Exodus 20:17. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house: you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
Who actually commits this sin?
In the first place we commit this sin as individuals as we are surely all aware! We have two great biblical examples. King David coveted another man’s wife to such an extent that it resulted in murder and, ultimately, a plague upon David’s household.
Then we have the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21. The vineyard was a possession of Naboth’s family, an inheritance, but King Ahab wanted it. A scheme was engineered with the help of his wife Jezebel, whereby he obtained the vineyard by having Naboth killed.
This sin can also be committed by the State. The State can be guilty of using either legal and constitutional means, or illegal means, to defraud others of their possessions. It is possible for the State to covet people’s possessions and people’s earnings. Unjust taxation may be enacted as a legal means to get people’s money. It is possible to have greedy, corrupt governments that tax people unnecessarily, or political systems which take away the legal rewards of hard work. Various forms of government ideology and taxation systems have been attempted during the last century, which have brought misery on untold millions.
This command also refers to a man’s oxen. This is a reference to the means he used in ancient times to plough his fields and earn a living. State policy must not take away from a man the very means by which he can earn a living. An example of this today would be the E-Toll system which taxes motorists for using roads that have already been paid for with tax payers’ money. People who need their vehicles to earn a living are seriously disadvantaged if they cannot afford the E-Toll. State policy thereby covets their money and takes it irrespective of the outcome of their lives. It is also possible for this sin to be committed by business corporations, institutions and even small businesses if they withhold commissions or various promises to clients. They may so covet another man’s money that they will defraud that person or obtain his clientele. False advertising, shoddy service, unfair charges for service and unjust wages for employees are all examples of the way in which business can commit the sin of covetousness, and for that matter, the sin of theft too.
This sin is particularly dangerous because it is not easily discernible. You can deal with a person for years without knowing he is crooked. You may not be aware that he has secret desires to defraud you – you trust him. Many of us have had hurtful experiences of this nature; trust has been betrayed and we have been used by someone.
The sin of covetousness is a danger to our eternal happiness because it causes us to focus on our material possessions rather than on our eternal destiny. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that some of those seeds fell amongst thorns. They took root and began to grow but the thorns grew up around them. The thorns represent the anxieties, cares and the riches of this world, and the way in which covetousness suffocates our souls.
Jesus said, ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’ (Mark 8:36-37). What will you give in exchange for your soul? Paul warns us in Ephesians 5:5, ‘For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God’. We may cover it up, or cloak it, but God sees our covetousness.
You can see that covetousness could lead to defrauding, stealing and general dishonesty. It can also lead to hypocrisy by pretending to be friendly to others you intensely dislike simply because they have what you do not. Is this in some way true in your life? Will you repent of it today and ask God to help you to change?