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November 2006 Table of Contents

 
 

The Ten Commandments, Part XVII: Thou Shalt Not Covet
By Mike Baugher

In Romans 7:12, the apostle Paul says, “Wherefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”  This statement is a conclusion that he draws concerning the value of the Ten Commandments—holy, just, and good.  Paul could very well have been answering the same spirit that is charged against those who love the Law of God today. 

Paul is saying, “Do not think for a minute that there is anything wrong with the Law of God!”  There are a number of people today who are challenging the Law of God, saying that it has been done away with.  And, indeed, they, as those in Paul’s day, may very well be appealing for the justification of such a thing.  But Paul says, “Do not even think such a thing!  The law is good; it serves a purpose.  It is righteous; it is holy, and it is good.”

The Psalmist confirmed this when he wrote, “The law of the Lord [is] perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord [is] sure, making wise the simple.”  Psalm 19:7. 

As we have gone through this series on the Ten Commandments, we have seen that indeed the intent of the law is to point out sin in a way that directs us to the Saviour.  It is not the purpose of the commandments to save us.  The commandments are there to point out the sin so we may be directed to the Saviour, find grace, find mercy, and ultimately be saved because we have sought Him. 

The Law of God is perfect and eternal.  It contains depth that we do not comprehend as we superficially read the law.  If you just read the Ten Commandment Law, and you think that your duty and your responsibility is to just keep the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law, you have missed the point.  The law goes much, much deeper than that.  It is very comprehensive; it is immeasurable, and it encompasses every virtue within the range of human duty.  It also strictly and directly prohibits every sin within the reach of human conduct.  It contains the whole duty of man.

Full Circle

The Ten Commandments complete a full circle.  Basically the law does not just start with the first commandment and end with the tenth commandment, because when we end with the tenth, we are back around to the first again.  Making a full circle, we find ourselves back at the beginning.  It is like the Bible.  The Bible is not just Genesis to Revelation.  When we finish Revelation, we can be directed back to Genesis again.  It is a circle, and it is a whole. 

The Bible begins with the creation of man in the perfect setting of the Garden of Eden, and when John closes the Book of Revelation, we see that the story of redemption has completed itself to the extent that we find man back in his perfect, restored state in the Garden of Eden again.  So the Bible is circular, as is the Law of God. 

The Ten Commandments, beginning with the first which deals with the worship of the true God, we will see again in Ephesians 5:5: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”  The apostle Paul puts covetousness into the setting of the whole law, dealing with all aspects of the law—anything that is unclean.

The Tenth

In Deuteronomy 5, from where we have been studying the Ten Commandments, we read: “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any [thing] that [is] thy neighbour’s.”  Verse 21. 

As I have mentioned before, there are some changes in the commandments as they first appear in Exodus 20 and as they appear in Deuteronomy 5.  Did you catch what the difference is in this commandment, other than the first word, “neither”?  Moses adds one word here; he says: “You are not supposed to covet your neighbor’s field.”  So we see that there is a difference in the wording of the commandments, including the tenth one. 

Covetous Defined

We can look longingly at the automobiles on a car lot, not recognizing our desire as coveting, because the cars do not belong to a specific individual.  Or we can look out across the countryside at beautiful houses and say, “I wish that I had that house.”  This expresses excessive desire.  But Webster says that it is excessive desire concerning wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.  While it appears that there is a prohibition concerning just what belongs to our neighbors, in reality, anything that is not ours belongs to someone else, and our clamor to obtain it constitutes covetousness. 

Some of the synonyms of covetous are: greedy, acquisitive (not inquisitive but acquisitive), grasping, and avaricious.  Webster goes on to say that, “Greedy stresses the lack of restraint and often of discrimination in desire.  Acquisitive implies both eagerness to possess and ability to acquire and keep.  Grasping adds to covetous and greedy an implication of selfishness and often suggests unfair or ruthless means.  Avaricious implies obsessive acquisitiveness [acquiring] especially of money and strongly suggests stinginess.”  Ibid. 

It is interesting to note, as we go through these definitions that the synonyms Webster gives for the word covetous itself, reveal that this is probably one of the areas of life that we almost applaud!  Almost every advertising campaign that is launched today bases its advertising on this concept of covetousness.  The advertisers usually try to flavor their advertisements with all kinds of desirable objects in an attempt to enhance the desire for the object that they are trying to sell.  They try to get us on a two-pronged approach, not only from the object of advertising but from the object itself, so this commandment is tremendously flouted today.  

Covetousness is Unrighteous

In looking through the Bible, we find that a goodly amount of Scripture deals with the sin of covetousness.  Paul wrote again, concerning this, in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, which basically says the same thing as Ephesians 5:5, but it is a little more defined: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?  Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” 

Notice that when Paul says “unrighteous,” then a list follows that defines those things that are unrighteous.  The one thing to which we need to pay attention in this list of sins is that covetousness is placed with those that are considered to be the grossest sins.  Right in the very middle of all these sins that we find very distasteful is covetousness.  It is a sin that, when left uncontrolled by the person who can control it, grows until it completely possesses that person and corrupts his or her character. 

Undetected

This is a sin that goes undetected except by the persons themselves.  I think this is probably the reason why this sin is listed as the last commandment.  There is a sequence to the commandments, starting with “Thou shalt have no other gods.”  If we can make that application in our lives, then we can move down to the next one, that says, “Do not make any graven images,” and down to the next one that says, “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain,” and then “Remember the Sabbath day,” and on through the relationships between man and man.  Once we can focus on all of those, once we get all of those together in our thinking, we can with the Psalmist say, “The law of God is perfect, converting the soul.”

A conversion process occurs that can take a man of wretchedness and turn him around.  I do not know that any of us can actually understand it, except by what we see transpiring in our lives—but it is there.

So, as we have made our way through God’s Law, we find ourselves at that tenth commandment that declares, If you can be judged by all of these others from an outward appearance, once you get to the tenth, you have to judge yourself.  You have to deal with that.

A Heart Matter

Ellen White wrote: “Satan carries out his plans well.  As the servants of God appoint meetings, Satan with his angels is on the ground to hinder the work.  He is constantly putting suggestions into the minds of God’s people.”  Early Writings, 267. 

From this quotation, we can see how covetousness makes a foothold in our minds.  If we have gone through the sequencing of the commandments and have been converted to God, but we have not quite yet come to the tenth commandment, the devil is going to get on our trails like we would not believe!  He may not put thoughts of covetousness into our minds, but Ellen White says that he and his angels work on God’s people and that he puts suggestions into their minds.

Covetousness is the only sin that deals with the heart in terms of an internal way that cannot really be seen from the outside.  If the devil can put those thoughts into our hearts, into our minds, we need to be very, very careful of guarding our hearts so that he is not able to put those thoughts there. 

Continuing, Ellen White wrote: “He leads some in one way and some in another, always taking advantage of evil traits in the brethren and sisters, exciting and stirring up their natural besetments.”  Ibid.  What are “their natural besetments”?  Well, “their natural besetments” are those weaknesses of the flesh that are either inherited or cultivated.  The devil knows what those inherited and those cultivated tendencies may be for each one of us, so he puts thoughts into our minds of covetousness.  As a warning to us, God put in place a commandment to deal with all the various aspects of this, which can be magnified even farther beyond just the word.   

“If they are disposed to be selfish and covetous, Satan takes his stand by their side, and with all his power seeks to lead them to indulge their besetting sins.”  Ibid.  Now, that is alarming!  

Battle Raging

We are in what is called the great controversy.  There is a battle raging for our souls, and the devil is going to do anything and everything that he can to destroy us, not only from this earth but also from any inheritance into eternal life.  Remember that we earlier read that the unrighteous are not going to inherit eternal life, and the list of sins that are associated with unrighteousness. 

Ellen White also wrote: “Covetousness, selfishness, love of money, and love of the world, are all through the ranks of Sabbath-keepers. . . .   Those that have this covetousness in their hearts are not aware of it.  It has gained upon them imperceptibly.”  Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4b, 26.  This sin cannot be seen on the outside of those suffering from it.  We cannot see into others’ minds.

In Testimonies, vol. 1, 141, we read: “Worldly-mindedness, selfishness, and covetousness have been eating out the spirituality and life of God’s people.”

Camouflaged Covetousness

Allow me to ask the question: Do you think covetousness is a problem for Seventh-day Adventists?  I think it is.  Some of the things that we can see that are manifested from covetousness, we do not specifically identify as covetousness, but it becomes an outgrowth of that.  As an example, say that a man and a woman get involved in a personal relationship.  There is a little saying that suggests that a man chases a woman until she catches him.  It works both ways, but there is a chasing that occurs, and sometimes, once the catching takes place and the two begin to bond into a relationship, one or the other begins to treat the other individual very meanly and very badly and to take advantage of them.  Sometimes it even turns into physical abuse.  There are shelters now to protect individuals from such things, but we have probably all observed such a relationship at some time.

This is kind of a twisted example of covetousness, because a person can desire someone, and, after the conquest is over, the motivation for going after that person has been a covetous, greedy motivation, not love.  It is really a lustful kind of motivation.  As we study the Bible, we find that the word lust and the word covetous are interchangeable.  In the Strong’s Concordance (James Strong, New Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1985) you will find the same Greek word, epithumia, can be translated one way or the other, as lust or as covetous.

In a relationship such as I described above, the man or woman, instead of building the relationship on love, appreciation, and companionship, becomes possessive, when the challenge is over, and greedy.  The attitude of “you are mine; you will do as I say,” is displayed.  In this attitude of covetousness, the other person is treated as a possession or a piece of property that the other person has sought after and now owns.  This is why many of these relationships turn so bad.  That is how covetousness works.

Selfish Orientation

The whole orientation of a covetous person seems to be about himself or herself.  We might often hear from such an individual, “What about me?”  I will never forget an experience that I had several years ago.  I was called to a home to pray for and anoint a lady who was quite ill.  This lady’s mother and husband were in the home when I arrived.  The husband and I went into his wife’s sick room, and I talked with them to ascertain where their experience with the Lord was before doing the anointing.  After the anointing and the prayer were over, we opened the bedroom door and went into the living room where the mother was waiting to come into the bedroom, thinking that the anointing had not yet taken place.  She was on fire when she learned that the service was completed.  “What about me?” she demanded.  “What about me?  I am the mother.  What about me?” 

What about me? is basically the motivation for a covetous person—What about me?  What do I get out of this?  Why cannot I have what others have?  They have a house along the lake; why cannot I have a house by the lake?  They have a new car; why cannot I have a new car?  He has a beautiful wife; why cannot I have a beautiful wife?—Everything is about “me.” 

The interesting thing is that this commandment covers all of these areas and says, You need to search your own heart and make sure what your own motivation is, so that you are right in all of these areas.

Application for Today

From Deuteronomy 5:21, look at the things that are meaningful to us today.  This was not something that Moses wrote 3,500 years ago and has no application to us today.  It definitely has application to us today. 

“Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife.”  We could save so much pain in society today if that was followed!  So that is very applicable today.

“Neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house.”  We could certainly make application of this as well.  

What does it mean, Thou shalt not covet “his field”?  This is actually referring to the aspect of supplying the needs for sustenance of life.  In our time we might say, “Thou shalt not covet his job.”  This is where political maneuvering, ladder climbing, and all of these kinds of things come into play so we can get into position to get the right job.  In the Bible, the reference is made to a man who had a field from which he got his sustenance to support not only himself, but his family as well.  The command is, “Do not make any move toward the man’s field.” 

“. . . or his manservant.”  It is not uncommon for a company to attempt to entice a prized employee from a competitor or other company.  The manservant is seen as something that is valuable for the sake of greediness.  Is it applicable today?  You better believe it is applicable today!  “. . . or his maidservant” falls into the same category. 

“. . . his ox” is part of the machinery that is necessary for the man to earn his living.  An ox was a “tractor” in the days of Moses.  At that time, a person might desire to have the man’s ox—his “tractor” or “farm implement”—so that he could do his work better and more efficiently. 

“. . . his ass.”  It is an interesting point that Israel always had, as its mode of transportation, the ass.  The people did not ride horses.  As a matter of fact, as we read Scripture, we find that there was a very strong disapproval of Israelites having horses, notwithstanding King Solomon.  The reason for this was that horses were considered implements of war.  God wanted His people to be agrarian; He did not want them to be covetous.  He did not want them to overreach, so they were not horse people; they were donkey people.  That was the means of transportation for the Israelites.  What is our means of transportation today?  We do not have donkeys that we ride today, but we have automobiles and all kinds of other conveyances.  These may be necessary, but God says that we are not to covet what belongs to someone else. 

And then comes what may be called a blanket statement: “Do not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.”

When we stop and consider the practicality of such a commandment as this, we see that, in reality, it produces a great degree of harmony and peace of mind.  The people who are always out there wanting to grab ahold of something that does not belong to them are generally very unhappy individuals.  Happy is the man who is content with his lot.

Parallels

There are many parallels to which covetousness gives birth, and, in its ultimate, covetousness is the seed that can produce the plant of violation of every other one of the Ten Commandments. For example, consider these.

First Commandment: Coveting tempts us to the violation of the first commandment, which prohibits the worship of gods other than Jehovah.  Polytheism is the worship of many gods, or at least of two or more.  Mammon is one of the most popular gods that has been a silent rival for worship.  Jesus said that the worship of mammon and of Jehovah is incapable of being compatible with one another.  He said, “You cannot have them both.  You have to choose one or the other.”  (See Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13.) 

Many people have tried, silently, to covet after mammon and yet worship God at the same time.  Ultimately, they must make a decision at some point.  Jesus said that, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.”  Matthew 6:24. As is so often the case, mammon wins.  Material wealth and possessions command attention of God’s people in ways that they should not. 

Job gave some wise counsel when he said, in Job 31:24, 25, 28, “If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, [Thou art] my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth [was] great, and because mine hand had gotten much; . . .  This also [were] an iniquity [to be punished by] the judge: for I should have denied the God [that is] above.”  He recognized a choice must be made between mammon and God, and he chose God.

Second Commandment: What about the second commandment?  We do not have to go to the heathen in mission lands in order to find worshippers of images.  There are plenty of idol worshippers of gold and silver, stocks and bonds, real estate and business.  This worship is going on all the time, and it is never really identified in the area of sin as it should be, because it is a sin of the heart.  It is something that can be concealed, and nobody else can know that it is happening.

Third Commandment: Coveting leads us to violate the third commandment, which deals with sacrilegious falsehood.  An example of this is found in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

Gehazi, you may remember, was Elisha’s servant.  Seemingly, in the earlier part of his life, he was a dedicated man, but when Naaman was healed, Gehazi could not stand the fact that Elisha did not take any reward for this.  Elisha was a man of God; he was a man who stood for God’s name; he did not take God’s name in vain.  Gehazi, who also professed to be a follower of Jehovah, decided that he would go after some reward, so he denied the name of God for the purpose of covetousness.  Swift judgment came upon him because of his sin of covetousness.  (See 11 Kings 5:20–27.)

Ananias and Sapphira selfishly tried to retain part of the pledge they had made to God.  As a result, they lost everything that this earthly life could hold for them, including eternal life.  (See Acts 5:1–10.)  Again, their sin is an example of what can come to one who has a covetous nature. 

Fourth Commandment: Does covetousness cause the violation of the fourth commandment?  Breaking of the Sabbath always comes through a motivation of covetousness.  One of the primary violations of the fourth commandment is that of employment.  People choose to work on the Sabbath for the sake of their employment.

We can be tempted to play during the Sabbath hours for the sake of our own personal pleasure.  We can be tempted to buy or sell for our own convenience.  Violation of the Sabbath really boils down to the sin of covetousness that starts in the heart.

Fifth Commandment: The fifth commandment can be trampled through covetousness, tempting the young person to forget parental counsel that limits wants and desires.  A covetous spirit may also keep children from honoring parents and attending to their needs as they grow older.

Sixth Commandment: The sixth commandment concerning murder has been broken to satisfy the cravings of a covetous mind.  It was Judas’ love of money that lured him into the betrayal of his Lord into the hands of murderers.  Writing of Judas, Ellen White stated, “How tenderly the Saviour dealt with him who was to be His betrayer!  In His teaching, Jesus dwelt upon principles of benevolence that struck at the very root of covetousness.  He presented before Judas the heinous character of greed. . . .

“Instead of walking in the light, Judas chose to retain his defects.  Evil desires, revengeful passions, dark and sullen thoughts, were cherished, until Satan had full control of the man.”  The Desire of Ages, 295.

Seventh Commandment: Being tempted into adultery comes from a direct violation of this tenth commandment that says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours wife.”  A Bible example of this is found in the story of David and Bathsheba.  (See 11 Samuel 11:3–17.)  The length to which this violation can carry a person is revealed there.  What a shame the sin of covetousness brought upon the nation of Israel. 

Eighth Commandment: Covetousness tempts us into the violation of the eighth commandment that says, “Thou shalt not steal.”  This, of course, is what led to Achan’s downfall.  (See Joshua 7:18–26.)  “The deadly sin that led to Achan’s ruin had its root in covetousness, of all sins one of the most common and the most lightly regarded.  While other offenses meet with detection and punishment, how rarely does the violation of the tenth commandment so much as call forth censure.  The enormity of this sin, and its terrible results, are the lessons of Achan’s history.”  Patriarchs and Prophets, 496.  Achan sold his soul for “a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight.”  Joshua 7:21.  What a cheap price for forfeiting eternal life! 

Ninth Commandment: The ninth commandment, bearing false witness, also has its basis in covetousness.  How often have we heard people lie about someone or something to better their own positions?  As discussed previously, covetousness is motivated by the selfish attitude of “me.”

How very important for us to follow Jesus’ counsel: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”  Luke 12:15.

All of the commandments deal with the issue of covetousness rooted in the heart.  If this sin is not dealt with between ourselves and God, we are destined to violate openly the Ten Commandments, and, ultimately, we can lose everything in the end. 

Importance of the Ten

We must realize just how precious the Ten Commandments are to us, as a people. As we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.”

God means what He says.  The Ten Commandments are revealed in all the stories and documentation of Scripture.  It all comes down to Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  There is the whole duty of man.

Sixth Commandment: The sixth commandment concerning murder has been broken to satisfy the cravings of a covetous mind.  It was Judas’ love of money that lured him into the betrayal of his Lord into the hands of murderers.  Writing of Judas, Ellen White stated, “How tenderly the Saviour dealt with him who was to be His betrayer!  In His teaching, Jesus dwelt upon principles of benevolence that struck at the very root of covetousness.  He presented before Judas the heinous character of greed. . . .

“Instead of walking in the light, Judas chose to retain his defects.  Evil desires, revengeful passions, dark and sullen thoughts, were cherished, until Satan had full control of the man.”  The Desire of Ages, 295.

Seventh Commandment: Being tempted into adultery comes from a direct violation of this tenth commandment that says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours wife.”  A Bible example of this is found in the story of David and Bathsheba.  (See 11 Samuel 11:3–17.)  The length to which this violation can carry a person is revealed there.  What a shame the sin of covetousness brought upon the nation of Israel. 

Eighth Commandment: Covetousness tempts us into the violation of the eighth commandment that says, “Thou shalt not steal.”  This, of course, is what led to Achan’s downfall.  (See Joshua 7:18–26.)  “The deadly sin that led to Achan’s ruin had its root in covetousness, of all sins one of the most common and the most lightly regarded.  While other offenses meet with detection and punishment, how rarely does the violation of the tenth commandment so much as call forth censure.  The enormity of this sin, and its terrible results, are the lessons of Achan’s history.”  Patriarchs and Prophets, 496.  Achan sold his soul for “a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight.”  Joshua 7:21.  What a cheap price for forfeiting eternal life! 

Ninth Commandment: The ninth commandment, bearing false witness, also has its basis in covetousness.  How often have we heard people lie about someone or something to better their own positions?  As discussed previously, covetousness is motivated by the selfish attitude of “me.”

How very important for us to follow Jesus’ counsel: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”  Luke 12:15.

All of the commandments deal with the issue of covetousness rooted in the heart.  If this sin is not dealt with between ourselves and God, we are destined to violate openly the Ten Commandments, and, ultimately, we can lose everything in the end. 

Importance of the Ten

We must realize just how precious the Ten Commandments are to us, as a people. As we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.”

God means what He says.  The Ten Commandments are revealed in all the stories and documentation of Scripture.  It all comes down to Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  There is the whole duty of man.

A retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher may be contacted by e-mail at: landmarks@stepstolife.org.

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