Thou Shalt Not Covet

1 Kings 21

Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palance of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is closer to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” But Naboth replied, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. His wife Jezebel came in and asked him, “Why are you so sullen? Why won’t you eat?” He answered her, “Because I said to Naboth, the Jezreelite, ‘Sell me your vineyard; or if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’ Jezebel his wife said,’Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of  Naboth the Jezreelite.” So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote: Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels oppostie him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.” So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”

 (1 Kings 21)

We have all seen a child want a toy simply because another child is playing with it. Maybe we have seen the toy taken forcefully from the child, or the toy even being pulled apart as one child decides the toy is rightly his or hers. Breaking the tenth commandment becomes much more serious than grabbing toys as children grow into adults. Today’s scripture is an example of one of the many ways that coveting welcomes destruction and evil into life.

Coveting can destroy the innocent. The above Scripture features the vineyard owner Naboth being killed as the King Ahab takes possession of the vineyard the king covets. Naboth did not want to sell the land of his family and had a right to keep it. A family lost a father and land that had been passed down through generations.

Coveting can destroy a family. Do you remember the first murder in the Bible? Cain and Abel both offer a sacrifice to God. Cain covets God’s approval of Abel’s sacrifice, and Cain kills his brother. A family is destroyed. How many families have been torn apart by children who believe that something in the family is rightly theirs? Long before inheritance issues begin, coveting behavior can make families their own worst enemies. Coveting can destroy a marriage. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago covets the love between Othello and Desdemona and finally Iago’s scheming convinces Othello to murder his wife because he believes she is unfaithful. People covet relationships just as they covet a car or a house or job, and the behavior is just as vicious. And we know countless marriages that come to an end through coveting

Coveting can destroy a friendship. After young David kills Goliath, the Israelites cheer, “Saul has killed thousands and David ten thousands!” In that moment a wonderful friendship becomes tainted with resentment. Saul covets the people’s cheers for David. The people should be cheering for him, Saul believes, and any semblance of admiration for David sours.

Coveting can destroy a business. An old Jewish fable describes two stores across the street from each other. The shop owners become rivals and despise each other, so an angel appears to solve this hatred by telling one owner that any wish will be granted, but the other owner across the street will receive twice the wish. “Make me blind in one eye,” the shop owner asked, so that his rival would be completely blind. In the name of business and getting ahead, ethical lines are crossed daily in order to crush a competitor’s market share. Almost daily there is a new report of a business that goes under in the wake of an ethics scandal.

Coveting can destroy athletes. There was a Greek city that honored its athlete by  building a marble statue. He had a competitor that was so jealous that each night he took a hammer and chipped away at the base of the statue until finally one night the statue fell on the competitor and crushed him. So many professional athletes lose any hope of being a role model for youth when they covet the success of another. We especially witness the bitterness and poor sportsmanship during all- star selection time.

Coveting can destroy the self. Dwight Moody told a story about an eagle that did not like another eagle because it flew higher. The eagle that flew lower told an archer to shoot the higher eagle but the archer could not because he had no feathers for his arrows. The eagle made a deal and began to give feathers to the archer who missed again and again. Finally the archer turned to the helpless, featherless eagle, and pointing an arrow at him, exclaimed that this time he would not miss.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be like a successful person. There is nothing wrong with being motivated by someone else and desiring to emulate a gifted person. People can inspire us to do great things by who they are and what they can do. But when we resent the person and believe that we should have their gifts, our inspiration has been replaced by coveting and a downward spiral begins.

When we resent the person for their gifts, we focus our lives upon them and judge who we are based on who they are. A psychologist, Paul Wachtel, stated that people who become lost in coveting orient their whole lives toward comparison. “…That’s why as an entire society grows, people don’t feel any better, because they’re still in the same relative position. There’s a sense of being on an endless treadmill and of never getting to where you thought you were going to get.” Why does someone want to destroy another because they possess something they do not have? They see themselves as correcting an injustice. “Who really deserves that…me!” they say, and then they set out to destroy that person in the hope of gaining what they see they rightly deserve.

Coveting can lead to being the lawyer, judge, jury, and executioner. Once the evil

tentacles of coveting consume a life, a person can justify anything in order to pull the person down so that they can pull themselves up. Envy is another word for coveting. Joseph Epstein’s book, Envy, describes coveting as being: “Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor and spite—all cluster at the center of envy. Envy clouds thought…clobbers generosity, precludes any hope of serenity, and ends in shriveling the heart…Envy has a strong touch of malice behind it—the envious want to destroy the happiness of others.”

Coveting does not focus upon the object, talent, accomplishment, or gift of another so much as it focuses upon destroying the person who possesses that gift, or as Epstein says, at least “destroying that person’s happiness.” If we find ourselves resenting another person, we must ask ourselves why we feel that way. Why would we malign that person to another…do they have something we wish we had…or we wish we were…why would we attack another person and try to destroy their happiness? People covet because they are insecure and unhappy with their own lives and are consumed with anger at another’s happiness. Paul writes to the Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Paul’s focus upon God rescued him from coveting. God draws our gaze and our life toward the kingdom of God. Colossians 3:2 states, “Set your mind on things above and not on earthly things.” When we focus upon God we see what is really important in life. We realize that another’s possessions, position, happiness, should not be our focus. Our focus should be upon what God has already given. That will free us to dream and seek to excel and improve ourselves motivated by love and not through coveting another’s situation. Breaking the tenth commandment can destroy families, marriages, businesses, friendships, and it can eat away a person’s self from the inside until they have nothing left. Let us remember that the next time we are tempted to trade feathers for arrows. Let us focus upon God’s love, allowing the blessings of our lives to build up the lives of others and not tear them down. Amen.