Moses' second speech, Part 14, Covetousness
Aug 03, 2012
Deut. 5:21 gives us the final Commandment:
(21) You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The only significant difference between this statement and that which is found in the first law is that in Exodus 20:17 it starts with: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house," and then proceeds to detail the people, animals, and things in the house. In the second law, Moses reverses the order of the first two parts of the command.
What does it mean to covet? Adam Clarke defined it as:
"an earnest and strong desire after a matter, on which all the affections are concentrated and fixed, whether the thing be good or bad."
In Colossians 3:5 Paul says covetousness is idolatry. Yet he also tells us to covet the best gifts (1 Cor. 12:31) and also to covet to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:39). So the word itself shows that the sin factor is not in the strong desire but in desiring another's property or position.
The Tenth Commandment is a summation of all of the Commandments, but particularly the last five. It is perhaps most closely related to the Eighth, "You shall not steal." Yet if one could keep even the Tenth Commandment, one would never violate any of the others.
The Tenth Commandment is a prohibition against selfishness itself--that is, the carnal belief that it is acceptable to take another man's property for one's self without due compensation or permission. It is the root of Socialism, which asserts that a poor man has the right to a rich man's goods or to public money without labor.
When Paul asserts that covetousness is idolatry, it refers to men who have a strong desire to become gods with the idea of replacing the Creator as their ultimate authority. In other words, the Tenth Commandment is linked full circle back to the First Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me."
Like covetousness, political ambition is neither good nor bad, but when it seeks dominion for selfish purposes and is willing to obtain those desires by theft, fraud, or lies, it is sin. Righteous politicians find themselves at a disadvantage, then, because they feel bound to moral rules that their opponents do not follow. Furthermore, when the populace is also carnal (whether Christian or not), they lack the discernment to see through the lies and distortions of politics. It is natural, then, for the most successful deceivers to rise to the top.
The people, ignorant of the law of God and of being led by the Spirit, find themselves naturally judged by their own rulers. In today's world, politicians and whole governments hire public relations companies to give them a "good image," the appearance of righteousness, while hiding their covetousness.
God tends to judge the people by giving them rulers who are just like them. That is what happened when the people wanted to replace God as their King and to be ruled by a man who was just like the other nations of covetous men (1 Sam. 8:5-7). Samuel told them that even the best of the Israelites, Saul, would be a TAKER (1 Sam. 8:11-18). In other words, he would covet other men's property, thinking that this was a privilege of authority. In other words, he defined kingly authority even as the other nations did. That was what the people wanted, and so that is what they got.
Coveting authority of others is one of the most basic problems that Scripture addresses. The problem really centers upon knowing one's calling and being content to develop that calling. The mother of two of Jesus' disciples once requested the highest honor and authority to be given to her sons (Matt. 20:20, 21). Jesus told her that such authority came with great responsibility, but in the end, "it is for those whom it has been prepared by My Father."
Jesus took that opportunity to explain the difference between men's ideas of authority and God's true authority. Man's carnal authority covets servants and more servants; to God, those in authority are the servants. The greater the authority, the greater the ability to serve (Matt. 20:25-28).
When Israel desired a king like the other nations, they received a divinely-appointed king who quickly adopted the notion of authority that was common among the nations. It was rooted in covetousness, based upon self-interest.
Spiritual gifts are good and should be coveted in a good sense, but when these gifts are used to obtain servants instead of being a servant, they violate the Tenth Commandment. Many genuinely gifted ministers of God have come to see themselves as deserving wealth on account of their calling or ministry. I am not an advocate of living in poverty, but rather that we, like Paul, should learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. He knew both abundance and deprivation (Phil. 4:11, 12), because this was part of God's training to eradicate all traces of covetousness from his heart.
Hebrews 13:5 says further,
(5) Let your way of life be without covetousness, and be content with what you have; for He has said, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you."
The Tenth Commandment is the foundation of a godly society. When applied properly, it protects private ownership of property that has been earned by labor. God owns all that He has created by right of His labor. Our labor adds to that which God owns, and hence our rights of ownership are based upon the amount of labor that we have expended. In other words, God owns the tree, but if we make a chair from that tree, we own the labor that it took to make that chair.
If we think of land, trees, or anything in nature as being owned by man, it is theft that is based upon covetousness. Secular governments are guilty of this, insofar as they have cast God off His throne as King of Kings. Such governments usurp the place of God and rule by their own laws of men, and their covetousness is then directed at the people, usually in the form of excessive taxation.
Covetousness knows no boundaries. Its goal is to appropriate all property to itself and to enslave all men as if they were the personal property of government. When governments covet the sovereignty of God, they act as if they had labored to create the earth and all of its people and resources. Sovereign governments that have usurped the place of God invariably break God's tax laws and replace them with man's covetous taxes.
This will end, for we read in Scripture how God brought the king of Babylon low until he understood the sovereignty of God over Babylon. At the end of the king's time of humiliation, he wrote his testimony about how he learned that all the governments of men were under God. His testimony is the fourth chapter of Daniel.
History shows us that all of the "beast" empires—Persia, Greece, and Rome—learned learned the same lesson and came to recognize the sovereignty of God at some point in history. Today, we are ruled by the final manifestation of those beast empires, and God is once again asserting His sovereignty. The financial systems of the world are disintegrating before Him. All of the covetousness of these world rulers will be exposed, and they will give back sovereignty to God. Secular governments will be a thing of the past, as men recognize the law of God is the only path to freedom, happiness, and world peace.
This is the fourteenth part of a series titled "Moses' Second Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones