The Tenth Commandment
The Tenth Commandment is God’s last word on how to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In a sense it establishes the principle that “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), teaching us not to rely upon the letter of the law, but to discern the heart. Deuteronomy 5:21 reads,
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.
This command in Deuteronomy 5 differs only slightly from the same command forty years earlier. In Exodus 20:17, the Commandment starts with: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house,” and then proceeds to detail the people, animals, and things in the house. In Deuteronomy, Moses reverses the order.
The Meaning of Covetousness
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 to covet to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:39). So the word itself shows that the sin is a misplaced desire for another's property or position.
The Spiritual Foundation
The Tenth Commandment is more than a summation of all of the Commandments. It establishes the spiritual foundation of the whole law, because any man who can keep from coveting in his heart will never fail to love God and his neighbor as himself.
He who does not covet will never usurp the place of God in violation of the First Commandment. He will have no heart idolatry in violation of the Second Commandment. He will never take God’s name in vain through any oath of innocence in violation of the Third Commandment. He will never rob God of time or become impatient with the divine plan in prophecy in violation of the Fourth Commandment. He will neither rob his earthly parents nor his heavenly Father of the honor that is due them, in violation of the Fifth Commandment. In other words, he will always love God with all of his heart, soul, and strength, because his heart does not covet.
Such a man will not covet the life of his neighbor in violation of the Sixth Commandment. He will not covet his neighbor’s wife in violation of the Seventh Commandment. He will not steal from his neighbor, in violation of the Eighth Commandment, because he will not covet anything that belongs to his neighbor. He will not bear false witness against his neighbor in violation of the Ninth Commandment, because he will not covet his reputation, position, or property, nor will he lie to deprive him of his lawful rights.
In other words, this Commandment prohibits selfishness and promotes generosity. If a man keeps it, he will always love his neighbor as himself.
The Sermon on the Mount
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7 brought the law into clearer focus than most people had understood by the teaching of the rabbis. He did not abolish the law, but showed the mind of God in its precepts. Matthew 5:17 says,
17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
Yet after saying this, he went on to explain that there was more to the law than its surface meaning.
20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
How was their righteousness to surpass that of the religious leaders? How did Jesus’ teaching go further and deeper into the mind of God than the teachings of those leaders? The contrast is seen in Jesus’ favorite phrase, “You have heard that the ancients were told… but I say unto you” (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44.)
In other words, Jesus intended to contrast traditional teaching with His own perspective. In so doing, He did not “abolish” the law, but gave a deeper understanding of the law. He did this by integrating each of those laws with the Tenth Commandment.
In regard to murder (5:21, 22), He showed that men could commit murder in their heart, even if they did not actually kill someone. Insulting others is like murder, because such people covet another person’s reputation and degrade his very life.
In regard to adultery (5:27, 28), He showed that men could commit adultery in their hearts, even if they did not commit the overt act of adultery. How? By coveting another man’s wife.
In regard to the law of equal weights and measures (5:38, 39), where the judgment of the law specifies “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” He showed how this law could be misapplied if it were done without mercy. If a man is insulted with a slap on the cheek, he had the legal right to go to court and be given the right to slap him back. However, if the victim does not covet his own reputation or honor, he might turn the other cheek, rather than uphold his own rights with a covetous heart.
In regard to loving one’s neighbor and hating one’s enemy (5:43, 44), He showed that men had misunderstood this as well. It was not permissible under the law to hate in return, nor was it a duty to hate non-Israelites. Those who hold double standards for Israelites and aliens are guilty of collective covetousness, for they selfishly think that God has given them the right to deny aliens equal justice or human rights.
All of these examples show us that the law is spiritual and that it must be kept in conjunction with the Tenth Commandment. God discerns the hearts of men, and not merely their actions. But because the earthly courts could only judge men’s actions, many thought that only overt actions could be classified as sin.
Jesus showed that there is a higher court that judges the hearts of men when earthly courts are incapable of doing so. In fact, whenever men appeal to the Supreme Court of Heaven, they must expect God to judge all involved, including the witnesses themselves, with equal justice, based upon all the evidence—including the motives of each heart.
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 says,
25 But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Those who covet authority ought not to have it, for these will misuse it and oppress the people.
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.
However, Israel only got what they asked for: “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). Jesus said that “the rulers of the nations lord it over them,” and so that is the type of king that Saul was. He was a taker, as the next verses show. “He will take your sons” and “take your daughters,” and “take the best of your fields,” and “take a tenth of your seed,” and “take your male servants and your female servants.”
In other words, Saul coveted the property of others, thinking that his position as king entitled him to take property from others for his own use and for the use of his servants (government employees). The people themselves had rejected the direct rule of God (1 Sam. 8:7), perhaps not realizing that they were coveting God’s right to rule the nation. Their personal carnality bred government carnality. The people got a covetous king who acted out the covetousness of the people’s hearts.
Coveting Spiritual Gifts
King Saul was crowned on the day of wheat harvest (1 Sam. 12:17). This was the day that the new meal offering of wheat was offered to God. It was the Feast of Weeks, later known by the Greek term, Pentecost. Hence, Saul was a type of the church under Pentecost.
For this reason, Saul was given the gift of prophecy, according to Samuel’s word in 1 Sam. 10:6,
6 Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.
The reign of King Saul prophesied of the type of leadership that the church would see under the anointing of Pentecost. The fact that Saul prophesied does not denigrate the gift of prophecy. But it does show that the prophetic gift and office can be abused by those who have not dealt with covetousness in their hearts.
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 Basis of Godly Society
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 that land, trees, or anything in nature is owned by man, it is theft 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 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 (Daniel 4:34-37).
History shows us that all of the “beast” empires 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 that knowing King Jesus and His perfect law is the only path to freedom, happiness, and world peace.