Summary: Part 10 reviews Coveting and illustrates the message through the story of David.
The Ten Commandments Part 10
This is part ten of my series “The Ten Commandments.” This morning we will examine tenth commandment found in Exodus 20:17. It reads, “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 belongs to your neighbor.” I also want to call your attention to I Corinthians 5:10-11 which says, “I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one.”
These are some words that when you hear them you know that the acts they describe are wrong. Stealing. Lying. Adultery. Covet is one of those kind of words. Just the very sound of the word kind of gives you that “uh oh” feeling. When we hear the word this is what we hear: someone wants something that belongs to someone else and they want it a lot! But what is lost on many of us is this: when God prohibited coveting He did so because this is what the children of Israel were doing and in some cases, they were killing their neighbors in the process and were not being held accountable. So you see coveting is a very big deal to God, as are all of the commandments.
This commandment prohibits longing for (let alone attempting to acquire) anything that belongs to another. Deuteronomy 5:21 adds "his field" to this list. It is the last of the Ten Commandments, which are the introduction, basis, and constitution of the Law of Moses. Here the Mosaic Law takes a huge step in advance of any other ancient code. Most codes stopped short at the deed; a few went on to words; not one attempted to control thoughts. “Thou shalt not covet” teaches men that there is One who sees the heart; to whose eyes "all things are naked and open;" and who cares far less for the outward act than the inward thought or motive from which the act proceeds. “Thou shalt not covet”: lays it down again that we are not mere slaves of our natural desires and passions, but have a controlling power implanted within us, by means of which we can keep down passion, check desire, and resist impulse. Man is lord of himself and capable, by the exercise of his free-will, of molding his feelings, weakening or intensifying his passions, and shaping his character. God, who “requires truth in the inward parts,” expects that we should in all cases go to the root of the matter, and not be content with restraining ourselves from evil acts and evil words, but eradicate the evil feeling from which the acts and words proceed. “Thy neighbor’s house”, etc. The "house" is mentioned first as being of primary necessity and everything else follows behind it. A man does not take a wife until he has a home to bring her to, or engage domestic servants, except to form part of a household. The other objects mentioned are placed in the order in which they are usually valued. The multiplication of objects is by way of emphasis.
The thing I want you to see is how detailed this commandment is compared to the others. It’s almost like God is saying “I want to make sure you understand exactly what I mean when I command you not to covet.” So He begins to list them in order of importance. House. Wife. Male servant. Female servant. Ox. Donkey. Everything else. Now you may be thinking God lists the person’s house as more important than his wife. Let me explain. Every man in Israel would have had a house but not every man would have had a wife or servants. The custom at that time was for the oldest male to take care of the family which included the mother, father, siblings and in some cases even close relatives. They were considered part of his “house”. If a “house” was struggling financially, and I’m talking about the time before God gave the law, the rich would take an entire “house” into servitude. So, in this case, the rich were “coveting” or “lusting” after what the “house” could provide – cheap and inexpensive labor. This is one the issues God dealt with when He gave the laws concerning indentured servants. So, you see the commandment is not belittling the wife. It is simply recognition of how Israel’s society functioned at the time. Before a man married he had to have a home in which to bring his wife.