With His divine finger God touched an extremely tender spot when He cut the tenth commandment into the solid granite of the second table of the law. For thereby He expressed the very heart of the matter of sin against the neighbor.
The tenth commandment might seem to hang on the end of the law and to serve merely the purpose of fulfilling the number ten to make the law an even number of commandments. After we have heard the preceding powerful precepts that punctuated our peaceful frame of mind with staccato stabbings into our souls, convicting us of the evil that is in us, this last commandment seems weak, mild and somewhat as a safeguard, a final word that might take care of every situation not covered by the other five of this second table of the law. This especially becomes the case when we come to the “nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.” That general “anything” seems to cover matters quite well, and we can stop there as far as commanding is concerned.
But let no man deceive you in that respect. And instead let us say, “Last but not least,” when we refer to this tenth commandment. That it is last we cannot deny. That it is least we may not maintain. Rather is its position at the end of the law a sign of its importance. We do, indeed, get to the heart of the matter here in this last commandment.
The first commandment has its place because it is the basic commandment. All the sins forbidden in the nine commandments that follow are due to the fact that man commits this sin of having another god before Jehovah. And if we truly keep this first commandment, we will keep all the other nine. When we break this first commandment, we do so in the nine ways pointed out by the commandments that follow. The breaking of the first commandment comes to manifestation in breaking one or more of the nine that follow. Whenever we sin we always break the first commandment. It is because we have another god in place of Jehovah that we make idols to worship, and reject the truth as God has given it to us in His Word. It is because we have another god before Him that we dare to take His name in vain and desecrate His sabbath. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “Their god is their belly.” Well, then, on God’s day we will serve our god and seek the lust of the flesh . . . . Because we do not recognize Jehovah as God alone, we will deal with His creature, the neighbor, as we please. And we will be a god unto ourselves. Let it be pointed out Satan enticed Adam and Eve exactly to raise up another god before Jehovah. He made them believe that he pointed out the way for them to become gods themselves. And under that lie man has lived ever since. He has shelved Jehovah. He has assumed God’s place and claims the right to decide for himself what is good and what is evil. Never forget that every time that we sin, we say that we have a right to decide what is good and what is evil. Not only do we say then that we have the right, but we act as though we have that right. And the power of love in man was turned away from the only God and inward to man himself, his own flesh and now sinful self. Satan’s very first approach was to seek to move man to covet God’s position. And Eve’s first sin was not the eating of the forbidden fruit but that of covetousness. She coveted that which is God’s and can be His alone. And therefore in a sense the very first commandment also forbids us to covet. Only this time it insists that we may not covet that which is God’s. It forbids us to rob God in our thoughts of any of His glory.
Although the tenth commandment does not speak of this covetousness but instead of coveting what is the neighbor’s, we get to the heart of the matter of sin—of all sin—when we consider that first coveting of Adam and Eve. And we get to the heart of all sin against the neighbor when we consider the evil covetousness that found its place in our hearts, when we began to covet that which is God’s alone. We say, “evil covetousness” because all covetousness is not evil. To covet is to desire. And we were created to desire. We can as much stop coveting as we can stop breathing. And it can be as sinful to cease to covet as it is to voluntarily seek to cease to breathe. We will covet in the new Jerusalem, and one of the blessings of that new Jerusalem is to be able to covet all that which is truly good. Does not Paul exhort us in I Corinthians 12:31? “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” Again in I Corinthians 14:39 he writes, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” But it is coveting that which God has given to the neighbor that is sinful. And, if you will, it is also evil coveting when we desire something equal and similar to that which is the neighbor’s to keep our status symbol and to keep up with the Joneses.
Behind all covetousness that is sinful is sinful discontent and dissatisfaction. A man covets that which he does not have. When he has it he no longer needs to covet it. He still desires it and does not throw it away, but coveting is desiring in the sense of being zealous—this is also Paul’s word in the two texts quoted above—for that which we do not have. Those who have not the gift of prophecy Paul tells to covet it. And he speaks of coveting the best gifts which as yet are not possessed. Need we add here that there is also a righteous discontent and dissatisfaction? The psalmist declares in Psalm 17 that he will not be satisfied until he awakes with God’s likeness. He does not, you understand, mean that likeness wherewith Satan tempted man. Adam and Eve were like God when Satan tempted them to become like God. They were created in His image and were righteous as He is righteous. They were holy as He is holy. They had true knowledge and wisdom as He has true knowledge and wisdom. And as He loves Himself, they loved God. Satan deceived them into thinking that they could be like God in His sovereign right to demand and determine their conduct. Having become like the devil—and I say it reverently, we do look like the devil—we certainly today as regenerated children of God cannot and may not be satisfied until we are perfectly righteous and holy and have true knowledge and wisdom and a heart full of the love of God.
But sinful coveting is dissatisfaction with God and discontent before Him. And this again accentuates the truth that whenever we sin, we break the fast commandment. For discontent before God and dissatisfaction with His works and coveting His position is shelving Him as God to place ourselves on His throne. In fact it amounts to inner dictating to the living God and telling Him how to run His universe. We may not dare to say that to His face. But the thought of it dwells in our hearts as we are by nature. Paul speaks in Philippians of Christ not even thinking the robbery to be equal with God. The idea is not inPhilippians 2:6 that—as the translation has it—He did not think that it was robbery to be equal with God since as to His Person He is the Son of God and is essentially God. But the idea is that even the thought of being God’s equal never dwelt in His human nature. He had no desire to sin in that way, and therefore in no way whatsoever. Adam thought not that robbery until Satan whispered it in his ear through Eve. Adam came into this world perfectly content and satisfied that God should be God alone and to be His friend-servant. Adam was quite content to stand in the reflection of God’s glory and to shine with it as a spiritual diamond. Adam did not even think of becoming a sun to shine with his own light. With the true knowledge wherewith he was created he knew that he was only a creature and a servant of the Creator. The thought of being anything else was not there and would never originate in his heart. Satan had to come with it in the lie spoken by the mouth of the serpent. Then Adam swallowed it and embraced it for the whole human race. And so today we all are born with that thought not only but are born with the desire and intent to pursue that thought with every power and faculty and opportunity that we receive. Christ did not; and when Satan tried—notably in the temptation in the wilderness—to get Him to entertain the thought, He drove Satan away with the pronouncement that God is God and that we must worship Him alone and not dethrone Him by seeking to satisfy our flesh.
Can you not see then why Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought not the robbery to be equal with God.” Unless our thinking is pure of such thoughts of robbery we cannot keep any one of God’s commandments. And is it not plain that behind all of the first five commandments in the second table of the law so often lies covetousness?
It is covetousness that leads to disobedience of the authorities. It is because we covet a freedom that we may not have, because God has placed men over us, that manifests itself in violations of the law. The child wants to go his own way. The rebel wants what is forbidden. And this desire for what one does not have produces riots, rebellion, disobedience and lawlessness among men. A covetous eye sees the possessions of the neighbor and stimulates murderous thoughts in order to get them. Therefore it is that the commandments forbids us to covet the neighbor’s house. The same is true with his wife; and adultery is letting that covetousness come to practice. Or when it is fornication between the unmarried, it is due to coveting that which God has thus far been pleased to keep from one. Theft and murder go hand in hand so often, as we pointed out before. So do adultery and murder. And adultery is a form of theft. But behind them is covetousness. And the tongue so readily wags because we covet the honor and the high position of the neighbor which we want.
When we look around us we see civil disobedience, murder, adultery, theft and deceit. But we ought also to look inwardly; and then we will see covetousness as the very heart of the matter. If we can will only what God wills for us; if we can wait for Him to provide; if we can abide in perfect contentment without earthly lot; we will keep the five commandments that precede this tenth pronouncement of God’s will for the rational moral creature. Out of the heart are the issues of life. And the psalmist in Psalm 15 declares that the man who shall abide in God’s tabernacle and dwell in His holy hill walks uprightly and worketh righteousness. But we must not stop there. He adds very significantly that such speak the truth in their hearts. And unless that heart speaks the truth so that it is pure of covetousness, there will be no walking uprightly or working of righteousness. The hands of the clock will not tell the correct time, if the mechanism behind those hands and that face is not in good working order. Our walk, our speech, our actions will not be pleasing in God’s sight and be according to His law unless we speak the truth in the heart. The heart of the clock must speak the truth, if the hands and face are to declare it unto us. Your and my hearts must be free from coveting God’s glory, if we are to keep the first table of the law. But our hearts must also be free from coveting what is the neighbor’s, if we are to keep the second table of the law.