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. (Exodus 20:17)1
Adam Clarke expounded upon this very important Commandment:
This [violation of the Tenth Commandment] is what we commonly term covetousness, which word is taken both in a good and a bad sense. So when the Scripture says, that covetousness is idolatry: yet it also says, covet earnestly the best things; so we find that this disposition is sinful or holy, according to the object on which it is fixed. In this command, the covetousness which is placed on forbidden objects, is that which is prohibited and condemned. To covet in this sense, is to intensely long after, in order to enjoy as property, the person, or thing, coveted. He breaks this command, who by any means endeavors to deprive a man of his house, or farm, by some underhand and clandestine bargain with the original landlord; what is called, in some countries, taking a man’s house and farm over his head. He breaks it also, who lusts after his neighbor’s wife, and endeavours to ingratiate himself into her affections, by striving to lessen her husband in her esteem :-and he also breaks it, who endeavors to possess himself of the servants, cattle &c. of another, in any clandestine or unjustifiable manner. This is a most excellent moral precept, the observance of which will prevent all public crimes: for he who feels the force of the law which prohibits the inordinate desire of any thing that is the property of another, can never make a breach in the peace of society by any act of wrong to any of even its feeblest members [bold emphasis added].2
Restoration of any one of the Ten Commandments, with its statutes and judgments, would spiritually and morally revolutionize America. However, Clark is correct that implementation of the Tenth Commandment, in particular, would all but eradicate crime. Transgression of the Tenth Commandment is the prime cause of most violations of Commandments Five through Nine.
A Sin of the Heart
The New Testament is emphatic concerning the origin of sin:
…those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man. (Matthew 15:18-20)
From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 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. Ye ask, but receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:1-3)
Sin comes from the lust or covetousness within our hearts. Achan’s sin in Joshua 7 was a prime example:
And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to YHWH3 god of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against YHWH God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold and fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it. (Joshua 7:19-21)
Achan’s sin was a four-step process: he saw, he coveted, he partook, and he hid. His sin began, as do most sins, with the heart sin of coveting. It is for this reason that, in Proverbs 4:23, Solomon encouraged us to “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
The child who does not covet his parents’ authority is not likely to challenge or abuse it. The person who does not lust after another man’s wife is not going to commit adultery with her. The person who does not covet his neighbor’s goods will not steal them. And the person who does not envy or covet his neighbor’s reputation is not likely to bear him false witness.
Covetousness, lust, and greed are all heart sins. For this reason, in addition to the First Commandment, the Tenth Commandment is arguably the most important Commandment, and the most difficult to keep.
Violations of the Tenth Commandment are typically secret sins:
[R.C.H.] Lenski noted, “A Catholic priest states that during his long years of service all kinds of sins and crimes were confessed to him in the confessional but never the sin of covetousness.”4
A Sin Against One’s Self
Because Tenth Commandment infractions are heart sins, they are difficult, if not impossible, to detect in others. Because these sins usually go undetected, they are also easier to justify, at least initially: “What does it really matter if I lust after my neighbor’s wife or covet his goods? Who’s harmed?”
Provided it is not externalized (by which it becomes a transgression of one of the other Commandments), it might be argued that this is one sin that harms no one. But is this true? Is not lust a carnal appetite that needs to be overcome? This sin is as much, perhaps more, a sin against one’s self as it is a sin against others.
A person cannot habitually entertain lust, covetousness, or greed without hardening his heart. If you are around an evil influence long enough, you will go from rejection to tolerance, from tolerance to acceptance, and from acceptance to participation and even enjoyment.
For the Christian5 indwelt with the Holy Spirit, lust, greed, and covetousness – if not renounced and rejected – will eventually quench the Holy Spirit’s influence in his life:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness…. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. (Ephesians 4:17-19, 30-31)
In 1 Timothy 4:2, Paul described grieving the Holy Spirit as “having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” When something is repeatedly seared, it becomes callused and hardened until no sensation remains. In other words, a person whose conscience is seared becomes unresponsive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and opens the floodgates to even more sin.
Our conscience is much the same as the governor on an engine, which prevents it from running at a speed that eventually tears it apart. A seared conscience eventually becomes what Paul described to Titus:
Unto the pure [those who have not seared their conscience] all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:15-16)
Among other things, a person who has seared his conscience to covetousness becomes a Pharisee: “outwardly appear[ing] righteous unto men, but within … full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:28). Before he knows it, such a person can become so callused that he finds himself actually acting out what he previously only entertained in his heart and mind.
Lust, greed, and covetousness are sins of our carnal nature, and if left unattended, they will likely result in sinning against one’s neighbor. This is precisely what occurred with Ted Bundy, allegedly America’s most notorious serial sexual murderer. Bundy confessed to twenty-three rape-murders, his first in 1974. He was convicted of two of those murders in 1979 and was electrocuted in 1989. During his incarceration, he confessed to Dr. James Dobson that pornography – and thus lust – was at the root of his raping and murdering. In other words, when he first became involved with pornography, it was not his intent to rape and murder. But his heart finally became so callused that even rape and murder was not beyond him.
Pornography is usually addictive and progressive; it requires more and more obscene material to gratify one’s lust. It is a form of spiritual slavery. Many men who have become slaves of pornography have admitted its bondage. This alone implicates pornography for its inherent and inevitable sinfulness. Christians are to be enslaved to Yahweh6 alone:
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11-23)
In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul exhorts us to flee fornication. The Greek word translated “fornication” is porneia from which our English word “pornography” is derived. The man or woman who would flee fornication must flee pornography, much the same as Joseph fled the presence of Potipher’s wife.
Before David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he was involved in pornography, which resulted in lust and covetousness. When he gazed down from the balcony, he probably could not help seeing naked Bathsheba. (Bathsheba, however, probably could have avoided being seen.) However, when David either continued to look or when he went back for a second look, he became involved in pornography. The pornography led to his coveting and taking what belonged to another man, which in turn led to the murder of Urijah in an attempt to hide his sin.
Partaking of what belongs to someone else is sometimes no more than a sin of the eyes. Seeing is one thing; looking is something altogether different. It is the looking that becomes lusting and coveting what does not belong to you – including nude women in Playboy and other porno magazines, pornography on the Internet, or any other woman who does not have enough sense to dress modestly.
Another Man’s Woman
Someone may argue: “Yeah, but most of the women posing nude are not another man’s wife.” This does not mean they are not another man’s woman. Those women, if not another man’s wife, are another man’s daughter. Consider Exodus 20:17 again:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)
At first glance, it appears daughters are conspicuously missing in the prohibitions of this Commandment. A righteous father, however, is no less concerned for his daughter than he is for his wife. Did Yahweh overlook a man’s daughter? She would be generically covered in the final phrase, “or any thing that is thy neighbour’s,” but she is also specifically included in the phrase “thy neighbor’s wife.” The Hebrew word ishshah simply means “woman.” Consequently, Exodus 20:17 could have been translated, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s woman.” Does this denote only a man’s wife, as it is usually interpreted? If this does not equally apply to a man’s daughter, we are compelled to admit that a man’s servants and even his ox and donkey are of greater importance than his daughter.
It matters not whether the women a man lusts after in a porno magazine, on the Internet, or in everyday life are married or unmarried. Those wives and daughters belong to other men, and according to the Tenth Commandment, no one has the right to look, to partake with his eyes, or to lust after what belongs to another man.
If you are involved in pornography, you need to consider that the women you are lusting after are someone else’s daughters and that they have been exploited and likely abused. Then consider that they could be your daughter.
Tenth Commandment violations begin as a sin against yourself and inevitably lead to sin against your neighbor, whom you are supposed to love as yourself.
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1. All Scripture is quoted from the King James Version. Portions of Scripture have been omitted for brevity. If you have any questions regarding a passage, please open your Bible and study the text to ensure it has been properly used.
2. Adam Clark, Discourses on Various Subjects Relative to the Being and Attributes of God and His Works in Creation, Providence, and Grace, 3 vols. (New York, NY: M’Elrath & Bangs, 1831) vol. 2, pp. 36-37.
3. Where the Tetragrammaton – the four Hebrew characters transliterated “YHWH” and representing the personal name of God – has been unlawfully rendered the LORD or GOD in Scripture, I have taken the liberty to correct this error by inserting YHWH where appropriate. For a more thorough explanation concerning the sacred names of God, “The Third Commandment” may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
4. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Columbus, OH: Warburg Press, 1937, 1946) p. 158, quoted by Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973) p. 63.
5. Not everyone claiming to be a Christian has been properly instructed in the biblical plan of salvation. Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:36-41, 22:1-16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13; and 1 Peter 3:21 should be studied in order to understand what is required to be covered by the blood of Yeshua (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) and forgiven of your sins. For a more thorough explanation concerning baptism and its relationship to salvation, “Baptism by the Scriptures” and “Fifty Objections to Baptism Answered” may be read online, or the book Baptism: All You Wanted to Know and More may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for free.
6. Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. “The Third Commandment,” a more thorough explanation concerning the sacred names of God, may be read online, or the book Thou shalt not take the name of YHWH thy God in vain may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363, for a suggested $4 donation.*
*We are admonished in Matthew 10:8 “freely ye have received, freely give.” Although we have a suggested a price for our books, we do not sell them. In keeping with 2 Corinthians 9:7, this ministry is supported by freewill offerings. If you cannot afford the suggested price, inform us of your situation, and we will be pleased to provide you with whatever you need for whatever you can send.
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