The Tenth Commandment states: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17). There are many warnings in the Bible about coveting, yet most people do not really understand what coveting is and may be unaware that they could be guilty of such a thing.
Going back to the beginning, the Apostle Paul wrote that men did not want to retain God in their knowledge. As a result, they were given over to their basest instincts, “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers” (Rom. 1:29). Jesus said: ” . . . That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22). So serious is coveting that Paul warned: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
What Is Coveting?
Dictionaries define coveting as a deep desire to possess that which belongs to another; an inordinate desire or discontent for what one does not have. Coveting is generally caused by greed and self-centeredness, without regard for the Law of God. The Apostle Paul tells us: ” . . . I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). The fact is: Coveting is lust. When we examine the discontent for what one does not have, what is often the catalyst for this feeling? The answer: Comparing ourselves with what others in the world possess. his is why the Bible warns: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15-16). What will be the end of those who make coveting the primary interest in their lives? The Apostle Paul wrote of those “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil. 3:19).
There is a great danger in placing trust and faith in the material things of life, especially money. We are told: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). While it may not be realized, those who covet are guilty of idolatry. “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph. 5:5).”Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). This is why the Bible states: “Let your [conduct] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
What Christ Said About Coveting
A man urged Jesus: ” . . . Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). What was Jesus’ reply? “And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:14-15).
Jesus then went on to say:
. . . The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)
On another occasion, a rich young ruler asked Jesus, “. . . Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18)
Here was Jesus’ reply:
And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:19-22)
How did this young ruler respond? “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich” (Luke 18:23). “And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (v. 24)
Methods Employed in Coveting
A number of Bible examples illustrate how people behave when they covet. Consider this example. God had given these instructions just before the city of Jericho was attacked: “And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed, when ye take of the accursed thing, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the LORD: they shall come into the treasury of the LORD” (Josh. 6:18-19). But someone in the camp of Israel disobeyed. The LORD said to Joshua: “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff” (Josh. 7:10-11).
By having Joshua cast lots, the Lord revealed who was the offender. The offender was a man named Achan.
And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. (Josh. 7:20-21)
What was the result of this covetous act? “And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? The LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones” (Josh. 7:25). Achan’s wife and family had been complicit with him in this sin. Theft is a major way by which coveting is committed.
Consider this example. Naaman the Syrian came to Elisha the prophet to be healed of leprosy. God miraculously healed Naaman, and he wanted to give Elisha a large gift, but Elisha refused. But Elijah’s servant, Gehazi, was covetous. “But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him” (2 Kings 5:20).
After his nefarious deed he returned and stood before Elisha.
. . . And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither. And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:25-27)
Lying is another method of coveting used to gain the possessions of others.
Deception, which is employed all over the world to gain one’s ends, is another form of lying used for the purpose of coveting. Peter warned that false prophets [ministers] would be among God’s people. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you . . . ” (2 Pet. 2:2-3). That this was a problem during the ministry of Paul is illustrated by his statement in 1 Thessalonians 2:5: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness.” Others who feigned to be the ministers of God did this, but not the Apostle Paul and his associates. He had warned the brethren to be on guard. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
The Pharisees and scribes were a leading example of men who coveted. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14). Keep in mind, though, that the problem of deception in order to take advantage of others, is not limited to false ministers. It is found everywhere, in all classes and occupations. “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death” (Prov. 21:6).
An Old Testament example of coveting is seen in Jacob’s relationship with his father-in-law Laban. Jacob had worked for Laban for some time, and Jacob said this his wives: ” . . . Your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me” (Gen. 31:7). Laban had intended to take advantage of Jacob’s labor, but was foiled in his attempts, as God blessed Jacob more and more. So economic oppression is another means by which some people covet. James said this about the rich and powerful: “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (Jas. 5:4). Economic oppression is not lost on God’s ears.
Then there is the matter of violence in order to deprive others of their possessions. Micah spoke of such who have the power to oppress other people. ” . . . They covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage” (Micah 2:2). Oppression of the poor is a common occurrence. “Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail . . . ” (Amos 8:4). “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him” (Ps. 12:5).”Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD” (Ps. 14:4). “There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:14). Could this be referring to the present generation?
What Are the Curses of Coveting?
People, who covet material possessions, and so forth, do not wait until they are able to afford these things. They often use credit cards. The information that follows was gleaned from various websites on the subject of credit cards. Here is what we find. Debt slavery is a very real thing in America. One indicator is the number of personal bankruptcies annually. For example, personal bankruptcies in 1997 were 1.3 million, up 63% from 1987. Consumer debt touches most American families is some way. Consumer debt reflects many differing factors, and total credit debt accounts for 40% of the national figure. Credit card debt amounts to approximately 400 billion dollars of that national figure. Credit card issuers mailed out a record 5 billion cards in 2001, and the average American household possesses 14.27 credit cards. This is clearly an example of the inability by many to handle spending responsibly.
In the last ten years, the average US household consumer debt (mortgage payments excluded) has increased from approximately $8,500 to $14,500, and the credit card debt now averages $8,562 per household. As a result the average family is paying $1,100 in interest on credit cards annually. Credit card rates, after the introductory period, range from 4.75% (some less) to 35 percent, which is the widest spread ever. Sixty percent of American cardholders do not pay off their balance each month, and of these nearly half merely make the minimum payment. Thirteen percent of college students owe between three and seven thousand dollars on their credit cards and the percentage of college students with four or more credit cards has nearly doubled in three years to forty-seven percent. In addition, most new college graduates owe about $17,000 on federally guaranteed college loans, and about 40% of graduating seniors carry an average credit card balance of more than $3,000. Credit card fees represent the fastest growing source of income for bank-card issuers.
Take third-world nations as another example. In 1997 “developing countries” were more than two trillion US dollars in debt. The result is a $400 debt for every man, woman, and child in the developing world. Consider this where the average income in the very poorest of these countries is less than a dollar a day. Structural adjustment is required for new loans to these countries in order to increase the chance of payback. To conform, the governments of these nations cut government spending on such items as healthcare and education-the very services on which the poor must rely. Many of these countries spend more on servicing their debt than on the basic needs of their citizens. America, by comparison, has an income of more than $7 trillion, which is a quarter of the world total and more than 80 times the average of low-income countries.
When we realize that in rich countries credit has been sold harder than any other product for the last 25 years, we can see why personal debt has increased so rapidly. Short-sighted people have readily succumbed to all the inviting credit-card offers. (To repeat, for the benefit of the reader, the information in the above paragraphs was derived from various websites on the Internet, most which base their statistics on various government and private sources).
It is no joke when the Bible tells us that the borrower is servant to the lender (Prov. 22:7). One who allows himself to get into heavy debt-debt that requires endless interest payments-has created a severe problem for himself and his family. Here is what the Bible states: “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house . . . ” (Prov. 15:27). Greediness to have and possess what others have is, in plain language, coveting. So going into debt is one of the great curses of coveting.
Another curse is that coveting leads to many harmful and hurtful lusts. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:7-9). One who obeys God will not practice coveting. “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent” (Prov. 28:20).
Coveting can lead to much ill will and hard feelings. Consider the following example. Because of God’s blessings Jacob prospered and had become a wealthy man. “And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses” (Gen. 30:43). “And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our fathers; and of that which was our fathers hath he gotten all this glory. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before” (Gen. 31:1-2). What are the consequences of coveting? The answer: envy. “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Prov. 14:30). “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov. 27:4). Envy is endemic in the human race. “Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbor. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 4:4). Not much happiness is found in the heart and mind of one who envies.
There can be very serious consequences for those who envy. Take this case, for example. King Ahab coveted a piece of property owned by a man named Naboth. The property adjoined that of the king.
And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. (1 Kings 21:1-2)
Naboth refused, as it was rightfully the inheritance that was to remain in the family. And Naboth said to Ahab, The LORD forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee” (v. 3). “And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him: for he had said, I will not give thee the inheritance of my fathers. And he laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread” (1 Kings 21:4). Ahab was like a pouting child who could not get what he wanted.
This refusal by Naboth was no problem to Jezebel, Ahab’s evil wife, the daughter of a heathen the king. Royalty in her society did not take no for an answer.
But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said unto him, Why is thy spirit so sad, that thou eatest no bread? And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please thee, I will give thee another vineyard for it: and he answered, I will not give thee my vineyard. And Jezebel his wife said unto him, Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. (1 Kings1:5-7)
We know the rest of the story. She conspired against Nabal, trumped up false charges against him, and had him and his sons stoned to death (1 Kings 21:8-13, 2 Kings 9:26). This heinous act sealed her fate and that of Ahab. The Lord told Ahab through the prophet Elijah: ” . . . Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? . . . Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine . . . . And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21:19, 23).
Coveting led to the murder of a good man and his sons. In return it brought the death of Ahab, and Jezebel, as well as the overthrow of his dynasty, along with the slaughter of all his descendants and friends. See 2 Kings 9.
Coveting, which leads to murder is bad enough, but even worse is the thought of losing salvation. This warning is given by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” What happens to those who err from the faith?
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Pet. 2:20-22)
What Must Be Realized
Coveting must be repented of-that is, sincerely regretted and made to cease as a factor in one’s life. This can be done only with God’s help and by prayer and fasting. Above all, one must keep his eyes on God and at all times. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies and not to covetousness” (Ps. 119:36). “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). Those who covet desire to reap the benefits of the labor of others, but few things in this life are free. When God created man He told him: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3:19). The Apostle Paul admonished the Thessalonians to ” . . . work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Coveting is forbidden in God’s Word. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).
Coveting is lusting, and lusting is sin. “For lust is a shameful sin, a crime that should be punished. It is a devastating fire that destroys to hell” (Job 31:11-12 NLT). If it is a crime that should be punished by the judges, what is the fate of those who reject God’s Law and continue to covet? “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). This is what covetousness can ultimately lead to. It is time to realize the seriousness of the sin of coveting.