What does Covet Mean in the Bible?

The concept of coveting, as addressed in the Bible, holds profound significance in understanding Biblical morality and ethics. At its core, to covet is to harbor a deep desire for something that belongs to another. This seemingly simple notion, deeply embedded in Biblical teachings, especially within the Ten Commandments, reveals much about the human condition and the expectations of spiritual conduct.

In a world where the pursuit of material possessions and status often overshadows ethical boundaries, exploring what it means to covet in the Biblical context offers crucial insights. It helps us navigate the complex interplay between desire, morality, and spiritual well-being.

In this article we will delve into the concept of coveting as depicted in the Bible, exploring its meanings, implications, and relevance in both Biblical times and today’s world.

Defining ‘Covet’ in Biblical Terms

In the Bible, the term ‘covet’ stems from Hebrew and Greek roots, each bearing nuanced meanings. The Hebrew word, often translated as ‘covet,’ implies a deep desire, sometimes to the point of inordinate longing. Similarly, in the Greek texts of the New Testament, ‘covet’ conveys an intense form of desire, often laden with negative connotations.

Interestingly, the Bible presents a dual perspective on coveting. In its positive sense, it implies a strong desire for virtuous and spiritual pursuits, like seeking God’s wisdom or aspiring for godly attributes. This positive aspect is less frequently highlighted but is equally significant in understanding the breadth of the term in Biblical teachings.

However, the more commonly recognized aspect of coveting is its negative connotation of sin, particularly emphasized in the Old and New Testaments. In the Ten Commandments, specifically the Tenth Commandment, coveting is directly addressed, listing objects of potential covetous desire such as a neighbor’s house, wife, and possessions.

This prohibition underscores a recurring theme in the Bible: the danger of allowing material desires to dominate one’s life and overshadow moral and spiritual responsibilities.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul expand on this concept, warning against the perils of greed and materialism. They emphasize that covetousness can lead to a host of other sins, including envy, theft, and even adultery, illustrating the destructive path of unchecked desire.

In sum, to understand ‘covet’ in the Bible is to recognize its dual nature: while it can signify a noble longing for righteousness and godliness, more often, it warns against the destructive power of inordinate, selfish desires. This understanding serves as a foundation for exploring how the concept of covetousness is interwoven with Biblical teachings and its relevance in different contexts.

The Tenth Commandment and Covetousness

The Tenth Commandment, found in the sacred texts of Exodus and Deuteronomy, explicitly addresses the sin of covetousness. It states, “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 neighbor’s.” This commandment is unique as it deals with the internal desire, rather than the outward action. It penetrates to the heart of human morality, highlighting that sin can originate in the desires and thoughts, not just in the actions.

This commandment encompasses a wide array of objects of covetousness, from material possessions like a neighbor’s house or animals to human relationships, like coveting a neighbor’s wife. The underlying message is clear: the desire to possess what belongs to another is inherently wrong and leads to a multitude of other sins. It disrupts community harmony, fosters discontent, and erodes moral integrity.

In the Old Testament context, the Tenth Commandment was revolutionary. It shifted the focus from external adherence to laws to the internal state of an individual’s heart and mind. This was a profound move towards understanding sin as not just a breach of law, but as a matter of the heart and intentions.

Covetousness in the Teachings of Jesus Christ and Apostle Paul

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ and Apostle Paul provide further insights into the destructive nature of covetousness. Jesus, in his teachings, frequently cautioned against the love of money and material possessions. One of the most telling examples is the story of the rich young man, who was unable to follow Jesus because of his attachment to his wealth. This story illustrates the barrier that covetousness can create between an individual and spiritual fulfillment.

Apostle Paul, in his epistles, identifies covetousness as a form of idolatry. In Colossians 3:5, he equates it with “evil desire,” warning that it can lead to a range of other sins. Paul’s teachings often link covetousness with the love of money, describing it as the “root of all evil.” This perspective underscores the belief that unchecked desire for wealth and material possessions can lead one astray from spiritual and moral paths.

Both Jesus and Paul emphasize the need for contentment and the pursuit of spiritual riches over earthly wealth. They present a stark contrast between the temporal nature of material possessions and the eternal value of spiritual wealth. This highlights the New Testament’s focus on internal transformation and the cultivation of virtues like generosity, kindness, and contentment, as opposed to mere adherence to laws.

The teachings of Jesus and Paul are not only foundational for understanding Biblical perspectives on covetousness but also offer timeless wisdom on the dangers of materialism and the importance of prioritizing spiritual growth and ethical living.

Covetousness in the Modern World

In today’s context, the Biblical teachings on covetousness remain strikingly relevant. Our modern world, driven by consumerism and materialism, often glorifies the acquisition of material things and status, making it easy to fall into the trap of coveting. From desiring a neighbor’s lifestyle to envying someone’s career success, covetousness manifests in various forms in contemporary society.

Bible Studies

The issue transcends mere materialism. It encompasses a broader spectrum of desires, including unhealthy cravings for power, recognition, or even relationships. Social media and advertising constantly bombard individuals with images of ‘ideal’ lives and possessions, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and desire. This constant exposure can fuel a cycle of comparison and discontent, leading to harmful desires that detract from personal and spiritual fulfillment.

Moreover, covetousness in today’s world often leads to detrimental consequences, such as financial strain from living beyond one’s means, strained relationships due to envy, and even mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The Biblical warning against covetousness serves as a timely reminder of the importance of contentment and finding value in non-material aspects of life, such as relationships, community, and spiritual growth.

My Experience with Covetousness

I can relate to this last part in my own life. In the early 2000s, I worked for a large chemical company. This job was the highest paying job I ever had. While I didn’t intend to, the more money I made, the more money I spent. We bought our first small home in 2000, but then continued to buy more and bigger homes as time went on. I was seeing my co-workers buy new trucks, swimming pools, boats, and more. I did the same. While I didn’t realize I was coveting, I definitely was.

This path I was on prevented us from having a savings account. We weren’t tithing or giving significantly for years. It wasn’t until I came to a point in my life (in my 30s) that I realized I was not placing God first in my life, and I repented and surrendered to God, that I began slowly moving away from this lifestyle of covetousness.

Overcoming Covetousness: A Biblical Perspective

As I learned from experience, fully surrendering to Christ and asking God to lead my life was the first step for me to begin my own journey out of covetousness. From there, it was Biblical wisdom that helped me grow.

The Bible offers practical wisdom on combating covetousness. A key strategy is focusing on gratitude and contentment. Philippians 4:11-13, where Paul speaks of learning to be content in any situation, is a powerful testament to this approach. Cultivating a sense of gratitude for what one has, rather than fixating on what one lacks, is a potent antidote to covetousness.

Philippians 4:13 is probably the most “taken out of context Scripture” in the Bible. The full context can be found in the preceding verses….

Another Biblical strategy is to seek Godly virtues and eternal values. Matthew 6:33 advises seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness as primary goals, promising that other needs will be met. This shift in focus helps us prioritize spiritual growth and ethical living over material gain.

How Giving can Help Combat Covetousness

Additionally, fostering a spirit of generosity is crucial. Acts of giving and sharing combat the self-centered nature of covetousness, aligning our actions with Biblical teachings on love and community. This not only benefits others but also nurtures a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the giver.

Finally, regular self-reflection and prayer can help in realigning our desires with God’s will. Psalm 139:23-24, which invites God to search and know one’s heart, can be a guide for such introspection. This practice helps in identifying and addressing covetous thoughts, allowing for spiritual guidance in overcoming them.

By adopting these Biblical strategies, we can navigate the challenges of covetousness, finding a balance between enjoying life’s blessings and maintaining a focus on spiritual and ethical values.

Case Studies from the Bible

The Bible is replete with stories and parables that illustrate the dangers and consequences of covetousness. Theses narratives highlight how personal covetous desires can have far-reaching, negative consequences.

Achan’s Covetousness

One poignant example is the story of Achan in the Book of Joshua. Achan’s coveting and subsequent theft of forbidden items led not only to his downfall but also brought trouble upon the entire Israelite community.

Joshua 7:19-26 (NIV):

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. 23 They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

King David’s Covetousness

Another significant example is King David’s desire for Bathsheba, which led to adultery and murder. This story, found in 2 Samuel, starkly demonstrates how covetousness can lead even a man after God’s own heart to commit grave sins. It serves as a cautionary tale of how unchecked desires can lead to a cascade of sinful actions and devastating outcomes.

2 Samuel 11:2-5 (NIV)

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

2 Samuel 11:14-17

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

These case studies are not merely historical accounts; they offer enduring lessons. They teach the importance of guarding one’s heart against covetous thoughts and the necessity of adhering to ethical and spiritual principles. Furthermore, they underscore the Bible’s emphasis on the internal dimension of sin – that sin begins in the heart and mind before manifesting in actions.

Closing Thoughts

In exploring what it means to covet in the Biblical sense, we uncover a profound truth: covetousness is more than just a desire for material possessions; it is a matter of the heart. The Bible’s teachings on this subject, extending from the Ten Commandments to the teachings of Jesus and Paul, offer timeless wisdom on recognizing and overcoming covetous desires.

By reflecting on these teachings and applying them to our lives, we can learn to balance our desires, prioritize spiritual and ethical values, and cultivate a life of contentment and fulfillment in God’s grace.

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Bryan E. Robinson

Bryan E. Robinson is a U.S. Army veteran and founder of Scriptures.blog, 316Tees.com, and a part-time Missionary and consultant for WingsofPromise.org. Bryan is a spiritual warrior whose goal is to get God’s Word in front of as many people as possible through digital channels.