Covetousness—one of the sins we don’t hear much about these days. Yet, it is among the most dangerous ones we can commit. So, what is covetousness about? This article will expound on this insidious state of mind.
What is Covetousness?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is “marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions.”
In other words, it is an intense desire to possess something (or someone) that belongs to another person.
Even though we may not hear much about it, it is a severe offense. It is, in a word, sin. After all, it is addressed in God’s moral Law, the tenth Commandment of the Ten Commandments (last but not least). Ex 20:17 reads:
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
What Does the Bible say?
What does the Bible say about covetousness? We’ve already seen that God’s base moral Law forbids covetousness. However, other Scriptures take the point home. One poignant Scripture that touches upon the harm of covetousness is 1 Cor 6:9-10
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. NKJV
Notice that the “covetous” is included with the unrighteous that “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Therefore, if an individual is not guilty of any of the other listed behaviors yet desires something of their neighbor (covetousness), they will not inherit the kingdom; they will not go to heaven.
Take note of what James 2:10 says: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” NIV
We may not be as conscious of the sin of covetousness as we are about other sins, but it carries a heavy penalty if we yield to it. We must keep all of the Commandments of God.
The Consequence of Covetousness
God said to the Israelites through Moses in Numbers 15:40-41
40 That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
41 I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.
This passage was God’s will for Israel; He was to be their leader, their God. To transgress the will of God and His Commandments is sin (1 John 3:4).
Sin has consequences. Rom 6:23 says: “For the wages of sin is death.”
There is no more straightforward example of this than with the nation of Israel. 1 Sam 8:4-20 unfolds the account. This passage is rather lengthy, but it is necessary to view it entirely to grasp the impact.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
Up to this point, Israel was a theocracy, meaning it was under a government led by God. But they no longer wanted to be governed by God; they wanted to be governed by a king like the other sinful nations around them.
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
It was God’s will to lead His people. However, since they rejected Him and desired a king instead, He allowed it, and it became His permissive will. But it came with a stern warning.
The Lord continued.
9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” 10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” NIV
Israel was warned in detail of the consequences of having a king over them. Yet, because of their covetousness, they insisted on having a king. They were deaf to reason and blind to the evil of their craving desire, their covetousness. They desired a king who could unite the nation, establish an army, and lead them to triumph over their enemies. In other words, they wanted a king who could be their savior, deliverer, protector, and provider.
Covetousness and jealousy are first cousins. While invisible, they can manifest emotions that influence all senses of reasoning, causing blindness to the consequences. So, God gave them a king and many kings thereafter. What were the results? All of the above, and then some.
By rejecting God as their Savior and Deliverer, their Protector and Provider, the Israelites were ready to put their destiny into the hands of a human being rather than into the hands of God. They decided to make a covenant, an agreement with a man, and to forget their covenant with God. What a fatal mistake.
According to verse 8, Israel was already out of favor with God because of their idolatry. So He gave them what they wanted. History has proven that their stubborn resistance to God was catastrophic. Down through the centuries, Israel had suffered terribly for their continued stubbornness against God.
As a result, the kings that Israel coveted so strongly led them further into idolatry, causing the kingdom to be divided. Two of the twelve tribes, Judah and Benjamin, became the southern kingdom, and the remaining ten fashioned the northern kingdom of Israel.
All of Israel’s kings were evil and practiced idolatry; Judah had a few good kings. Overall, God was angry with both kingdoms for their idolatry and warned them repeatedly about it through the prophets. Eventually, God sent the Babylonians to attack both kingdoms and carried them away into exile.
Imagine, an entire nation destroyed because of covetousness. Prov 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” NIV
The trials, the heartaches, the death, and the destruction all because they coveted a king like the other nations. Israel turned entirely away from God and paid a dear price. Over time the nation became a disgrace and was annihilated.
As mentioned earlier, this wasn’t God’s will for Israel, but since they wanted a king instead of Him, He gave them what they wanted. This scenario brings to memory the well-known quote from the Irish poet Oscar Wilde: “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” Therefore, we must be careful what we ask for; we just might get it.
Covetousness is idolatry because it diverts attention away from God and onto what is coveted. As the US continues along its unrighteous, idolatrous path, it, too, will pay the price. This is an undeniable principle of God.
This principle also applies to us individually; we pay a dear price when we covet what or who others have. Eph 5:5 states: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” NIV
God provides what we should have.
There is a vital lesson for us in this experience of the Israelites. As 1 Cor 10:11 informs, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” NIV
1 Cor 10:6 also states, “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.” NKJV
To covet or desire to be led by man instead of God, as Israel did, is included in “evil things.”
The lesson also to learn is that we must not covet what others have. It is the tenth Commandment of God’s moral Law. With this transgression of the Law, we never know what it will bring upon us.
Covetousness also involves an inordinate desire to be rich. Scripture warns against this as well. 1 Tim 6:9-10 warns:
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,…NKJV
Coveting riches only drives us into destruction, and as Jesus warns in Luke 12:15, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” NKJV
Lastly, we must not be stubborn, stiff-necked, and hard-hearted against God; He knows best.
Questions, comments, and concerns are welcomed and may be left below.