The Series on the Ten Commandments: In Case You Missed It

Recently, I completed a series on the Ten Commandments. In the series introduction, I offered three reasons why the Ten Commandments remain important for our day:

1. The Ten Commandments communicate the character of God;

2. They show us the need for mediator;

3. They show us God’s grace.

In case you missed any of the series, here are the links to the series.

The First Command: You Shall Have No Other gods Before Me

Quick Summary: From the hit movie, The Life of Pi, to the gods of Mount Olympus, the Bible’s rationale for why worship should be exclusive.

The Second Command: Do Not Worship Idols

Quick Summary: Idols are not simply found on the silver screen of Indiana Jones movies or inside the pages of  National Geographic magazines.

The Third Command: Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

Quick Summary: More than profanity, God’s name is trademarked and copyrighted.

The Fourth Command: Remember the Sabbath

Quick Summary: Remembering our need for rest.

The Fifth Command: Honor Your Father and Mother

Quick Summary: Exploring the biblical stories of Noah and Joseph in how best to honor our parents.

The Sixth Command: You Shall Not Murder

Quick Summary: Thoughts on the practice of suicide, euthanasia, and abortion in looking at God’s rationale to protect human life.

The Seventh Command: You Shall Not Commit Adultery

Quick Summary: God designed sex as act that glues two people together. Sex is relational cement that belongs only in marriage.

The Eight Command: You Shall Not Steal

Quick Summary: Ask any mother of a preschooler and she will tell you children possess a keen sense of ownership.

The Ninth Command: You Shall Not Lie

Quick Summary: From former Notre Dame coach George O’Leary to the famous court cases of Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman, a look at the level of honesty in contemporary culture.

The Tenth Command: You Shall Not Covet

Quick Summary: The command that places handcuffs on our hearts in addition to our hands.

The Tenth Commandment: You Shall Not Covet

Coveting doesn’t get a lot of publicity. When I mentioned the word to my oldest son in the car sometime back, he asked, “What is coveting?” Unless you are studying or memorizing the Ten Commandments, you’re unlikely to think of the concept. While you may not have heard of the word “covet,” you have probably heard of some of it’s first cousins: envy, jealousy, greed, and lust.

To covet is to crave, to yearn for something that belongs to another. It’s not simply wanting something we don’t have; it’s wanting something that someone else has. The Puritan Thomas Watson defined it as “an insatiable desire of getting the world.” And while the word “covet” is relatively unknown, the attitude is deadly.

The Tenth Command:

In the last of the Ten Commandments, God warns us against the deadly effects of our desires:

“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).

Law & Order

Traci and I are Law & Order junkies. Even our oldest daughter, Macaul, will sit and watch the T. V. shows with us. I am not much into the spin-offs of the show as I like the original series best. Jack McCoy (actor SamLaw_Order_season_seven Waterson) as the Assistant District Attorney is my favorite when he was teamed up with District Attorney Adam Schiff (Steven Hill). If you are not familiar with the T.V. series, Law & Order is a legal drama where the first half of the show usually shows the homicide unit of the New York City Police Department pursuing a crime. While the second half of the show, portrays the New York’s Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prosecuting the criminal(s). The show would often be based on stories from real cases that had recently made the headlines.

During the show’s twenty year run, the main detective was Lenny Briscoe (the late Jerry Orbach). With few exceptions, the cases turned on the detective skills of the Lenny and his fellow detectives. These men and women are often shown solving mysteries by delving into our basest of instincts. Whether it is a love interest gone awry or the inordinate desire for wealth… either way, much of today’s crime is the result of overrun desires, or coveting.

Overrun Desires

The Ten Commandments, as was most of the Old Testament, were first written in Hebrew. And it is important to note that there is no difference in the Hebrew word for desire and the word for covet. To covet is to desire. Again, coveting is not what we do but it is what we desire to do. Coveting is about our dreams.

But God has not outlawed all desire but only unhealthy desires. Unlike Buddhism, the Bible does not tell us to renounce all desire for people and things. Unlike the Mennonites, Christianity does not teach us to reject the conveniences of our day. Instead, Christianity calls for a cautious approach to stuff. The Bible asks us to limit our desires for our good in two directions: first, against desiring what is already in the possession of someone else; and second, against desires that overflow their boundaries and lead away from God.

You can see this inner desire on display in the nursery. Nothing arouses a child’s interest like seeing a toy in the hands of another child. You can see this inner desire on display in a young mother who cannot have children. Instantly, she is jealous of the happy family in her neighborhood. It’s the inner desire to possess what someone else has.

Remember the story of the first sin. Watch carefully how the Scriptures says sin began: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6). Carefully, note the words in italics. The same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 3:6 to describe Eve’s desire that is seen in the Tenth Command. Eve’s unholy desires erupted into a volcanic explosion of sin for the world. Before someone murders, he desires that someone get out of his way. Before someone has sexual relations with another person, he desires that person’s wife. And before I steal your property, I have a desire to acquire your property. Coveting is the starting point of stealing. Coveting is the starting point of adultery.

Handcuffs on Our Hearts

The Tenth Commandment logically precedes the other commandments. The transition from coveting to stealing is almost instantaneous. Conflicts begin long before the first shot is fired or the first punch is thrown. Conflicts begin with coveting, when greedy people are consumed with their desires. Desire is the root from which every sin springs. If the Eight Command places God’s handcuffs on our wrists so as not to steal then the Tenth Command is God’s handcuffs on our hearts and minds so we would not desire to steal.

This commandment shows God at work as our librarian to rid pornography from our libraries. This commandment shows God at work as our IT professional to rid pornography from our computers. This commandment shows God as the CPA who goes over the books of our personal finances (1 Timothy 6:6-10). He knows our stealing desires to keep up with the Jones (Luke 12:15).

Jessie’s Girl

Some weeks ago, I was sitting in IHOP, having breakfast and meeting with some guys from our church. Over the speakers that morning played a playlist from my school days. As I sat eating my scrambled eggs, I heard  Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, the hit of the 1980s later named one of the 100 greatest songs of the 80’s by VH1. Later, I downloaded it to my phone as I replayed my younger days.

In his song, Rick Springfield captures the essence of the Tenth Commandment: “Jessie is a friend, Yeah I know he’s been a good friend of mine. But lately something’s changed and it ain’t hard to define. Jessie’s got himself a girl and I want to make her mine.”

What if the life you wanted, the husband you wanted, belonged to someone else?

Programming Note: This is the last post in a series on the Ten Commandments. See here for the introduction to the series.

The First Command: There’s Only One God

The Ten Commandments begin with these words (Exodus 20:1-3):

And God spoke all these words, saying,  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)

God is Exclusive.

Few of us like only one option. We like medical doctors to give us options when considering medical procedures. We prefer colleges to allow us to choose our major. Likewise, many would like it if God gave us a few options of who to worship. God offers no such option to the Hebrew people in this first command.

When you read story of the Bible, you meet numerous gods. For example, when the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they encountered people who worshipped Baal. They believed Baal to be the god of rain and in turn worshipped him in order that their fields might be fertile. When the sun’s heat scorched everything on earth, people said Baal was dying. When the spring rains made everything green, it was thought that he was coming to life again. Later in the story of the Hebrew people, the King of Israel (Ahab and his wife, Jezebel) encouraged the worship of this foreign god (1 Kings 18:20-40).

Molech is one of the more frightening gods encountered in the Bible’s storyline. This angry god demanded innocent humans to be sacrificed to absolve human guilt. A few years ago, during the extension of the runway at the Damascus Airport, workers found a pit of burned infant bones, dating back to the time of the Old Testament. These little skeletons of babies up to age two, were broken and burned to the god, Molech.

The gods of years past did not possess infinite wisdom or power. Instead, they were considered to be more like the super heroes of our comic books. These gods had impulses and desires and committed evil acts much like we do.

Over time these gods have disappeared. Baal worship is now dormant. Zeus no longer sits on Mount Olympus. The German gods Thor, with his hammer that made Thunder, and his son Woden have since passed away. Idolatry is not dependent on names. The names disappear through the years; yet, idolatry lives on. The Bible says men can worship their own physical strength (Habakkuk 1:11). Others worship money as they make “gold their trust” or “fine gold my confidence…” (Job 31:24). Some even make a god of their stomach as Paul writes, “their god is their belly…” (Philippians 3:19)

The Life of Pi

Yann Martel wrote the award-winning novel, The Life of Pi, an adventure story of a 16 year old boy from India named Piscine “Pi” Molitor. He is shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger on his life boat. The novel was made into a movie that grossed more than $600 million. Pi, who was raised Hindu and vegetarian, explores his spiritual side when he attempts to convert to both Christianity and then Islam. Ang Lee, the director of the film, shows Pi even asking for baptism as a young teenager. He benefits from all three religions as each of them have certain benefits in showing him what he believed was god’s love. The film’s adaptation advertises the perceived benefit of flexibility as part of three different religions.

The first command doesn’t sit well with those wishing to be self-styled spiritualists who chart their own path. The Bible is an “either/or” world while much of the world is “both/and.” Where Pi wants to worship Jesus Christ and the Hindu gods and the god of Islam, the Bible considers “and” a dangerous word. Worship is not a matter of “and” but it is a matter of “or.” Again, the Bible uses categories of right and wrong, truth and error. Later in the Bible’s story, Jesus Himself affirmed the “either/or” thinking so characteristic of the Bible when He said these words when thinking of those who worship materialism:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  (Matthew 6:24)

You Shall Have No…

The words of God’s first command instruct His followers to have no other allegiance with any other so called “god.” The relationship between God and His people has no third parties. God is sufficient and His people do not need to go outside of Him for anything – emotional or otherwise. God tells His followers that He is all we need.

It is important to note that God places this commandment first before all the others. Once God is in first place, everything else will be in order. Placing God first before everything else is continually emphasized throughout the Bible. Jesus calls this the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-40). This command is placed first in order to elicit our loyal love for Him. Much like the love between a husband and a wife where both promise publicly that there will be no competitors for each other’s love, so is the worship of God by His people (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

Programming Note: This is a blog series on the Ten Commandments. I will post each Tuesday and Friday for the next few weeks. Look here for the series introduction.