Covetous Not All bad
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17)
June 10, 2018
Covet is not a word we hear on a regular basis. Yet, it is the word Almighty God used in his first conversation with his people at Mt. Sinai. God had brought his people out of Egypt on "eagles wings" and they are now gathered at Mt. Sinai. Here God speaks to them and gives them 10 commandments. God gave nine commandments before using the word, covet. Yet, God includes this word in commandment number 10. Just his doing that alone compels our interest and attention.
Since coveting is not a common word used in our day-to-day communications, I want to define it. Coveting means personal desires, feelings, and thoughts within your hearts. It means you desire and want something that belongs to another person so much that you are willing to go to any means to obtain it. In the community I grew up in coveting was often referred to as being "long-eyed" about things that belonged to other people.
The Scriptures provide examples of coveting. The first example is about King Ahab's request to purchase Naboth's vegetable garden. "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth."
Naboth told king Ahab that he didn't want to sell his vegetable garden because it was an inheritance from his family. In other words, he told the king that his garden had sentimental value. As a result, the king became very angry and depressed. His wife, Queen Jezebel, told him she would handle it. She concocted a plan to have certain witnesses to bring false charges that Naboth had cursed both God and king. Those false charges resulted in Naboth being stoned to death. That's coveting at its worse!
The second example of coveting is about another king, King David. He saw a beautiful woman bathing on her porch and desired her. To fulfill his desires, he killed her husband by having his army chief position him in a battle with the enemy so he would be murdered. Then, he took his wife for himself and fathered a child by her.
Both of these examples show us the ugliest side of coveting. I want us to continue our focus on coveting, but I want to focus on the positive benefits a community receives when no one covets that which belongs to his neighbor. That's the positive side of this commandment. That's been my emphasis since I began this series on the commandments. Despite these two ugliest of examples of coveting I believe there is a positive side to this last commandment. The positive side seems to be that God gave us personal desires, feelings, and thoughts in our heart to do positive things and not negative things. I think it's a positive thing to hear God saying to the Israelite community "You shall not covet your neighbor's house…" That's a positive and good thing. Consider that one of your biggest and most expensive investments is the purchase of your home. You enter into an agreement with the bank to be bound to a 15 or 30-year mortgage. You sign bank documents giving the bank permission to foreclose on you if you don't make the payments. You probably agree and support God in this one. That's a positive thing. It's for your protection and benefit that no neighbor covets your house.
Further, I think it's a positive thing to hear God saying to the Israelite community: "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife…" The wedding vows used in traditional wedding ceremonies are clear that marrying a wife is a serious matter. One of the main vows says, "I ________, take you ________, to be my wedded wife. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part."
After saying these wedding vows before Almighty God, the preacher, family and friends, and a gathered audience, you don't want anyone to covet your wife. So, again, this is positive and a good thing. We are with God on this one and we see the blessing in it for our marriage.
Also, I think it's a positive and good thing to hear God saying to the Israelite community: "or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey…" In an agrarian society, labor by servants or animals was invaluable. Owners of servants and animals relied on them to make and sustain a living. You can imagine the devastation that would result from someone coveting your servants and animals that provided a living for you and your family. So, this too was a positive and good thing.
Lastly, I think it's a positive and good thing to hear God saying to the Israelite community: "or anything that belongs to your neighbor." This is a catch all of things so that nothing should ever be coveted of yours. So, to grasp the relevance of this commandment I encourage you to think of some of the things we have today that we wouldn't want anyone to covet. You wouldn't want anyone to covet our Michael Kors or Coach purses or bags; you wouldn't want anyone to covet your "beats headphones" by Dre. So, this is a positive and good thing.
Since this commandment is positive and good, let us aspire to channel our desires, personal feelings, and thoughts in our hearts toward achieving what we truly desire without taking it from another person. If you truly want to own things, if that's your thing, then put in the long hours, put in the hard work, get the good grades, and do all in your power to achieve your desires. There is nothing evil about doing that.
Let us remember that God wants us to aspire for some things. "God's judgment is to be desired more than gold," says the Psalmist. (19:11).
"One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple, says the psalmist." (Psalm 27:4)
Coveting can be good and fully respected when you see someone who has earned it, when you see someone who has worked hard to achieve what you like and desire for yourself. You can show respect by highlighting their achievement. You can do as they have done. You don't have to take what they have worked hard to achieve in their life.
This kind of coveting is good; it's positive; it's the godly thing to do. It's the correct way to covet something. Amen.