The Song of the Mountains – Verse 41
Are they here yet?
When I was ten, or thereabouts, roller skates were the must have item of the year. Apparently they had made a comeback from some earlier era. I seem to recall my mother ordering them for my birthday; and in the pre-Amazon Prime era, orders would take two or three weeks to arrive from a store catalogue. What a wait! I wanted them so bad. Several of my friends had them already, but a few of us were in a jealous holding pattern. But then, finally, they arrived. As you might expect, after a week or two, perhaps less, after crashing too many times to count, they were put in a closet and I forgot about them. All these years later, I remember the wait more than I do the enjoyment of the skates themselves. Ironic.
The tenth commandment is the right and logical conclusion to the Decalogue, specifically to the second table regarding interpersonal relationships. If we guard the tenth commandment, we will not murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness against our neighbor as a benefit to ourselves.
Like the last several commandments, which guard the sanctity of the object of the command, the tenth commandment guards the sanctity of motives. What is motive? Although there are several definitions for motive, depending on its use as a noun or adjective, for our purpose here, motive is the hidden or undisclosed reason for doing something.
The tenth commandment, then, deals solely with the internal. It is instructing us to guard the sanctity of our motives, which ultimately lead to our actions. Among the ten commandments, it is the only one dealing exclusively with the internal thought life of man. This is an interesting concept, and one that seems contradictory to how the Apostolic and Hebrew Scriptures are taught. Often, Christian Bible teachers will suggest that the Torah, more specifically the ten commandments, are concerned with external action and appearance over that of the internal nature or condition of humanity; while the Apostolic Scriptures, it is argued, are concerned with the internal nature and condition of humanity.
It is an internal safeguard.
The tenth commandment, among others, demonstrates that the Lord, at the giving of the Torah through Moses, was concerned with the internal condition of His people. Consider these additional examples:
- Leviticus 19:17-18, “Do not hate your brother in your heart. Reprove you neighbor, for certain, and bear no sin because of him. Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
- Exodus 25:1-2, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, that they take up a contribution for Me. From everyone whose heart moves him you shall take up My contribution.”
Martin Luther wrote that the tenth commandment was not for those who are placed behind bars, but for those who believe that they have conformed to the Law.
So how should we understand this commandment in messianic faith today?
The commandment reads:
לֹא תַחְמֹד, בֵּית רֵעֶךָ; לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ, וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ, וְכֹל, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ
“Do not covet the house of your neighbor; do not covet your neighbors wife, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything belonging to your neighbor.” (Personal translation.)
The first clause commands us not covet our neighbors’ house. The Lord is not referring to his physical dwelling place; but rather, his wife, servants, and possessions, as it concludes, וְכֹל, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ, “or all that belongs to your neighbor.”
Yeshua/Jesus, and the apostles speak as to the serious nature of negative coveting. James speaks of being enticed, then leading to action based on desire that is sinful (James 1:13-15). Paul writes, “For this you know, that no one who whores, nor unclean one, nor greedy of gain, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Messiah and God.” (Eph. 5:5; cf. I Cor. 6:9-10; Col. 3:5). An interesting historical note is that no other ancient near eastern culture had a command against coveting.
If we express this simply, the tenth commandment specifies three things in life that are often coveted: money, sex, and the means to accumulate wealth and power – servants and animals. When the human heart covets, in order to gain what is coveted, it will more than likely be necessary to violate one or more of the other commandments to acquire what is desired; which is perhaps why we find a command guarding the human heart at the close of the Decalogue.
Covet is from the Hebrew root חמד, meaning: to delight, greatly beloved, covet, lust, or a precious thing. We see that it can be used in both a positive and negative sense. In the positive sense, Paul tells us to “covet” the better gifts (I Cor. 12:31). Additionally, Proverbs tells us to covet our spouse (Prov. 18:22). Further, Peter tells us to “covet” Scripture (I Pet. 2:2). Moreover, Paul also tells us that it is acceptable to “covet” a leadership position (I Tim. 3:1). It is interesting that Paul mentions the tenth commandment specifically with regard to his conversion experience, as covetousness was the sin that took occasion in him, and did a work in him (Ro. 7:7-12), as he writes, “And the command which was to result in life, this I found to result in death.”
What is the cure for coveting?
Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz explains, “This Commandment goes to the root of all evil actions – the unholy instincts and impulses of predatory desire, which are the spring of nearly every sin against a neighbor. The man who does not covet his neighbor’s goods will not bear false witness against him; he will not rob nor murder, nor will he commit adultery. It commands self-control; for every man has it in his power to determine whether his desires are to master him, or he is to master his desires. Without such self-control, there can be no worthy human life; it alone is the measure of true manhood or womanhood. ‘Who is strong?’ ask the rabbis. ‘He who controls his passions,’ is their reply.”
We would certainly find this definition compatible and consistent with messianic teaching. Consider the fruit of the Spirit in the teaching of Paul, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustworthiness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is not instruction” (Gal. 5:22-23). Or Paul’s words to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of self-control” (II Tim. 1:7). Furthermore, Paul’s comments regarding the last days, “For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of silver, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, thankless, wrongdoers, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, haters of good, betrayers, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Tim. 3:2-4). We might say that we have surely arrived at this today, yet Paul’s description is consistent with all ages.
Hebrews teaches us that the key is to be satisfied; we read, “Let your way of life be without the love of silver, and be satisfied with what you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I shall never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
Being satisfied, or content, is not our natural condition; but in faith, it is the antidote to covetousness. To covet is to demonstrate a lack of faith in the Lord. If we needed more, He would provide. If He needed us to do, He would enable. If we were ready, He would set in place. If we were adequately prepared for a different stage in life, it would happen. Yet, in all matters and circumstances, we are to praise Him, even if that circumstance is an apparent lack.
It’s a theological problem.
The issue before us is, actually, theological. Coveting is a theological problem, as it is the result of a lack of, or weakness in faith. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains succinctly, “The Tenth Commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor and all that is his.”
It’s a common problem.
All of us have coveted at some point, over some thing: a neighbor’s new car; a co-workers raise; the recognition of academic achievement of another, roller skates, etc. So when we come to the recognition of our sin of covetousness, the same remedy is available to us, as with every other sin – Messiah Yeshua. Remember, when we are in Yeshua, the Father sees us as if we have obeyed perfectly, never having sinned; seeing only the righteousness of His Son. We will fall short, again, and again. We will momentarily lose focus on the Lord, His provision, purpose and plan; but the Holy Spirit will gently correct.
Let this be an encouragement.
Paul wrote, “Not that I speak concerning need, for I have learned to be content in whatever state I am” (Phil. 4:11). Yet, as he wrote elsewhere, he was not teaching from a position of having arrived at the goal of perfection (Phil. 3:12); but from the place of the Lord’s work in progress – just as we are. This commandment, then, is a guard for the heart.
Shalom. Be well.