“Thou shalt not covet”
From the beginning we were taught, “It is not good for man to be alone” and so God created a woman, and the first community was born. We start with this last commandment, one often neglected in the list, because I want to work from the least to the greatest. In a sense, this is God’s Top Ten List. At the tenth position we find this principle of community. Why do people congregate together? We practice it without really being aware of it, and think it strange when someone chooses to separate themselves and be a “loner”. It is built within us to be together, rather than apart, even in the sweltering jungles that are farthest from civilization. Human beings congregate, pool resources, fight alongside one another. We do this without thinking because it lies beneath our thinking in our BIOS. With this tenth code comes a warning. Because we congregate together, we compare ourselves to others. If your spear is longer than mine, your hut bigger, your wife prettier, I will notice those things. What I choose to do with this comparison is the subject of this Code.
“‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ (Deu 5:21)
Deuteronomy uses two words to describe envy. The first “covet” has more of a sexual overtone, like “lust”, hence, wife is moved to the first clause (where in Exodus 20, wife is placed second, after house). The other word, “desire” has more of a general sense of envy. This fresh emphasis may be in light of the Sin at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25:1), and the daughters of Moab. Sexual desire is given special attention because even to look upon a woman, to lust after her, is to commit adultery with her. Jesus re-emphasizes this in the New Testament:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28)
This kind of envy, which we call lust is just as dangerous as the act itself. Has not many a man been consumed with desire for a woman? Does this not explain the destructive nature of porn?
Add to this the power of envy often used in marketing. When you watch or listen to a commercial, the whole point of this tiny piece of media is to entice you spend your money on something you do not have. Often it is demonstrated that such an item will improve you life, make you feel better, or impress your friends. Several years ago, my folks came down to visit us. We have an HDTV, just like many others. Its not a huge TV, but enough to get the job done. But my folks did not have one. They really enjoyed watching TV on this High-Definition Screen. As soon as they got home, Dad went and got himself a new HDTV. For good or ill, seeing what someone else has automatically, without our even really thinking about it, demands comparison. You notice when you visit someone whether their house is cleaner than yours. Whether their kitchen appliances are more up to date than yours, whether your car has as many bells and whistles as theirs. And that is exactly what this commandment is designed to curb. How do you react when you see someone else’s stuff, even their spouse? Does this comparison lead to discontentment, or even envy?
So, for what purpose is this code built within us?
First, that we would seek others so that we would not be alone. This reinforces our need for accountability. This code is our automatic nature to be in companionship with others. Companionship has consequences. For two to walk together, they must agree to go the same direction. There are rules about companionship that are often unstated. So in our relationships, we build a system of rules that makes sure everyone gets along. There are things we talk about, and things we don’t. There is an unstated agreement that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, and we do not take without asking. This is my property and that is your property. This is my spouse and that is your spouse, and we do not trade. (I.e., Swingers, who swap spouses, grate on me personally because they violate this code. The same goes for Communism.) Thus we are accountable to each other if we wish to maintain that relationship.
Second, that in our capacity for comparison we understand that many times we do not measure up and need to improve. If we unconsciously compare ourselves to one another, there must be a reason for it. We recognize people who are more righteous than we are, and as sinful people, this naturally grates on us. This contributed in large part to why Jesus was crucified, because of a world of lost sinners couldn’t stand One who was not. Jesus is our model for righteousness. When we take up His righteousness upon ourselves through salvation and sanctification, our capacity for comparison to Him works for us, and we practice our capacity for judgment (based on this code). Don’t discount your ability to judge, because it comes from this capacity for comparison (between what is right and what is wrong) and leads to a spiritually enhanced ability called “discernment”. When we use Christ as our standard of comparison, it is much easier to see what is “not-Christ”.
Third, we receive validation and approval from others (an important emotional need) when we succeed. From the right sources, that can be valuable empowerment to do what we are supposed to do. I cannot emphasize this enough. If we fail to receive validation (from our parents, our peers, even our kids to an extent) there is a deep disconnect within us, a breach of the BIOS, and odd behaviors begin to emerge. Validation-seeking behaviors will take the lead, desires for approval, trying to be the best to the exclusion of other needs, to the exclusion of common sense, i.e., taking steroids to be the best athlete against better judgment. Trying to be the best student, or the best musician, practicing and practicing because validation one did not receive from mom and dad (especially dad) will be sought from others. Consider obsession with Facebook (and WordPress) likes, seeking validation from strangers. Coveting comes into this when we see the validation others receive and desire it for ourselves, and sometimes this will lead to murderous behavior (Lee Harvey Oswald?). The desire to “make a name for myself” comes from this.
The last commandment is the only commandment to deal with an attitude, a starting point for which many of the other commandments follow. Please follow and like as we continue to work through the Source Code.