Why is it that coveting is not a sin easily recognized? Could it be because, humanly, it is easy to think of the Ten Commandments as descending in order of importance, and to not take the Tenth Commandment as seriously as the nine before it?
1) That which is not ours. The word usually translated “covet” means to desire in a negative way, to want what is not rightfully ours. This is the Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:17; the verse speaks of our neighbor’s property.
An interesting example of the use of this word is in Exodus 34:24, where God promises ancient Israel: “I will cast out the nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither will any man covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.”
God promised to protect His people’s property from the greed of their neighbors if Israel would obey Him and keep His festivals. When Israel didn’t keep God’s Holy Days, God did not protect them from this basic form of human covetousness (Judg. 2:11-23).
2) Dishonest gain. Another word often translated “covet” has the connotation of wanting something but not being willing to pay the price for it. It is not necessarily that the object of desire could not rightfully be ours, but we want it dishonestly. Ezekiel speaks of princes of Israel who were “like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain” (Ezek. 22:27). The phrase dishonest gain is translated from this second word.
3) Wanting for the wrong reasons. A third Old Testament word for “covet” means wanting something for the wrong reasons. It is in this sense that the prophet Amos wrote, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord” (Amos 5:18). We can desire a good thing for wrong reasons.
4) Overvaluing the physical. In the New Testament we find instruction regarding another kind of coveting: setting too high a value on some physical thing. Paul wrote, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33).
In Genesis 25:29-34 we see this attitude displayed in Esau’s desire for Jacob’s pottage. Hebrews 12:16 warns us against being a “profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.” The word profane here means not putting enough value on the proper things, and especially the things of God.
5) Wanting more and more. Ever heard the expression, “Some people are never satisfied”? One of the words translated “covet” in the New Testament comes from a root meaning “to get more,” “to overreach,” “to be moved by greed.”
It is not wrong to exercise diligence and the principles of success, but God’s Word clearly says that a dissatisfied attitude — one of always desiring more — is only another form of covetousness. Paul used this word when he wrote of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
6) Obsessive desire. Another word used in the New Testament refers to a deep desire. A desire is not wrong of itself (see I Timothy 3:1), but this word can also reflect an inordinate or obsessive desire.
Paul used this word when he wrote to Timothy, “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” (I Tim. 6:10, Authorized Version). The desired object, money, is not wrong, but any physical desire that becomes an obsession leads to ruin (verse 9).
7) Envious desire. This seventh word translated “covet” is used in Acts 17:5 to describe certain Jews at Thessalonica who became “envious” of Paul. The same word is found in James 4:2: “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.”
Envy and jealousy are almost always the result of a covetous attitude. If we find such feelings in our lives, we should do everything we can to overcome them and develop right relationships with others.
God wants us to bring our human desires under control through the guidance of His law (II Cor. 10:5). But that does not mean that we should ignore our proper needs and wishes. Rather, we need to learn to look to God as the provider of all good things (Jas. 1:17).
The truth is that to the degree we seek God He will supply not only our physical needs and our mental and emotional desires, but also even our highest spiritual aspirations (Ps. 37:3-6). To covet is to forget that God desires to bless us with even the desires of our own hearts.
Source: Good News, May 1983