Thou shalt not covet... Exodus 20:17, KJV
One of the greatest qualities of the Bible is its universal grasp of human nature. Should you or I have written some of the stories of the Bible, surely we would have glossed over some of the defects of human character, especially when it comes to our own shortcomings; yet the Holy Spirit saw fit to include the grossest aspects of personal failure: David's affair with Bathsheba, the sinfulness of Sodom; it's all there, a catalog of human vices and failures.
At the same time the Bible recognizes the weakness of flesh, it offers a solution to human weaknesses and gives direction for living that enables man to break out of his dilemma. These timeless principles which are found in the Bible recognize the weaknesses of the flesh, yet serve as guidelines to help us avoid the pitfalls of the flesh.
In a sense the Ten Commandments are barriers that protect us from ourselves. The tenth commandment deals with one of humanity's oldest problems, the problem of greed. It says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or his maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17).
To covet means to desire, to want something strongly which belongs to another. The sin of covetousness‑‑wanting what does not belong to you‑‑has been the cause of war, murder, rape, theft, adultery, broken homes, broken friendships, and broken lives. The road to covetousness is a well traveled one, and those who follow its path are in the company of those who have been considered great by many. The steps to covetousness are outlined in the testimony of a man who eventually lost his life as the result of his greed. His name was Achan and he lived during the period of time when the Israelites marched against Jericho.
Do you remember the incident? When Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan, the first city to fall was Jericho. Then they were to march against the city of Ai, which was nearby. Instead of another victory, the army met with defeat. Counting the losses, 36 were slain. Joshua fell on his face and cried out, "Why, Lord? How come our defeat?" God said, "Joshua, get up off your face! Israel has sinned and has transgressed my covenant." He brought the tribes before him one by one. When Judah stood before him, God let Joshua know the problem was here. Then families came, then a single man stood in front of Joshua. His name was Achan. "What have you done?" Joshua demanded. Achan fumbled for words and finally explained, saying, "When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them..." (Joshua 7:21). The three words which Achan used outline clearly the steps to destruction for many a person: I saw, I coveted, I took.
Certainly that was true of King David, who went out on the porch one day as a beautiful woman was bathing on a nearby rooftop. Her name was Bathsheba, and seeing how lovely she was, David wanted her for his wife. But there was one problem: She was the wife of another man. Seeing her was the first step; wanting or coveting her was the second, and taking what did not belong to him was the third. There is a strange thing about covetousness, and that is that quite often those who have the most are the ones who are often the most covetous of what others have. Seemingly, the more you have the more you want.
Resource Reading: Romans 7:7-12.