THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE 21st CENTURY
10) 'YOU SHALL NOT COVET'
The Hebrew verb here ‘to covet’ refers to something that takes place inside our heads. It means desiring something we do not have, but which someone else has. We go to Astana or Moscow and we see a rich man drive past in his four wheel drive Mercedes. We imagine ourselves up driving up to our new dacha in a car like that, and we are consumed with the desire to have a four wheel drive limousine. If we actually took his car, it would be stealing. But this commandment is telling us even desiring to have it is breaking the Tenth Commandment. So this commandment is different from all the others. If we bow down to an idol, everyone can see it. If we steal a cow, it stands in our barn. If we commit murder, a body lies on the ground. But if we break the Tenth Commandment nobody can see it. Nobody except God.
We have some examples of coveting in the Bible. When Eve stood under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Serpent suggested it was alright to eat the fruit, she coveted it. It looked juicy, she was hungry, and if she ate it, it could make here as clever as God himself. It was wrong for her to eat it, but she desired it in her heart, and before long she was biting into it. She coveted the forbidden fruit.
When the nation of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land, the first city they came to was Jericho. God told the people that they would capture the city, but that all the silver and gold they found must be given to the Tabernacle, and the rest burned with fire. Later, they would be able to take home the spoil from other cities, but this first one was to be given to God. One of the soldiers entered a house belonging to the enemy. He saw a beautiful Armani dress, just right for his wife, and in a chest in a corner he found a heavy wedge of pure gold and some pieces of silver. It seemed a shame to him to have to burn the Armani dress, and to hand over the money to the priests. He could buy a new tent and a laptop with that gold, and his wife would be thrilled with an Armani dress. So, it says, Achan ‘coveted’ these possessions, which in truth belonged to God. He took them, and hid them under his tent. See Joshua 7:19-22. He admitted himself that he had broken the Tenth Commandment. He wanted something that God said he must not have. A few hours later he was dead.
We can see that the Tenth Commandment is probably the most difficult one to keep. It is natural to covet. It is human nature to envy someone who has the perfect figure, or a big yacht, or an Armani dress. We want things, all the time.
In fact, coveting is at the heart of the advertising industry. We switch on the TV and within minutes we see the perfect family on the beach in the sunshine, the mother in her sunglasses relaxing with a magazine, the father in the water with his children trying out their new jet ski, and we want to be there. We must go on a holiday like that. Or we see a Land Rover bouncing across the desert in the Dakar Rally, and then the advert shows a man just like us slipping behind the wheel of a new shiny car and accelerating into the distance, and we want a car like that. The advertisers put pressure on us. They make us feel inadequate and useless unless we have the computer or house or washing machine they are trying to sell. They make us covet.
What does the New Testament say about coveting? Jesus has an important saying we need to remember. It is in Luke 12:15. He says a man’s life does not consist of how many things he possesses. The situation was that there were two brothers, and their father had died and left property which was supposed to have been divided between them. But one brother refused to hand over the half that belonged to the other. So they asked Jesus, as someone important and unbiased, to act as arbitrator between them. But Jesus refused. To him, money and possessions were unimportant. We are not here, he said, to accumulate wealth and possessions. We are here to prepare for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus went on to tell the story of a rich farmer who had an excellent harvest, with so much corn his barns were full to the top and still there was corn standing outside. So he decided he would knock down his old barns and build bigger ones. He got on the phone to the builders and agreed a price to make some really big barns. It would cost him a lot of money, but after that he could stop worrying about the future because he would have so much corn in store that he could relax and go on a world cruise with his wife and have a really easy time for years. He did not think to say thank you to God who had sent the rain and sunshine that gave him such a bountiful harvest. He went to bed full of plans for spending his money. But that night he died of a heart attack. See Luke 12:16-21.
Notice the sting in the tail. Jesus says this man was rich in his own eyes, but he was not rich in God’s sight. When we are dead, the only thing that will matter is how rich we are in God’s eyes. Men today put their savings into stocks and shares, or put it in the bank to collect interest. But there is nothing actually there except certificates, or numbers in a computer file. You cannot take your savings into the Kingdom of God. What will count on the Day of Judgment is what you did with your time and money while you were alive. Every hour you spent working for God – caring for the sick, teaching the children the Bible stories, telling your friend about Jesus – these are the riches you accumulated in God’s bank, and unlike stocks and shares and savings they will not disappear in a financial crisis. They will last forever. See Luke 12:33, 34.
So, the Tenth Commandment is very important. Coveting will ruin our life. It will make us miserable, because it leaves us unhappy that we do not have the things that we have told ourselves we really must have. And human nature is such that even when we have spent a fortune obtaining those things, we will immediately start to want something bigger or better. We are never satisfied. And yet at the end of our life God will not measure our success by how big our apartment is or how many Armani dresses there are in our wardrobe. Like the servants in the parable of the talents, he will look at how much we have gained for him.
Here is what the Apostle Paul said at the end of his life – see 1 Timothy 6:6-8. We have to learn to be satisfied with food and clothes. That is all we really need. We must spend our time and energy in working for God. “Seek first the Kingdom of God”, said Jesus, “and God will give you the food and clothes he knows you need”.
REVIEW OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
We have completed our survey of the Ten Commandments, and how they apply to us in the 21st Century. We have seen that they are all important, and express the minimum that God expects of us if we are to please him.
Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. You will remember he said the greatest of all was that we must love God with all our heart, which is a summary of the first of the Ten Commandments. But then he said there is a second one, which is like the first. He did not choose “You must not kill” or “You must not covet” or “You must keep the Sabbath Day”. He chose a tiny commandment tucked away in Leviticus 19:18. We must love our neighbour as if he was ourself. If we really treat our neighbour as we would treat ourself, we would never steal his cow, because we would hate to be deprived of our milk supply if he did that to us. Instead, if we learned our neighbour has no milk for his children to drink, and for that reason he was tempted to steal our cow, we would give him our own milk, because that is what we would like to happen to us if we were in the same position. The Apostle Paul sums it up neatly in Romans 13:8-10.
If all the nations of the world had this commandment at the top of their lists of laws, there would be no more war, no more poverty, no more crime, and everyone would be happy. One day, in the Kingdom of God, Jesus will teach all the nations that this is the way to live. And we, God willing, will be there as the teachers Jesus sends out to tell the people “This is the way. Walk in it”. But of course, we must learn to practise loving God and loving our neighbour, now, in our families and in our ecclesias. When people look in on our family and our Christadelphian community, they should feel a warm glow of love. They should desire to join us, because it is such a happy place to be in. Let us try our best to make this a reality, and show the world how to live.
David M Pearce