SPECIAL TOPIC: COVETING (Exodus 20:17, BDB 326, KB 325)

A.  INTRODUCTION

1. It is possible to see the relationship between the last five commandments as follows:

a. Number 6, 7, and 8 prohibit the injury of a covenant partner in an overt action.

b. Number 9 prohibits the injury of a covenant partner in speech. 

c. Number 10 prohibits the injury of a covenant partner in thought. 

2. It is true that the act of coveting disrupts the person who is coveting, not the object, the neighbor.  However, it is possible that this commandment expects that the thoughts will proceed to actions.

3. Many see this commandment as a unique concept found only in the ancient Law Code of Israel and which is absent in the other law codes of the Ancient Near East.  This new concept would be the prohibition of thought.  It is true that Israel perceived the thought life to be the origin of evil deeds (cf. Pro. 23:7; James 1:14-15).  Yet, this verse seems to relate to thoughts which issue in actions.

Several passages use the term "covet" in connection with a resulting action (cf. Deut. 7:25; Jos. 7:21; Micah 2:2).

4. If it is true that emphasis is placed on that which is listed first and last, the true significance of this command is seen.  Exclusive worship of God is first, but our attitudes and motives toward the things of this world affect our true devotion to God. This twin emphasis is also seen in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 6:33 —"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things (cf. vv. 19-32) shall be added to you." 

 

B.  WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

1. Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21, although basically the same, have several significant differences:

a. The wife is included in the larger concept of "house" or a person's property in Exodus 20, while she is placed in a separate, seemingly priority, category in Deuteronomy 5.

b. The passage in Exodus 20 has the Hebrew term "covet" which means "desire to acquire," but Deuteronomy 5 has a second term, "desire" (BDB 16, KB 20), as well as "covet."  "Covet" speaks of desire which is connected to an action to acquire the object of the desire but "desire" seems to focus on the attitude alone.

c. Also, Exodus 20, written to the children of Israel during their wilderness wandering period, has no mention of "field" in the list of possessions, while Deuteronomy 5 is restating the same commands for a settled society in the Promised Land.

2. The term "covet" is a neutral term.  It can refer to desiring good things (cf. Ps. 19:10; 1 Cor. 12:31).

3. Improper desire is the root cause of the fall of Satan, Adam and Eve, and all of us.  Paul stressed his personal struggle with coveting in Romans 7:7-8. Coveting is basically a discontentment and lack of trust in God's care and provision.

4. Several NT passages relate to coveting:

a. Mankind's problem is discontentment and greed (cf. Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:8-10).

b. Coveting is included in Jesus' list of defiling sins (cf. Mark 7:17-23; 1 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5).

 

C.  APPLICATION TRUTHS

1. The answer to lustful greed and discontentment is:

a. Love – Rom. 13:8-10

b. Contentment – Heb. 13:5; Phil. 4:11-13 (and sharing, Phil. 4:14)

2. The command says "stop" but only Christ gave us the means to stop!  In Him we can control our thought life to some degree.

3. God knows our hearts and minds 

a. 1 Chronicles 28:9

b. Proverbs 20:27

c. Psalm 139:1,23

d. Jeremiah 17:10

e. Romans 8:27

f. Revelation 2:23

4. Things are not evil, but when they become priority they become sin.  Things are not ultimate or eternal; people made in God's image are!  Coveting affects the Covenant Community in insidious and destructive ways!

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES FROM DEUTERONOMY 5:21

 Deut. 5:21, "shall not covet. . .shall not desire," uses two verbs which are synonymous:

A. "covet" – BDB 326, KB 325, Qal imperfect, means "a strong desire" for material things, which can be positive or negative. In this context it is an uncontrollable, selfish desire for something which belongs to a covenant brother.

B. "desire" – BDB 16, KB 20, Hipthpael imperfect, means "desire" (cf. Deut. 14:26) or "lust" (often has a sexual context as in 5:21) for more and more for me at any cost (e.g., Num. 11:4; Ps. 106:14; Pro. 13:4; 21:26; 23:3,6; 24:1).

This relates to one's inner attitudes and motives. It is capstone to all the other commandments. This is the only commandment that deals with why, not how. This one says not only "don't do" but "don't think this." Jesus taught that we should not only not kill, we should not hate, or display an attitude that might result in murder. Jesus took this last commandment and raised the rest of the commandments to the level of inner motive and attitude as over against outer action (cf. Matt. 5:17-48). There is all the difference in the world in a man who does not steal because it is not pleasing to God and the man who does not steal because he is afraid of getting caught. One is acting on Christian principles and the other is acting on self-interest.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What is coveting?

2. How does modern man covet?

3. Are our thoughts sin?

4. Why are thoughts so significant in the Christian life?

5. Why is the commandment in Exodus 20:17 somewhat different from the one in Deuteronomy 5:21?

 

 

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