The Tenth Commandment—Exodus 20.17

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Levi Durfey




The Ten Commandments are commandments that any society needs to have in place in order to be a stable and successful nation. Even an unbeliever could agree with the last six—honor parents to promote respect for authority and strong families; don’t commit adultery to maintain stable marriages that raise healthy, well-adjusted children; don’t murder; don’t steal; don’t bear false witness. All of these promote good relationships between people that help a nation stay strong. 


We’ve noted with regret how our society is moving away from these things—abortion, divorce, broken families, euthanasia, and more, all rip away at the fabric of these foundational principles. 


In addition to those, materialism and the demand for individual rights, tear at the tenth commandment, which forbids coveting. Each year, more and more luxury items become essential needs to people. 


Consider the cell phone, for example. Only thirty years ago we would drive any distance in any weather without one and never thought anything of it. Now, we can’t imagine going anywhere without it. Many people don’t even put the thing away—it’s always in their hand, waiting for the next text. 


Fifteen years ago, no one dreamed that their children would need a cellphone until they were adults. Now? I watch out my office window as the children go home from school, and many have the cellphone out—texting, playing games, and somehow, walking. Parents say how great it is to always been in contact with their children, how it makes them safer.


How did these wants and luxuries turn into needs and necessities? Because the companies who make them know how to appeal to our base nature—humans naturally, sinfully, covet things. 


We start small—just watch toddlers at play—and continue on all our lives. Gradually, what was a luxury and a privilege to have becomes a necessity and a right to have—and a TV commercial or two helps speed things along. In other words, we as a society are constantly being bombarded with messages to give in to the desire to covet.


Fifteen years ago, pastor Mark Buchanan described this desire to covet and this materialistic society as a cult—


I belong to the Cult of the Next Thing. It’s dangerously easy to get enlisted. It happens by default—not by choosing the cult, but by failing to resist it. The Cult of the Next Thing is consumerism cast in religious terms. It has its own litany of sacred words: more, you deserve it, new, faster, cleaner, brighter. It has its own deep-rooted liturgy: charge it, instant credit, no down-payment, deferred payment, no interest for three months. It has its own preachers, evangelists…: ad men, pitchmen, celebrity sponsors. It has, of course, its own shrines, chapels, temples, meccas: malls, superstores, club warehouses. It has its own sacraments: credit and debit cards. It has its own [spiritual mountain-top] experiences: the spending spree. The Cult of the Next Thing’s central message proclaims, “Crave and spend, for the Kingdom of Stuff is here.” (


It’s no wonder that God devoted a whole commandment to the sin of coveting.




Coveting is desiring something that you don’t have. It’s important to point out that it is okay to have desires. We are to desire to be close to God, after all. And it’s fine to desire food, clothing, shelter, and even luxuries.


The tenth commandment recognizes that there are things that we can desire and things we shouldn’t desire by listing examples of what are wrong to desire.


Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.


The list is not exhaustive for it ends with, “nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s,” indicating that other things could be added.


In addition, the Hebrew for “covet” is a strong word, suggesting a strong desire for something you don’t have and the willingness to do anything to get it (UBS Handbook).


But coveting is more than desiring things that don’t belong to you. There’s a deeper issue at stake. That issue is our contentment with God and what he has given us. 


5 Let your conversation [conduct] be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)


See the three parts in play there? First, don’t covet. Second, be content with things you have. Third, why? Because God will never leave you or forsake you. Coveting is a lack of contentment with what God gives you—especially the fact that he gives you himself.


By the way—isn’t funny how we often quote the last part of that verse, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” but never the first part? What does that indicate about us? We want God, but we don’t want to do what he says!


Another verse that links coveting and contentment with God’s provision (although it uses neither word) is:


24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)


Why does one serve money? One reason is that we expect money to give us what we need and want. We trust it to help us (it’s ironic that our US money has “In God We Trust” on it). What are you going to do to something that provides for you? You are going to love it. You are going to desire more of it. Now we’re back to coveting.


Coveting is a heart issue that comes out in various actions. You could probably break all the rest of the Ten Commandments and find coveting the reason for doing so. People steal because they covet. They commit adultery because they covet. They may even murder because they covet (e.g., a spouse may kill the other spouse for the insurance money). 


But above all, the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is broken because we covet. We covet, for example, money and what it can provide us, and turn our back on God.


What is coveting? Coveting is desiring something we shouldn’t because we have a lack of contentment in what God has provided for us.




Coveting has a reputation like lying. We don’t think that there’s much harm in it. When a pretty woman (or a handsome man) passes by, we elbow our drooling friend and say, “You can look, but you can’t touch.” 


I don’t know if you have noticed this, but the word, “porn,” is being used for more than just sexual images these days. People talk about “food porn” or “car porn” or something like that. 


They mean that the television show or magazine has pictures of mouth-watering food or muscle cars that someone who has an excessive interest for those things would drool over. I’ve even seen “Navy porn,” pictures of naval vessels that some people really enjoy looking at.


In other words, what was once a evil word to refer to sexual coveting is now applied to all sorts of coveting. In a way, it’s a good thing—because coveting is brought out as the sin as it really is. But, on the other hand, the evilness of porn is watered down—and that is just the point, we don’t think coveting really is that harmful.


We’ve already seen that coveting indicates a lack of contentment in God’s provision for us. That’s enough reason to see coveting as a sin, but we can also list other harmful aspects of coveting.


1) Coveting Never Brings Satisfaction


Solomon, the richest man in the Bible, warned:


10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)


It is like the man who said, “Last month my aunt died and left me $25,000. Last week, my brother died and left me $38,000. I am so depressed.”

His good friend said, “Why are you depressed?”

He said, “Because this week, nobody died.” (Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking, [Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009], 147)


There is an Indian parable about this. A guru had a disciple and was so pleased with the man’s spiritual progress that he left him on his own. The man lived in a little mud hut. He lived simply, begging for his food. 


Each morning, after his devotions, the disciple washed his loincloth and hung it out to dry. One day, he came back to discover the loincloth torn and eaten by rats. He begged the villagers for another, and they gave it to him. But the rats ate that one, too. So he got himself a cat. That took care of the rats, but now when he begged for his food he had to beg for milk for his cat as well. “This won’t do,” he thought. “I’ll get a cow.” 


So he got a cow and found he had to beg now for fodder. So he decided to till and plant the ground around his hut. But soon he found no time for contemplation, so he hired servants to tend his farm. But overseeing the labors became a chore, so he married to have a wife to help him. After time, the disciple became the wealthiest man in the village.


The guru was traveling by there and stopped in. He was shocked to see that where once stood a simple mud hut there now loomed a palace surrounded by a vast estate, worked by many servants. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked his disciple.


“You won’t believe this, sir,” the man replied. “But there was no other way I could keep my loincloth.” (


Jesus also warned us about coveting:


15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:15)


Don’t miss this, Jesus said to “beware of covetousness.” That, in itself, should be reason enough to see that coveting is harmful and sinful. But Jesus also reminds us, as Solomon did, that life is not about possessions.


Lee Atwater was an aggressive, media-savvy, Republican politician who rose to prominence in the 1980’s. I’ve read that he had two goals he wanted to achieve before the age of 40. He wanted to manage a winning Presidential campaign, which he did in 1988 when George Bush got elected. He also wanted to be the chairman of the National Republican Committee, which happened when president-elect George Bush asked him to head the party.


But then, in 1990, at a fundraiser for Senator Phil Gramm, Atwater collapsed during a speech. He was diagnosed with brain cancer; the treatment left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He converted to Catholicism, and started thinking a lot about what is important in life. In a February, 1991, article in Life magazine, he said:


My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The ’80s were about acquiring—acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. 


What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth… (


Lee Atwater died on March 29, 1991, a month after turning forty. Coveting never brings satisfaction. 


2) Coveting Chokes Spiritual Fruitfulness


In the parable of the soils, Jesus mentions four kinds of soil that seeds could potentially fall on. Listen to what he says about the third kind:


22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)


There is great deal we could talk about in this parable—for example, is this person saved or unsaved? But set all that aside and ask: what is the principle Jesus is teaching? What can choke the Word of God in a person’s life? Answer: the cares of the world and riches. Coveting chokes spiritual fruitfulness.


In what ways does coveting choke spiritual fruitfulness? It saps our ability to give to the Lord financially. It cuts into our time with the Lord. It distracts us from thinking about the Lord because we’re thinking about possessions. Coveting is, as we said earlier, the opposite of contentment with the Lord’s provision for us. 


Living a simple, contented life opens us up to hearing God in his word more easily. Have you ever been on a lake shore early in the morning or late at night, when it’s quiet? Have you heard how voices carry across the lake at those times? We need silence in our souls to hear God speak in the Bible.


It’s hard to peel back possessions, commitments, and the like after you have them. But we should try to at least start. Have a garage sale, or better, give stuff away.  Being content with less is the antidote to the sin of coveting. 


3) Coveting Leads To Other Sins


10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)


What will you do to get what you covet? Would you steal? Would you try to force others to do what you want? Would you spend yourself deeply into debt? There are a thousand sins that arise out of our “need” to have something. Eventually, our verse tells us, those sins cause us to err from the faith and be pierced with many sorrows.


Turn to James 4 and consider this question: What causes problems in a church?


1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:1–3)


Like we mentioned before, this is the first commandment that we break, before we break any other. This is, someone wrote, “the hub of the wheel.” Anytime we break a commandment, this tenth one was already broken. Coveting is a sin, no doubt about it, and a sin that causes other sins.



Coveting comes from a lack of contentment in God’s provision for us. The Bible teaches us what needs to happen to have contentment—the apostle Paul wrote:


11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:11–13)


Paul learned the secret to being content—by relying on Christ for strength. What would that mean in our daily lives? I think at least part of it is crying out to the Lord when we are tempted to covet something.


[Puritan pastor] Jeremiah Burroughs explained what we ought to say to ourselves whenever we are tempted to be discontent: “I find a sufficiency of satisfaction in my own heart, through the grace of Christ that is in me. Though I have not outward comforts and worldly conveniences to supply my necessities, yet I have a sufficient portion between Christ and my soul abundantly to satisfy me in every condition.” 

(Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005], 674)


Lord, we ought to pray, help me to be satisfied with just you!

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