The Coveting Commandment is the 10th and final commandment. Is the most important commandment LEFT TO LAST? Maybe – certainly important enough to be repeated twice (the only 1 of the 10 to be dealt with that way!). “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s spouse.”
What’s clear to me is it unlocks a truth about us as human beings, as humanity, which is vitally important to be aware of. To ‘covet’ is not just 10th commandment – if we were to analyse it we would see that many of the other 9 have coveting as either the root source of the action referred to in the commandment or certainly a big influence on it.
So, buckle up. Today we tackle a part of who we are! Today we deal with an aspect of our humanity that we can’t deny is part of us. Today we deal with something that is a real and present danger at the heart of human relationships, social-ills, national disputes, international tensions, wars and the economics of our world.
So many many of our sins start with our desires. True in equal measure individually and collectively as groups, organisations, nations, religions etc. The 10th Commandment recognises this. Of course, the 10 commandments are generally ‘do not’s’ (8 out of 10) but even these prohibitions contain more than just a ‘don’t do this’. They contain an understanding that often as human beings we are wired up with a propensity to make mistakes, get things wrong be in influenced in wrong directions.
Although the 10th Commandment we have inherited as a single commandment with ‘covet’ repeated twice (with two examples) some suggest it could be separated into two commandments.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house “and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s spouse”.
Two examples (both biblical).
First, King David. He was hanging out on the roof, his eyes fell upon Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and boom! He wanted her. So he took her. As the king, he was already married and had plenty of access to women in the palace. But he wanted Bathsheba, too. So he took her. And then, when she turned up pregnant, he arranged for Uriah — and the entire military company he was leading — to be abandoned during battle. They all were killed. And it all started with a little coveting.
Second, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This royal pair liked to garden. Or, at least, they liked to have a garden that their servants could work for them. Right near their palace, a faithful fellow named Naboth owned a vineyard. The king offered to buy the vineyard or swap the land for a better stretch of land. Naboth refused. So Jezebel arranged for false charges brought against Naboth and brought in two paid liars to testify falsely against Naboth. In the end, Ahab and Jezebel got what they wanted: Naboth dead and the vineyard a royal property.
And it all started with a little coveting (See 1 Kings 21).
You might say two types of coveting. But I would say that the route desire is the same. The seed within us to desire what we don’t have – to look with envy on what others have – to be jealous – is something we can all recognise. If manifests on different forms but we know the feeling, we know what it feels like. Two examples are given but really the 10th commandment in simple form is do not Covet what you don’t have.
Like me – you know what it feels like to covet. To look with envy at other people. To want what they want.
All of us are the same.
Widening this presence of a ‘coveting nature’ out from our individual desires consider how this nature to ‘covet’ is at the heart of so much of the world’s problems historically and currently.
Monday’s scenes from Singapore were remarkable as the Presidents of USA and N Korea met in summit. Behind all of this, and lets pray it leads to a safer world, is the reality that feuds between nations are at their route spawned by desire. Power, Territory, Wealth are desired. If one lot has it another lot want it. They want it – and they desire to take it away from the other party in the process so protecting their own power, territory and wealth.
You can argue all you want about protecting the rights and opportunities of your own country/ group by building security, strong economy, protecting resources of land and sea within borders, but breaking it all down we see that ‘desire, envy’ is present so often at the outset of troubles and fall-outs between groups, nations and religions. Even all the political postulating of body language, double hand-shakes, arms on the back are all about – taking the power position and the power away from the other.
Jesus gave us a Gospel. We know it well and we’ll come to the heart of its matter in a short while.
But today in our world often its as if another Gospel influences the world more than Jesus one. Let’s call it the Prosperity Gospel. The
rapacious desire for more fuels modern economies and leads
to the growing chasm between those with much and those with little.
In the early twenty-first century there has been much
written about the parallels between now and the previous
Gilded Age of robber barons, another time of gross inequality in the late nineteenth century. In the 1987 film
Wall Street, Gordon Gecko, states: “Greed… is good.”
At the heart of all this greed and hunger for more is envy
Business isn’t bad. Nor are the successful business men and women bad. Of course, we are not saying that at all – far from it. We are talking about an underlying reality in our world embedded in systems and policies and human-made market conditions which often lead to a tide of economics that continue to create a gulf between the rich and poor of our world. Covetousness is wrapped up in all of this. On both sides of that gulf of course. But it is the powerful and the rich who have the tools to take what they envy – whilst the powerless and the poor don’t’ and so can’t. When you have power, you want more of it. The more you have, its said the more you want, and the more able you are to obtain it. The less you have, the harder it is to get it, and the easier it is for others to take what little you have away from you. A revolving door of desire.
Power Politics, International Relations, Tensions and Wars, Prosperity Gospel, the Economics of our World – covetousness is intrinsic to it all.
I read a quote from someone who described his own covetousness.
“If they make it, I want it.” On hearing this another said ‘what only one?’
The 10th Commandment tells us not to covet. Here is another difference I think between the 10th commandment and the others – we can’t stop.
To me the other commandments are things we can stop ourselves doing or in 2 cases make ourselves do. We stop ourselves from murdering, stealing, committing adultery for example. But in truth can we stop coveting. Can we stop desiring. I don’t think so. I think its part of how we are wired as human beings.
So, what do we do? What do we learn from the 10th commandment. What do we need to adhere to as we live faithfully?
What we can do is stop letting covetousness rule our lives. We can stop letting covetousness dictate our feelings towards others, and about our own lives and stop it from dictating how we act.
Being aware of the dangers within a covetousness that is unbridled, uncontrolled and unmanaged is something we learn every time we read and take on board the 10th commandment. We read it with eyes on our own desires and actions but also in terms of the interactions within our world politically and economically, between nations and between the religions of the world.
We accept the dangers of desire for power and the coveting of wealth and particularly of taking what others have for oneself.
It’s always better to know the reality – to be honest about something that exists in us and the systems of the world; for then we can do something to curb the effects of that reality.
Today I think God calls us to recognise what is in us and what exists in the world. He calls in us to limit its effect for the greater good of all, and limit the damage caused when left unchallenged.
Left to itself the desires within each of us will lead us, and often do lead the world, astray. Instead the Bible tells us through this commandment and its 2 examples of not coveting/desiring our neighbour’s spouse or house, to turn our heart and our actions to another Gospel and another New Commandment. We are to love God. We are to love neighbour. Not cover what they have – not take from them – not accentuate the gap between us – but instead to love and honour them in the way God does.