth commandment will reduce or eliminate our violation of commands 6-9. If we don’t covet, we are less likely to murder someone to get what they have. We will not seek adulterous relationships with other wives or husbands because we are not coveting or desiring them. We will not steal because we are not coveting things we don’t have. We are less likely to bear false witness against someone else or lie for selfish motives because we are not coveting.
As for the first five commandments, if we are not coveting just any type of spiritual experience, we can truly seek God only, and no other. We will not be led astray by the seductive nature of idolatry. We will not take his name in vain only to leverage our relationship with God for our own personal gain. We will not violate the Sabbath for personal gain, and we will abide by the God-given authority of our parents instead of believing we know what’s best for our own personal benefit.
Coveting does indeed seem to be at the root of all that is contrary to God and his purposes. In fact, prior to being mentioned in the Bible narrative at Sinai, the only other time the Hebrew root word is used is in relation to the trees of Eden.
- Genesis 2:9 – Yahweh God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
- Genesis 3:6 – The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
This pleasing appearance and desire for obtaining forbidden wisdom is the root of coveting, and Eve fell prey to its seductive allure. From this action has flowed everything contrary to God’s purpose in this world.
By contrast, the person of integrity stands against covetousness and everything that grows out of wicked desires for that which we do not have. The apostle John calls this covetous desire the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride.
- 1 John 2:15-17 – 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 everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s possessions – is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains forever.
If we are to do the will of God, it is to let these covetous desires go, and to seek to simply serve him in humility and in truth. It is to do the opposite of coveting: to give and bestow good will on all those around us. It is to consider the needs of others above our own, thereby eliminating our selfish desires.
Therefore, if you must covet something, crave and desire to only do what’s right in God’s eyes.
- Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
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