Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.( Exodus 20:17)
In this commandment God asserts his authority over our inward life; our thoughts, desires, and imaginations. We are not to set our desire upon anything at all that God has not given to us. We are not to cultivate an independent inner life, all is to be under submission to the LORD.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. ( Psalm 19: 14)
This commandment teaches us that one of the most important aspects of a person’s life is what he desires. What a man desires is what he will always go for, He will be led by his desires, be they good or evil. There is no curse as great as deeply wanting, and craving what God has not given you.
The thing is to want the right things, and especially to realize that only God and his will can make us happy in the truest sense.
This is the commandment that ‘slew’ Saul of Tarsus. He testified of himself that he was able to externally observe all of the other commands, (at least in his own esteem), but when Saul came to the Tenth, He realized that there was no way he would or could keep it in truth. Coveting is an internal sin, it is the heart of man, anyone honest with themselves, has to admit that they have often set their desire on what God has not given them.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.( Romans 7:7-9)
Others cannot see the heart, but God sees through us all clearly.
Covetousness, or Lust, (in the New Testament) arises from the heart. “Out of the heart arise evil desires…” Jesus teaches us in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
A helpful understanding of the original wording in the Hebrew Text , is that a better rendering of the Word ‘covet” would be to say to “Set Your desire upon…”, You shall not set your desire upon your neighbor’s wife, ox, etc”. This brings in the will, and involves responsibility for the inner life.
We are told in both Old and New Testaments that sin is a conception , which involves several stages.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.( James 1:13-15)
Covetousness, which is a form of idolatry, always involves a moral choice. Covetousness doesn’t ‘happen to you’, as if you were passively walking along and were blind sided by it. All sin originates in covetousness, thoughts or images which are entertained, and even cultivated, within the heart.
Definitely Satan and even the World appeal to the covetousness within us, but we make the decision in our hearts to “set our desires” upon the forbidden things.
Perhaps this is what the Psalmist is revealing to us in the 36th Psalm, which has the Psalmist personifying Transgression, and saying it speaks to the wicked in their hearts, saying… (basically telling the wicked it is alright to dwell in wickedness because God doesn’t see. This “self Talk” occurs subtly in the hearts of all sinners, encouraging them that God is too far away and remote to fear, and to go ahead and set their desires on that which is evil.
Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.( Psalm 36:1)
Because sin is first an inner conception, Jesus urges us to “Pluck out the eye” and “cut off the hand and foot ” before it comes to full term and fruition. Mortify it at the Lust stage, put lust to death, get out of your life anything that feeds it, pluck out the eye, and kill it before it comes to pass.
It is very possible to have a heart full of covetousness, but to never go so far as to carry out those evil desires. What happens to a person fills himself with the desire to do evil things but has enough sense never to carry that desire out?
Lust is a fire, it burns and consumes the personality. The one who loves money is affected by that lust even f he doesn’t have any of it! The man who hates, may never carry it out, but the hatred within will flow out of his heart and even his eyes.
Lust is a seething corruption. Just because a man doesn’t actually commit adultery in deed for various reasons, it doesn’t follow that his ‘pornographic thoughts’ don’t hurt anyone. Lust destroys the capacity of man and woman to live together, or for the young man to properly relate to women. This is a severe handicap . Lust is coarsening, and oozes out of a person, even if they cannot ever fully carry it out.Peter warned of those whose “eyes are full of adultery, that cannot cease from sin…” and Jude warned of the harsh speech pouring out of the mouths of the last rebels.
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage.(Jude 14-16)
Covetousness distorts the soul, and deforms the personality. It spawns the twins Envy and Jealousy in people, embittering and frustrating them without the chance of satisfaction.
How miserable it must be to hate anyone for what they have, or to wish to take their place and have it instead of them! It surely is a foretaste of the mental and spiritual miseries of hell itself. Hell is a lot of terrifying things, but perhaps most terrifying, is unending desire, even craving, without ever having a chance of satisfaction. Imagine envying someone for ever!
Many of these commandments can be understood on a higher level by inverting them. If we are not supposed to commit adultery, what are we supposed to do? Honor marriage! If we are not supposed to hate or murder our neighbor, what should we do? Love Him and seek his good.
What would be the opposite of Covetousness? Hebrews 13 is helpful here,
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.( Hebrews 13:5)
The opposite of covetousness would be to be completely content with what God has given you. It is to will to be genuinely happy for any honors, privileges or gifts God has given those around you. This is a decision, based upon gratitude towards God, and true faith that He is good.