Verse of the Day Devotion: Exodus 20:17
“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.” – Exodus 20:17
We are now on the last of the ten commandments. This one speaks of covetousness. Two different Hebrew words are used in the passages condemning coveting. These are our focus verse and then “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Deuteronomy 5:21. I will not get into the actual Hebrew words, but they both mean to lust after or to long for with great desire. And since both references to this commandment are worded as something we should not do, the desire in this case is for something that the one who desires does not rightfully own and should not lust after it. In this commandment, we are told not to lust after others possessions such as their house, land or animals. We are also not to lust after people in their lives, such as spouses, children or anyone else.
Whereas several of the ten commandments prohibit certain actions such as theft, murder, or bearing false witness this one focus’ on internal desires of the heart. James put it this way. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” James 1:14-15. Many sins are conceived from coveting what another has but we desire to have at their expense; improperdesires ofhavingsomethingwhich will be a gratification to ourselves. “Oh how I desire to have his car” or “Oh to have his estate”. This is desiring the things of another. This is far different than desiring one like they have. Coveting has the idea of having what they have to their loss.
At its root, coveting is the result of envy, a sin which, once it takes root in the heart, leads to worse sins. An example of this is coveting or lusting after a neighbor’s wife, which in essence is adultery. Also, when we desire something so strong we may succumb to other sins, such as stealing something and then lying about it. And if things get bad, lying in court or possibly killing them. This in the vast majority of cases is not going to happen, but you can see the possibilities here.
The reason covetousness is condemned is a good one. At its very core, coveting is love of self. And envious, selfish citizens are unhappy and discontented citizens. And besides, covetousness is a form of idolatry. “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Colossians 3:5. And idolatry is definitely a sin which God detests. In the end, envy and covetousness are tools of the enemy to distract us from pursuing the one thing that will make us happy and content, that being God Himself. “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8.
The apostle Paul struggled with covetousness and he learned this lesson of contentedness. “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13. If we learn how to accept our life and ways as God has given them to us, we can learn how not to covet anything and please God in all we do.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.