You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. [Exodus 20:17 (ESV)]
Although it sounds like something Satan might say to his demons, it was Alex Dumas, CEO of Hermès, who said “Our business is about creating desire.” It’s not just Hermès (with their $8,500 Della Cavalleria “magical bag”) that is in the business of creating desire; that seems to be the goal of many businesses. The LA Times has a “Coveted” column in their Image magazine featuring a curated list of luxury items (like $950 Gucci sneakers) they claim to be “mandatory” or “must-haves.” The October Vogue featured “coveted street style trends,” (like $1,364 velvet trousers and $600 Levi jeans) while urging its readers to purchase them “before it’s too late.” There’s even an on-line game called “Covet Fashion” in which you build your virtual dream wardrobe and then follow links to purchase the desired items.
With all its sales, catalogs, and advertisements, Christmas easily can become a season of desire and desire is what coveting is all about—a strong desire for something we don’t have or something we think we don’t have enough of. The sin of coveting, however, isn’t just desiring material goods. Coveting is a desire for what we can’t have or what other people do have—everything from that $8,500 Hermès bag to a fashion model’s beauty or someone else’s success to our neighbor’s wife.
The tenth commandment not to covet is unique among the Ten Commandments. The first nine deal with actions such as worshipping idols, keeping the Sabbath, honoring parents, taking the Lord’s name in vain, theft, adultery, or murder, but coveting is not an act. Coveting is a matter of the heart and allows desire for something to replace our desire for God. When we covet, we grow discontented, resentful, and even selfish enough to gain what we want at the expense of others.
By desiring the wrong things—whether other’s people’s lives and possessions or things like beauty, life-style, wealth, or fame—our goals get distorted. We may be willing to sacrifice things of real value—home, integrity, marriage, family, financial security, health, ethics, or faith—to attain what, in the end, has little value in this world and absolutely none in the next. When Eve coveted that forbidden fruit, sin and death entered into the world. When David coveted Bathsheba, he ended up ordering Uriah’s death. As a result, his infant son died, calamity entered his house, murder was a constant threat in his family, and he was publicly humiliated by Absalom. After Achan coveted the spoils of war, his entire family was destroyed. As a result of Ahab coveting his neighbor’s vineyard and Jezebel arranging the man’s death, Ahab and every male in his family died and Jezebel was eaten by dogs. Let’s remember that desiring what God does not mean for us to have will always come with a steep price!