Here, "house" is the equivalent of household. God lists the remaining items so we clearly understand what He means by "house." In Deuteronomy 5:21, "wife"—or "spouse," since a woman can covet too—is moved to first position as the very crown of one's possessions, and "field" is included as the Israelites were soon to settle in the Promised Land.
One Bible commentator said all public crime would cease if this one law was kept. Another said every sin against one's neighbor springs from the breaking of this commandment, whether of word or deed. Between the two wordings in Exodus and Deuteronomy, a sevenfold guarding of another's interests shows the underlying concept of outgoing concern. In this command we step from the outer world of word and deed into the secret place where all good and evil begins, the heart (Matthew 15:18-19). This inner man determines a person's destiny.
Like the ninth commandment, which parallels the third, the tenth commandment parallels the first. Next to the first commandment, the tenth may be the most important of all. Commentator Robert I. Kahn writes:
The first commandment deals with foundations; the last with motivations. The first deals with the Rock of ages; the last with the surging tides of desire. The first is an affirmation of the divine source of morality; the last deals with the well-springs of immorality. The first implies that right thought will lead to right action; the last reminds us that wrong ideas will lead to wrong action.
The last commandment is unique among the ten, and its position in last place is surely no accident. While the others concern actions, this one deals with attitudes. The others prohibit external deeds while this one focuses on internal thoughts. Like an x-ray aimed on the mind, it seeks to curb the restless, greedy, avaricious, jealous, and envious fountain of the human heart. It gets my vote as the most difficult to keep, since breaking it is the most widespread of humanity's moral faults.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)
Covet means "to desire" or "to take delight in beyond God's acceptable bounds." It indicates "to long after a property that belongs to another in order to enjoy it." It is covetousness to allow oneself to indulge in thoughts that lead to actions named in the other nine commandments. They are grasping thoughts that lead to grasping deeds.
Coveting normally arises from two sources. It often begins with a perception of beauty in a thing desirable to possess. It also arises from a persistent inclination for something more abstract like a desire for power. The first is generally stimulated from without, the second generally from within. Both are equally bad.
One commentator stated that he believed all public crime would cease if just this one law were kept. Another said that every sin against one's neighbor, whether of word or deed, springs from the breaking of this commandment. James 1:14-15 seems to agree: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."
In the Exodus 20:17 version of the commandment, the word "house" implies household. Subsequently, six other items are listed so that we clearly understand that "household" is meant. In Deuteronomy 5, "wife" is moved to first position as the very crown of one's possessions, and "field" is inserted because earlier, when God gave the Exodus version, fields were of no concern to pilgrims who possessed no land. Thus, between the two wordings God provides a seven-fold safeguard of other people's interests, revealing the underlying concept of outgoing concern.
In this commandment, we step from the outer world of word and deed into the secret place where all good and evil begins: the heart. The inner life actually determines a person's destiny, as the desires of a person's life are held and nurtured there.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Deuteronomy 5:21: