THE TENTH COMMANDMENT – A BRIEF EXPLANATION
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife nor his male servant nor his female servant nor his ox nor his donkey nor anything that is your neighbor's. (Exodus 20:17)
COVET – WHAT’S THAT?
The word in Hebrew is ‘chamad’ which means “to take delight in”. A better translation would be: You shall not set your desire(s) on . . . . What does it mean to set your desire on (covet) something?
Try Joshua 7:21 -- When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it. This is the confession of Achan. He said he set his desires on the prohibited gold and silver, and as a result, he took them.
Or Exodus 34:24 -- For I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. This is God’s promise to Israel that no man will set their desires upon their land while they go up to Jerusalem to worship Him. What is involved in the “coveting” here? It’s desire in the heart + plans in the mind + attempts using hands and feet to try and get the land!
COVET – ONLY INSIDE?
From Joshua 7 and Exodus 34, we know that ‘covetousness’ is not just something that stays inside the heart. Sooner or later, it oozes out, it leaks out, it slips out!
Think of a boardroom of a corporation. From this room, all kinds of messages and orders proceed to the various departments within the company. Of course, not everyone can enter that room and hence most of us cannot know what is happening inside. But does this mean we can know nothing of all that transpired there? Of course not! Decisions made inside that room, behind closed doors, do not stay inside. They get leaked out, or by seeing what’s happening in the company we can have a pretty good idea of what’s going on inside that room!
In the same way, covetousness resides in the heart, like that boardroom. But over time, we can know it’s there by what’s being done by the eyes, the tongue, the hands and the feet. Take, for example, a man who no longer finds his own wife desirable but started to set his desire on his neighbour’s wife. Can his wife know that something is wrong? Sure! Over time, though she may not know what is going on in the “boardroom” of his heart, though he didn’t do anything physical, yet it is clear enough that there is another woman in his life!
“Desire” is often dissected into 4 parts:
(i) It enters us
(ii) We nurse it
(iii) We plan for it
(iv) We execute it.
This commandment calls our attention to (ii) and (iii) --- you are yearning for it and you are forming a plan ready to be put into motion as soon as the opportunity arises. The 10th Commandment condemns both the yearning and the planning, both (ii) and (iii)!!
COVET – ANY CURE?
To covet is to bring yourself into bondage once more! Hence this commandment aims to preserve our liberty. Instead of coveting, we should learn contentment. We should live in the bodies we have, in the houses we own, with the spouse God has given us, with the jobs we have. It doesn’t mean we cannot strive to better our life, but to constantly look with a jaundiced eye at what somebody else has (more than we have) is unchristian. Instead, the 10th Commandment says to you: Your own house is the best one for you, your own spouse is the most pretty or handsome for you, in your own job lies the most fruitful development of your abilities, even though your house may be smaller than your neighbour’s, your spouse less attractive than his/hers, your job ranks lower on the scale of values compared to . . . . . The cure is contentment in Jesus. The cure is to find your delight in the Lord and in His providence.
PONDER . . . .
The Heidelberg Catechism:
The Tenth Commandment requires of us that even the smallest inclination or thought, contrary to any of God's commandments, must never rise in our hearts but that at all times we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.
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