24 June 2018 The problem with Coveting Martin Baker
We conclude today our four week reflection on the Ten Commandments.
The Hebrew people are on the journey out of slavery. Before giving the Ten Commandments, God tells the people, ‘I have born you up on eagle’s wings and drawn you to myself.’
The Commandments can be seen like ten fence posts or the frame within which the community’s life is protected.
The first 4 commandments are about relationship with God and then next 6 are about relationships to one another.
A sense that we are not to be slaves to others, or to our work or jobs. We are more than even these things.
The Hebrew people lived in slavery in Egypt. They heard the call of a freedom bringing God. There are things that oppress us and our communities. We can all be enslaved to attitudes, behaviours, ideologies, regimes that still enslave people.
And we hold on to a great claim that we find in our scriptures.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
This morning we focus on one of the most challenging commandments – it is the last of the 10 commandments - as we seek to orientate our lives in a different kind of way.
17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Let Us Pray
The 10th commandment is ‘you shall not covet.’
So how many people are doing a bit of coveting right now?
I suppose we have a sense of what adultery is about. We know about stealing. About lying. about murder, even.
But, to covet. And here it's right in the top 10 - and yet it seems such an internal thing.
So let’s take a closer look at this commandment, because it is an interesting one.
It’s unusual and even difficult for at least 5 reasons:
First is the word covet. Even more modern translations use this word ‘covet’. It’s not an especially common word today and it’s an old –English word from the 16th century - a Shakespearean word. No one seems to have come up with a better word to describe the Hebrew: ‘Chamad’.
There are words for envy and greed in Hebrew. It doesn’t mean quite the same as those things. In fact in some places chamad it is translated as delight, or to see something as precious. So though people from time to time insist that the Bible was written in the Queens English, we need to appreciate that faithful scholars have spent their lives wrestling with how to translate scripture - and especially Hebrew scripture.
So on one hand there is no simple translation of this word. And perhaps the reason is that unlike most of the other commandments – ‘thou shalt not covet’ - doesn’t seem to be describing an action so much as a state of mind.
‘I’m just going to go off and do a bit of coveting this afternoon’. What would that look like?
The second issue is that it is the only commandment that repeats itself. So perhaps that means it’s really important. The ‘you shall not covet’ is repeated twice. First about our neighbours house. And then about all these other things. Wife, salves, livestock and so on.
And that bring us to the third interesting thing about this commandment: At least in part, it seems to be one almost exclusively for men. You shall covet your neighbour’s wife. Some translations try to soften this by using the word spouse instead of wife. But in Hebrew it is definitely wife.
And, even more difficult here, fourthly, wives are identified as something of a man’s possessions. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house and then wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
And fifthly it assumes that at least some people, some of these free people, have slaves.
Scriptures like these have been uses to justify slavery. To support views that see women as household’s possessions.
I can quote a line in scripture to justify the accumulation of wealth in a world in which God’s children go hungry; the church has used scripture to justify racism, the oppression and persecution of Jews. We can even read that Satan quotes scripture - has good bible knowledge, using scripture to encourage Jesus to prove who he was.
What particular lines in scripture are people listening to ? or hearing from the church?
A survey about the belief of New Zealanders that came out just a few weeks ago suggests that the number one blocker for the Gospel message, is the churches seeming preoccupation with homosexuality. That is the message people are hearing. And yet we all know that that was certainly not a central concern for Jesus. He spent his life eating and drinking with those who were marginalised, the powerful sought his execution because he ate and drank with tax collectors and outcasts.
We do our very best here, but wouldn’t it be wonderful and a witness to the truth of the gospel, if the New Zealand public’s first association with the church was one of love, welcome hospitality, and the fruits of the holy spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control.
The fundamental point about scripture is that it is gospel, it is good news, and it is good news for everyone. Including those who covet. We need to get first things first, and then I believe others things, have a way of sorting themselves out.
Just a couple of points about reading the Bible. Always be weary of anyone who quotes a single verse in the Bible to justify a whole world view. The Bible was never written in verses. Read the body of scripture in which that verse appears. Read as much of the Bible a you can and look for the points of connection. Pray for a spirit and wisdom and discernment as we read the text. There is a vast amount written too on almost every line in the Bible. Look for a number of different commentaries and perspectives on those verses. July is Bible reading month and we are going to have available a Bible reading challenge which over six months will give you a chance to delve into a range of scripture.
When we look at this passage today we do so through the teachings of Jesus. The new freedom to which we are called in Christ. We do so with Paul’s teachings, there is neither slave nor free male or female for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
As we look at these difficult passages as we seek to explore what this coveting means we need to look for other stories in scripture that help us.
The word covet does not simply mean desire or want. Hebrew thought is much more interested in the way that the things that go on in our heads become manifest in our actions. All the commandments are about real things. Not our mental state.
Two Biblical examples that speak about coveting
First, in the 2nd Book of Samuel. King David. He’s standing on the roof of his place, his eyes fell upon Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and we are told he wanted her. So he took her. In today’s terms, as form of abuse. As the king, he was already married and had plenty of access to women in the palace. But he wanted Bathsheba, too. So he took her as it says in scripture. We hear nothing much about how she felt. She gets almost no words. It was all about him. He could so, he did. And then, when she turned up pregnant, he arranged for Uriah -- and the entire military company he was leading -- to be abandoned in the midst of the battle. They all were killed. And it all started with a little coveting (See 2 Samuel 11-12).
Another example, less familiar perhaps. But you can read about it in First Kings. It is about King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. This royal pair liked to garden. Or, at least, they liked to have a garden that their servants could work for them. Right near their palace, a man who we are told was a man of faith, named Naboth owned a vineyard. The king offered to buy the vineyard or swap the land for a better stretch of land. Naboth refused. So Jezebel arranged for false charges brought against Naboth and brought in two paid liars to testify falsely against Naboth. In the end, Ahab and Jezebel got what they wanted: Naboth dead and the vineyard a royal property. And it all started with a little coveting (See 1 Kings 21).
The commandment not to covet – repeated twice, spoken first into a context removed from us by 4000 years of history and cultural, still has a power today.
When we think not just about the things we want to own to possess, to have, we think about the plans that we put into place to achieve those things. The words we speak, the way we use our power, our money our influence our resources. Our motivation. The incredible power of our heart’s desires.
What do we want to see happen for ourselves, those we love, our families our community, our church? Do not covet. It’s first about an honest conversation about our fundamental drive and purpose.
So as we seek not to covet, to obey this command the two key filters. Does what we are planning, what we are wanting, testify to our love of God and number two, will the reality of our plans be expressed in our love and care for others. Will they benefit in real ways?
And in all our thinking and planning, our hopes and desires let’s remember Jesus words.
In Matthew Chapter 7 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Love one another as I have loved you, says Jesus.
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