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What the Bible says about Coveting
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 20:17

Covetousness is an insatiable desire for worldly gain and lies at the heart of where most sin originates. Of all the commandments, the tenth especially emphasizes man's relationship to man, which is readily seen in the repeated phrase "your neighbor's." It protects the interests of others in seven major areas listed individually within the commandment.

Martin G. Collins
The Tenth Commandment

Deuteronomy 5:21

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

Deuteronomy 32:15

This prophecy regarding Israel confirms the power and influence of wealth. For a Christian today, living in a society whose wealth far exceeds the wildest dreams of most people on earth, this power of wealth cannot be ignored. We need to thank God for the opportunity to live in a nation receiving the blessings of Abraham, but we cannot allow its influence to change our attitudes toward God.

Does wealth or poverty have any intrinsic spiritual value? Physically, it is better to be wealthy, but riches can turn one's head spiritually. Incidentally, poverty has that same power because a poor person can become so busy with the cares of his daily existence, that he forgets God. That is why Solomon advises in Proverbs 30:8-9, "[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food You prescribe for me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism

2 Samuel 13:1-15

Here we have the story of the lust-driven affair of Amnon, one of David's sons, and Tamar, one of David's daughters, a half-sister of Amnon. Amnon was sick with love for Tamar, but the fruit of the relationship shows it was not love but lust. He greatly desired to take her to bed, so much so that he deceitfully conspired with his cousin Jonadab to arrange matters. He then compounded that sin by lying to his father to be alone with her and raping her when he finally was. The fruit of his shameful deed was further defiled when his feelings for her reversed to a hatred against her that was greater than his former "love." Two years later Amnon was dead at the hand of Absalom, Tamar's full brother.

What piling of sin on sin coveting produced! It destroyed Tamar's virginity and possibly a future marriage. It destroyed the cohesiveness of David's family. It produced burning hatred, and everyone felt great sorrow. All of this blossomed from an uncontrolled desire in the mind of one person. Its effects impacted on David's family for many generations.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)

2 Samuel 13:1-2

He did not love her; he was lusting after her. Notice the initial fruit—distress! The story continues, eventually revealing that his lust produced rape. It did not end there but produced more evil fruit: "Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, 'Arise, be gone!'" (verse 15). So much for lust producing good fruit! How many teen and/or young adult lives have been severely damaged by unwed pregnancy resulting from coveting?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

Proverbs 8:13

What does "the fear of the LORD" entail? Another proverb, Proverbs 9:10, helps us to understand: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." While Proverbs 8:13 defines what the fear of the Lord is, Proverbs 9:10 shows what it produces. Understanding the effect of the fear of the Lord will help us to understand the cause.

This verse uses a Hebraism in which the two clauses are written in parallel. The "fear of the LORD" in the first clause is linked to "knowledge of the Holy One" in the second, while the "beginning of wisdom" corresponds to "understanding." Most translations hide the fact that the Hebrew word rendered as "Holy One" is actually plural. It refers to both holy, divine Beings—the Father and the Son. We can more fully grasp this in conjunction with John 17:3, where Jesus says that knowing the Father and the Son—having personal, intimate knowledge ofthe Holy Ones—is eternal life.

In tying these things together, we see that the wisdom and understanding in Proverbs 9:10 are not abstract concepts but are related to eternal life. They are foundational to being able to live eternally. The reverential awe and respect—fear—of God is what produces wisdom in making sound choices, in having good judgment, in understanding cause and effect. The fear of God makes for a good life—not just for the self, but also for everyone for all time.

James describes such "wisdom from above" as "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). These elements produce a good life, a life of spiritual wisdom. All of them are opposites of evil, of causing harm. Godly fear causes a man to evaluate properly and to arrive at the correct conclusion about what he should or should not do. Ultimately, the fear of the Lord teaches us to live eternally—to live with the skill that the Father and the Son have in living.

Returning to Proverbs 8:13, we can see how hating evil fits into this. When we are vehemently opposed to all that does harm to life and liveliness, and our lives reflect this, we are beginning to live as God does. However, we have to put wisdom in the context of eternity. What may seem "harmless" in the short term may bear evil fruit in the long term. Unless we are able—and willing—to look as far forward as possible to see the outcome, we may not be able to see the harm.

Because of man's fickle and shortsighted nature, God has explicitly defined what is good and evil in His law, and the evil that is defined is sin. It may not be immediately obvious to mankind that burning incense to the Queen of Heaven causes harm because mankind is shortsighted enough not to realize that he is paying homage to a worthless substitute of the true Creator, the One who gives life. Thus, God spells out that we can have no other gods (Exodus 20:3).

Mankind may not see the harm in a "little white lie" (Exodus 20:16), but the One "who inhabits eternity" knows that truth and life are inextricably linked. When falsehood enters in, so do defilement and ultimately death.

Humanity may not be aware of the harm caused by coveting (Exodus 20:17), but the One "who knows the end from the beginning" and who created the human intellect and human heart, knows that sin begins in the heart. The best way to stop sin at its source is to help mankind to guard his heart, before any sin can be produced.

David C. Grabbe
Hating Evil, Fearing God

Habakkuk 2:9-11

Second Woe: Coveting and plotting to gain. This obviously breaks the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet." It is becoming clear that the Chaldeans had a avaricious streak a mile wide!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Habakkuk

Matthew 5:27-28

The person condemned by Jesus here deliberately uses his eyes to awaken and stimulate his lust. It is difficult enough to avoid lusting after natural things, but many things in this world are deliberately designed to awaken wrong desires. If certain books, pictures, magazines, movies, places, activities, or people tempt us to lust, we must avoid them, regardless of the cost. Not sinning is that important!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)

Mark 4:19

A simple illustration helps understand this statement: A desire-driven "window shopping" for things to do in order to be "busy"—filling our time with meaningless, self-centered, carnal activities—crowds out God's Word. When we elect to do this, we risk many spiritual dangers.

When we covet carnal activities or material things, we serve them. If we give our time, energy, and money to them to the extent that we leave only the barest minimum of those things for God, we are practicing idolatry. It may reveal itself in us through a fear that, if we give ourselves to God, we will have nothing for ourselves. We live as if life in God cannot be full enough to make up for the loss of other things.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

Mark 7:20-23

Jesus, in Mark 7:20-23, provides clear insight as to the location of the generator of man's drive to possess. Notice especially what He lists first, as it is the generator that leads to the other sins. His instruction thus also points out where the other sins can be stopped. A person's evil thoughts do not exist because of brainlessness, but because of confusion of values and lack of concern for godly, spiritual truth, leading to careless, shoddy moral choices.

Paul adds in Romans 7:7: "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" Some of God's laws are self-evident even to the natural mind, but only God can tell us that it is absolutely wrong to lust. By contrast, a major theme of the modern culture is"You can have whatever you want, if you only make the effort."

The tenth commandment deals with attitude and motivation. Even if an individual secretly rejects God's standard and way in his heart and lusts after something he cannot or will not lawfully possess or do, then eventually, this mental rebellion will break out in sin. Action will manifest what the mind has been doing all along.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

1 Timothy 6:6-10

These verses show how we can know—if we are honest with ourselves—when we are coveting: by the fruit produced! Lust "drown[s] men in destruction and perdition" and "pierces one through with many sorrows." When we want something so badly we are not happy without it, we are coveting. Coveting's emotional effect is sorrow, pain, remorse, guilt, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment (1998)

1 Timothy 6:10

How can a person identify whether he is lusting? By the fruit he is producing through his desire. A fruit of coveting is a hungering unhappiness in not possessing what is desired. The puppy-love syndrome, which exhibits the "I can't live without him/her/it" reaction is a form of this longing. In more serious circumstances, coveting will cause far more severe consequences, the fruits of intense sorrow, pain, and remorse.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Tenth Commandment

2 Peter 2:3

The false teachers are themselves driven by covetousness. They desire to get something for themselves—power over people, possibly the perception of being a scholar, maybe popularity or money. With that motivation, they prove they are not led by the Holy Spirit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Damnable Heresies


 




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