“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). Thou shall not covet…those famous words at the beginning of the tenth and final commandment. God Himself forbids His people from coveting, yet we do it all the time.
That twinge of sadness you feel when you like her status update announcing their engagement on Facebook. The tears you cry when she’s accepted into your dream grad school and you’re not. The empty feeling in your chest when you wake up on her wedding day, wishing it was your own. All that green-eyed monster stuff…that’s coveting.
The Hebrew word for covet used in Exodus 20:17 is “chamad,” meaning “to desire.” It could well read “You shall not desire…anything that belongs to your neighbor.” I think this verse has less to do with what we’re wanting and more to do with why we’re wanting it. In giving this commandment, God had far more in mind than merely telling His people not to be copycats.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers has this to say about the tenth commandment: “This command seems to have been added in order to teach the general principle that the Law of God is concerned, not with acts and words only, but with the thoughts of the heart…Ancient moralists did not usually recognize this; thought, unless carried out into acts, was regarded as ‘free;’ no responsibility was considered to attach to it, and consequently no one felt it needful to control his thoughts or regulate them. It was therefore of importance that the Divine Law should distinctly assert a control over men’s thoughts and feelings, since they are the source of all that is evil in word and act; and true godliness consists in bringing “every thought into captivity to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Covetousness, or jealously, manifests itself in our thoughts. It is a heart issue long before it is an outward one.
WHAT WE’RE SAYING TO GOD WHEN WE COVET
Coveting is a posture of the heart that reveals discontentment. When we covet, we tell God that His manifold blessings in our lives aren’t enough to satisfy us. We buy into the lie that our hearts can be satisfied by something other than the One who made them. We raise our fists to God’s providence saying, “Why don’t You bless me the way You’ve blessed her?” Ouch. When it’s put that way, it doesn’t take a Biblical exegete to understand why the Lord commands against coveting in Exodus 20:17.
Coveting is ugly, but because of our sinful natures, it’s bound to occur. So what’s a girl to do?
First of all, ask for forgiveness. Ask the Lord to pardon your sin of coveting for the sake of Jesus Christ. Pray the words of Psalm 51:10, asking the Lord to “create in [you] a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within [you].” He will do it, for, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Then, ask God to change your heart. Pray for the ability to put off covetousness and truly “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15a). Pray that the Lord would draw you closer to Himself and that You would be more satisfied in Him. Speak the words of Psalm 16 out loud and ask God to work in your heart until you believe them with everything you are. Focus upward, not inward. Pray, and your jealously will melt.
Psalm 107:31 calls us to “give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.” The idea of “recounting the deeds of the Lord” is a prevalent theme throughout the book of Psalms and it’s a wonderful anecdote for many maladies of the soul including anxiety, depression, and, of course, coveting. When we call to mind all the things the Lord has done in our lives – all the ways He has provided, all the ways He has blessed, all the ways He, through “severe mercies,” has withheld something we longed for, only to give us something better – we feel less compelled to covet and more compelled to praise. So remember…count your blessings, and give thanks to the One who has given you everything and more (James 1:17).
Corrie Ten Boom, Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of The Hiding Place, is famous for saying, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” I’d venture to say that she’s right. We recognize, on a daily basis, that we need Christ. But have we ever once truly believed that He is all we need? What about health? What about family? What about money and food and clothes and a husband and shelter?
Coveting is a sin, but when we repent and are cleansed by Christ’s blood, God can use our covetousness to teach us sanctifying lessons. When we lack the things we covet, we come to feel like Christ is the only good thing we have. That is rarely ever actually the case, but He is the best thing we have, and recognizing the sin of our covetousness can open our eyes to that truth. Believe that if Christ were all you had, you would have everything you need. Believe Him when He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).