The Ten Commandments are the basic law that was given to the Israelites by God. The last of the commandments is stated in Exodus 20:17 as follows: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
This commandment is in addition to the commandment to not steal, which means that to covet what belongs to your neighbor is something different from stealing it. But what exactly does it mean to covet what belongs to another and why is it a bad thing?
It certainly doesn’t harm God directly if we covet what belongs to another, and it doesn’t harm the person whose things we covet. So what’s the big deal? Why did God give us this commandment?
God instructed us not to covet what belongs to others because He loves us and wants what is best for us. He wants us to trust Him for what we need and what will make us happy and content. He wants to bless us uniquely, and not necessarily in the same way He has blessed another.
When we covet what belongs to another then we lose the blessing of contentment. A lack of contentment brings sorrow and strife into our life. When we covet what belongs to another we dwell on what we don’t have and forget to be thankful for what we do have.
Here are some examples from my own life:
- If I covet the large families that my sisters-in-law all have (5, 4, and 3 kids, respectively), and dwell on a desire to have many children instead of the one son I do have, then I will feel sorrowful. I will forget to be thankful for the wonderful, generous, creative son that God has blessed me with. I will miss out on the blessing of being able to spend so much time with him because my time is not divided among multiple children.
- If I covet the 5 bedroom house that my neighbor owns, and dwell on my desire to have my own library, a larger laundry room, and guest rooms for visitors, then I will feel that life is unfair. I will forget to be thankful for the beautiful house I do own in a great neighborhood. I will miss out on the blessing of my small family being so close because there is no room in our house to avoid each other. I will also miss out on the blessing of not having as many rooms to keep clean.
- If I covet the Thunderbird I was following on my way to work the other day, and dwell on my desire to have a nicer car (preferably red), then I will feel sad. I will forget to be thankful for the (mostly) reliable car that I do drive and that I don’t have to ride the bus to work. I will miss out on the blessing of not having a car payment to make every month and not having higher insurance rates for a newer car.
There are many other things that my friends and neighbors have that I don’t have that I could covet. But God has commanded that I not covet these things because He wants me to be happy and content with the blessings I do enjoy. Although we may think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, God knows that there is no guarantee that having the things we covet would make us more content and happy.
As I thought about writing this post, a song by Dwight Yoakam came to mind. It’s called I Got You. It’s a song about a guy who has lost everything it seems, but he still has his girl and so he is content. He says:
Hey I know my life seems a mess but honey things to me still look real swell
Cause I’ve got you to see me through yeah I’ve got you to chase my blues
I’ve got you to ease my pain yeah I’ve got you girl to keep me sane
So let them do what they want to do cause it don’t matter long as I’ve got you
Sometimes in this life people do lose everything it seems. Sometimes they even lose the one person they think will get them through. But one thing is sure, and that is that we can never lose the love of Jesus.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV).
So let us not covet that which we do not have, but instead be thankful for the blessings we have been given and rejoice in the love of God that can never be taken from us.