We don’t use the word “covet” too much these days. So I like to rephrase this word as: Do not Desire to Acquire what belongs to another.
In the passage in Exodus there is one verb used that is translated “do not covet.” This word can be more fully described by these definitions.
- “an inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire.” This is the definion of a Old Testament scholar. It makes it clear that it is not wrong to desire things. For example, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This verse does not tell us that God wants us to simply endure and not have any good thing happen to us. Yet this verse shows that the desires that God fulfills are governed and they are unselfish. The first part of the verse governs the second. “Delight yourself in the lord…” That is to say, find your meaning and delight in God and his gifts. When that is first, then God gives you the desires of your heart. Desire is not bad, but that which is “inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire.”
- The desire is not only a felling or an idea; it is also all the schemes we put in place to actually acquire what belongs to another. That is to covet is not only to desire, it is a desire to acquire.
- Coveting, or this “desire to acquire” is stimulated by something you see. You might see a man with a brand new car, and you don’t just want one like it, but you want his car. You might see a woman with her husband, and you are not happy for their happiness, but you want to acquire her husband for yourself. The idea comes from seeing what others have, then wanting to get it from them.
Let me illustrate from Genesis:
When God created the Garden of Eden, he put Adam and Eve in a place with great beauty, and one where there every need could be provided. We find this verse in Genesis 2:9
9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
So the Garden was pleasing. It is like going to the Arboretum, or to Olbrich gardens in the spring where the plans are blooming. The beauty of nature, the delicious fruit that grows the fish in the streams, the lovely milk cows that let us have cheese on our hamburgers…these are all good things. There is nothing wrong with seeing and enjoying what God has given us.
Yet what happens when these things are “inordinate, ungoverned and selfish” desires? We look in the next chapter.
6 Then the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
What is wrong here? When the Lord put them into the garden, he said that they could eat from any of the trees but the one. This tree is the one that Eve is admiring. She is looking at disobedience and it looks good, looks like it will taste good and she believes the Tempter that it will make her wise like God.
We are not against desire, God places desires in us. But he then instructs us one positive ways to meet those desires. He warns us of the negative ways to avoid them. Do not Steal, do not Murder, do not Lie, to not “desire to acquire what belongs to another.”