|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 12
Meditation Title: Eyes Off!
Ex 20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”
We have already seen the previous commandment about not stealing but this command now takes us beyond that. We have observed a number of times that each of these Ten Commandments is about relationships and how we relate to one another and to God. We have already observed that behind the command is attitude – what we think about one another. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, made it very clear that the issues were in the mind before they were in actions. Stealing is the end product; coveting is the beginning motivation – I want, because I see and I haven't got this but you have!
To covet means to yearn wrongly after something. First and foremost it is an indication of lack of contentment, failure to be satisfied with what you already have. In a day of mass production of goods, and high levels of advertising, we are encouraged to want more than we have, not to be content with our lot. This command is a restraint on constantly wanting more. But there is something else. There is a second aspect to this command. It is a restraint on wanting more wrongly, on wanting what someone else already has. It envisages someone looking over their fence, so to speak, and wanting their neighbour's house, wife, servants or goods and possessions. Not only is this a sign of lack of contentment, it is providing the seeds of temptation to do something wrong. Coveting is first thinking this desire, which can then be followed by some action to bring about the fulfilment of that desire.
One classic illustration of this in Scripture is Ahab coveting Naboth's vineyard (see 1 Kings 21). Ahab had an apparently legitimate desire – to acquire a neighbouring vineyard to turn it into a kitchen garden for his palace. The only thing was that Naboth didn't want to sell it. Ahab's wrong reaction to this shows he had a covetous heart which, when expressed to his wife, ended in them having Naboth killed and the vineyard taken. Covetousness is essentially rampant greed that flourishes on discontentment. Jesus' antidote to wanting more and more possessions (Lk 12:15) and being able to be at peace, was to put seeking God's will first and allowing the Lord to provide your needs (Lk 12:31). Note here the distinction between needs and wants. Wants are the things that breed covetousness and all that goes with it!
The apostle Paul knew the significance of coveting when he used it as an illustration of sin working within us: “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” (Rom 7:7-9). I really hadn't given it much thought, he was saying, until I saw this command in the law but, being aware of it, I became desirous of what I saw in a whole range of ways. It was there inherent in me, but the Law brought it alive. That is interesting: awareness of the Law makes us conscious of the wrong desire. Until then we probably had the desire but hadn't been aware of it. As soon as we became aware of it, it intensified in us. That is what desire for things does. The more we think about it the more we want, and if it belongs to someone else – tough! At least that is how the old sinful nature sees it!
The apostle James knew the same thing: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” (Jas 4:1,2) It is your inner desires that motivate you into wrong behaviour is what he is saying here.
The story of Achan is another classic example of this: “Achan replied, "It is true! I have sinned against the LORD , the God of Israel . This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia , two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.” (Josh 7:20 ,21). See the order: “I saw … a beautiful robe… I coveted …and took. ” The apostle John knew the same thing: “everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does….” (1 Jn 2:16) That is what coveting is all about – having inner desires that indicate a lack of contentment, and eyes that see and want. Hence the world's advertising approaches by the use of pictures and images that make us want something because it looks good.
Does this ring any bells? Consider: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye , and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Gen 3:6) Just a minute, all the fruit of all the other trees was good as well! Why was this fruit ‘pleasing to the eye'? Because it was forbidden and ‘self' says, Why should I be denied that? Who says I should be denied that? Awareness brings desire and unrestrained desire brings covetousness and covetousness brings the temptation which, when given in to, means sin. This is the working of covetousness, and inner desires and wrong rationalizing lead on to wrong actions! Beware!