“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
A friend asked me yesterday what would be my “dream car.” For the past few decades it has been the Porsche 911 Carrera. I had the opportunity to drive one when I was stationed in Germany, and I fell in love with it then. When I am driving down the street with my kids in the car, we like to point out some of our favorite cars. “Vette!” we call out, or “Stang!” (You know, Chevy Corvette or Ford Mustang.) But when a Porsche goes by, I say, “Mmmm…Porsche…Yummm…” I sound like a cartoon character drooling over a donut. I really like that car–its shape, the colors, the technical specifications, and the way it drives. But do I covet one? That’s a good question.
As much as I like Porsche cars, I have never been tempted to steal one. Nor, for that matter, have I even tried to make a lot of money so I can afford one. I haven’t scrimped and saved to try to buy one. In fact, I haven’t made any effort to get myself a Porsche at all. About ten years ago, my wife and kids actually bought me a Porsche–at 1:24 scale in a little showcase box. That’s about as close as I am ever like to get to actually owning my dream car, and that’s just fine by me. I don’t think I covet anyone else’s Porsche. I just appreciate the car for what it is.
So, what does it mean to covet something? The Hebrew word translated as “covet” in today’s verse is “châmad.” That word is also often translated as desired, delighted, pleasant, and even beloved. Why might it be wrong to simply desire something, or to delight in it? The truth is that it’s NOT wrong to like something–UNLESS that something belongs to someone else. Notice that the commandment today is not just to not covet, but to not covet things from your neighbor’s household: his house, wife, servants, animals, “nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” Let us look at some other places where “châmad” is used in the Old Testament.
Joshua 7:20-21 (my emphasis)
20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done:
21 “When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I COVETED them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”
Isaiah 53:1-2 (my emphasis)
1 Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should DESIRE Him.
Daniel 10:3 (my emphasis)
I ate no PLEASANT food, no meat or wine came into my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
What occurs to me as I read theses passages is that our desire is something that can lead us astray. Achan yielded to the temptation to take the spoils that had been expressly forbidden. Isaiah tells us of the Messiah whose beauty is in what He does for us, not in His face nor stature. And Daniel fasted from the foods that he normally craved, the things that he found pleasant, so he could glorify the Lord God. Worldly things stand the possibility to tempt us, to draw our eye away from the things that we ought to desire.
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
Desire is a fact of human existence. All the way back at the beginning, Eve DESIRED (“châmad”) the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that desire led her to sin. (Genesis 3:6) That is what it means to covet: to desire something that the Lord Himself has not given you already.
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32 “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
We so often go beyond worrying about whether or not we will have clothes or food for the next day. In fact, in our affluent society, we have so much food and so many clothes that it seems silly even to consider what Jesus says here. And yet we DO worry about whether we have enough, we do covet the clothes of others, we do want those pleasant foods, and we do desire the things God has told us not to desire. We’re fat and somewhat happy, and we crave more fat and more happiness. We want what we think our neighbor has, without ever thinking for a second that perhaps what he has is not what we need. That is why God warns us away from coveting our neighbor’s things: it invariably leads us to wanting things that are ungodly.
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
I still wouldn’t mind having a Porsche one day, but if I ever get rich it’s not the first thing I will spend money on. I’m far more likely to get a minivan…and maybe paint a Porsche on the side. Yes, I guess I do covet that Porsche. And I think we all know a thing or two about lusting with our eyes, about letting our desires for other things lead us away from the things God desires for us. But if we are faithful, and if we love God with all our heart and mind and soul, then we will repent of that lust we have for the people and things that God has not placed in our lives already. That is not to say we should not seek to better our lot in life and use that betterment to help others. We should want a better car so we can keep our children safe, a better income so that we can give even more back to God, a larger home so we can provide a place for foster children and orphans. The question is not so much what we desire as why we desire it. Selfish desire is what leads to sin. Godly desire is a result of our being born again in the Spirit. What things ought we to covet and desire?
Psalms 19:7-11 (my emphasis)
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be DESIRED are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
The Word of God is what we should desire above earthly things like money or pleasant foods. The love of God is what we should desire above the love and respect of our fellow men. Our love FOR God is what we should desire above loving even our family.(Matthew 10:37) God’s grace is what we should desire, because His grace is sufficient for our needs. (2 Corinthians 12:9) If there is anything we ought to covet, it is the thing which we need not ever covet: the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of His great love, we now have the greatest possession we might ever have–the salvation of our souls unto eternal life–and we need not ever covet anything again except perhaps to do the good works He has prepared for us to do.
The people of the first church in Jerusalem gave up on their desires for earthly things and gathered all they had together to give to anyone as had need. (Acts 2:44-45) Our modern society has been told for so long that we need more for ourselves, it will take an act of God to break our covetousness and lust, to break our hearts to seek the things of God. And so, let us pray for just such an act, pray that God will move our hearts to no longer covet the things which He has not already given us–and that people will covet instead His holy Word and the gospel of peace that will bring them the salvation of their souls.
Holy Father, precious Lord, we call out today for a revival of selflessness, a movement among the people to no longer covet what others have but to covet what everyone can have free of charge: the grace and mercy You have given us through Jesus Christ. Break our chains of desire and chains of temptation and chains of sin, and lead us instead into green pastures, beside still waters, and into those places in our lives where we can truly understand what it means to love You above all earthly things. Purify my own heart, Lord, of worldly desires, and help me to covet only You. Amen.