The 10th commandment is summed up by the following two statements:
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife
- You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor
That word “covet” is not a word we use much anymore. The only place I ever hear it is while reading the Bible or listening to a sermon. We don’t use the word in everyday speech, and we’ve lost the sense of what it actually means. In one of Rene Girard’s books I learned that in other languages, it is translated as “desire.” This changes everything. What is obscure is suddenly clear.
- You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife
- You shall not desire anything that belongs to your neighbor
To desire is to lust after. In the book of James we read:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (Ja 1:14-15.)
An old proverb comes down to us in many variations, but the modern variation is known as “For Want of a Nail.”
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the message was lost.
For want of a message, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The meaning of the 10th commandment boils down to cutting the chain of events that leads to sin. If we can cut off our desire for what is not ours, we end up not murdering, stealing, bearing false witness, and a host of other sins. But the only way to cut off our desire is not by sheer willpower, but by the keeping of the summation of the law — to love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and spirit, which leads to loving your neighbor as yourself.