"You shall not covet...." (Exodus 20:17) The tenth and final posting in a series on the Ten Commandments.
The last of the ten commandments is very exacting and clear as to what you cannot covet. You shall not covet your neighbor's house or wife or male or female slave or ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. To covet means to desire greatly and wish it were yours. Covet is a much stronger word than just wish as in "I wish I had a Jaguar." To covet is to say something more like, "I wish I had YOUR Jaguar." Coveting is about obsessing over something that you do not have but you would like to own that someone else owns.
I use the example of a Jaguar because it is my favorite automobile and most likely one that I will never own. I love the sleek lines of the frame of a Jaguar. I love the hood ornament with that little jaguar running into the wind. I love the interior with its rich luxurious leather. I have never driven a Jaguar or even allowed myself to go to a dealership that sells Jaguars lest I be very tempted to go into deep debt to own one. So, it is okay for me to wish I had one. I would cross the line, though, if I saw a person I knew who had a Jaguar just like the kind I wanted and began to obsess over how I would get IT--not just any old Jaguar but that specific one that belonged to that person.
There is a story in the Old Testament that illustrates how coveting something that someone else owns can lead one into a lot of trouble. In the book of the Kings, it tells the story about King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. They lived in the palace and had just about everything that anyone could want. Everyday, however, Ahab would go out into the palace balcony and look down upon his neighbor's garden. The neighbor was named Naboth. Naboth must have had a green thumb because he had a vineyard that was his pride and joy and it had grapes that were so delicious looking that Ahab began to covet Naboth's vineyard. Ahab got into a funk about his lack of his neighbor's vineyard and was sitting around all sullen and moody when Jezebel asked him what was going on with him. Ahab told her sadly that he wanted Naboth's vineyard but he would not sell it to him or give it to him. Jezebel devised a plan to kill Naboth and take his vineyard away from him and when the plan was fulfilled Naboth was dead and the vineyard belonged to Ahab.
I remember hearing this story when I was just a boy. Preachers love to preach on this text because it so perfectly illustrates what happens when people allow their passions to overrun their brain. Ahab wanted what belonged to his neighbor so badly that he and his wife agreed to murder the owner of it so that he could own it. Coveting led to greed and that led to desire that led to crime. Ahab did not get off scot free though. The prophet Elijah soon appeared on the scene to pronounce judgement on the two culprits in crime.
We often watch the programs on television that tell true crime stories such as 20/20 or 48 Hours. Inveribly, when the true killer is revealed, the reason for murder has something to do with money or possessions. There was one recently where a woman murdered her husband and mother-in-law so she could inherit their fortune. The woman had allowed her greed to drive her to the place where she could commit a horrible crime in order to get their possessions.
Sometimes elderly persons are swindled out of their money or possessions by persons who are able to convince them to trust them and put their possessions in their care and suddenly those thing belong to another person, often by techniques that are very legal. Coveting what others have begins a cycle wherein people will break other commandments in order to get what they covet leading to a far worse situation than originally existed.
I guess that is why coveting made the top ten list of commandments. The word itself may be a bit weird, perhaps sounds archaic, but what lies behind the word is deadly.