You Shall Not Covet

Text: Ninth and Tenth Commandments

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” This was King David’s fervent prayer to God, after the prophet Nathan made known to him his sin. David had taken another man’s wife to be his own and, moreover, had the man killed by the hand of an enemy nation. David sought to cover-up his sin, to make everything appear right – he only took Bathsheba into his home after Uriah died. But, on the inside, there was a deep, festering, corruption. Nathan was sent by the Lord to preach to David. He said to him, “You are the man.” David was struck by the hammer of God’s Law and realized the depth of his sin. His sin in the matter was not just his evil actions, but his evil heart that gave birth to those evil actions. 

David knew the Commandments very well, and he knew that what the Lord demands in the Commandments is not just an outward righteousness, but an inward righteousness as well – a righteousness of heart – and he failed on both accounts. Therefore, he turned to the Lord. He confessed his sins unto the Lord, and the Lord forgave him his sin. Today we are meditating on the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. In these, God shows us that He demands inner and not just outward perfection. Therefore, we flee to Christ whose death redeems us from our sin. 

I.

Let’s go ahead and read these Commandments together. 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it. 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

In some ways, these Commandments speak to things that we’ve already covered in earlier Commandments. In the Fifth Commandment, we are taught not to harm our neighbor but help and provide for him in his bodily needs. Therefore, we shouldn’t deprive him of his home or possessions. In the Sixth Commandment we are taught to live pure and decent lives, therefore we should not seek to draw away our neighbor’s spouse. The Seventh Commandment, of course, is to not steal; the Eighth, to not lie. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments speak to topics we’ve already covered, but they do it in such a way as to fill in the gaps.

These Commandments, in short, condemn any attempt to take what belongs to our neighbor and make it ours. This includes all scheming and plotting. It includes using loopholes to get around situations. Even if we get what belongs to our neighbor in a totally legal fashion, such as through court proceedings and contracts, it may still fall under these Commandments. What God gives to our neighbor is not our business. Our neighbor may sell us what is his, he may give it to us or share it with us; these are God-pleasing ways. These Commandments prohibit us from scheming, plotting, and planning to take what God has given to someone else and make it ours – be it his house, possessions, income, or relationships.

II.

That is the plain meaning of these last Commandments, but there is something else to be said, and that is: what does it mean to covet? The back of the Catechism defines it this way, “Coveting is the sinful desire in our hearts to acquire for ourselves anything that belongs to our neighbor.” In other words, coveting is something that happens in the heart. It’s when we, in our hearts, have sinful desires to take what belongs to someone else. That desire in the heart, even if it isn’t fully acted on, is still sin. That’s why David prayed for a clean heart, and not a sinful one that gives birth to more and more sin. Remember what Jesus once said:

There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

Matthew 7:15, 21-22

Let’s use David as an example. He was walking on the roof of the palace, and he saw a woman bathing in an adjacent building. He did not avert his eyes; he lusted. Then, he asked around who the woman was, and his people told him that she was a married woman. (David, also, was a married man.) Here, is where David coveted. He desired what God gave to his neighbor Uriah. We know happened next. In the Commandments, God demands that not only our actions be righteous, but our desires as well. Even if we think that we can somehow skate through the other Commandments, these ones will trip us up. We all have in ourselves, by nature, a deep-seated discontent. We are never truly happy with what God gives; we always want more, and we dislike when others have more or “better” things than us. And that is sinful.

III.

The function of these last two Commandments is to keep us from scheming to get our neighbor’s things or people, and also to turn us back around to the First Commandment. God commands that we are to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. We shouldn’t seek to get what belongs to our neighbor or to hurt him in any way, we shouldn’t even think about. But the fact that we have had harmful thoughts, that we have had lustful thoughts, that we have been lazy and disobedient in our lives, shows that deep down – with David – we have unclean hearts.

So, what do we do? What did David do? In the Epistle it says that Christ appeared once for all into the holy places to secure an eternal redemption by the shedding of His own blood. It is says that the shedding of His holy, innocent, and precious blood is able to purify us from our dead works, our sins. David knew this. He sang in Psalm 32,

I acknowledged my sin to You, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found…Blessed is the one…whose sin is covered.

Let us learn from David and, like him, confess our sins and look to Christ for forgiveness. His death covers our sins and His blood cleanses our unrighteousness.

We pray:

Heavenly Father, You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living creature. Cause us to fear and love You above all things, that our hearts would not covet that which You have given to our neighbors. Rather, lead us to trust in Your provision of daily bread, be content with what You provide, and reject every evil scheme or enticement that would secure for ourselves that which You have given to others. Enable us to serve our neighbors by helping them keep and guard all that You have given to them; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

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