Exodus 20:17
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) Thou shalt not covet.—This command seems to have been added in order to teach the general principle that the Law of God is concerned, not with acts and words only, but with the thoughts of the heart. Rightly understood, the seventh and eighth commandments contain the tenth, which strikes at covetousness and lustful desire. (Comp. Matthew 5:27-28.) But ancient moralists did not usually recognise this; thought, unless carried out into acts, was regarded as “free;” no responsibility was considered to attach to it, and consequently no one felt it needful to control his thoughts or regulate them. It was therefore of importance that the Divine Law should distinctly assert a control over men’s thoughts and feelings, since they are the source of all that is evil in word and act; and true godliness consists in bringing “every thought into captivity to Christ” (2Corinthians 10:5).

Exodus 20:17. Thou shalt not covet — The foregoing commands implicitly forbid all desire of doing that which will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all inordinate desire of having that which will be a gratification to ourselves. O that such a man’s house were mine! such a man’s wife mine! such a man’s estate mine! This is certainly the language of discontent at our own lot, and envy at our neighbour’s, and these are the sins principally forbidden here. God give us all to see our face in the glass of this law, and to lay our hearts under the government of it!

20:12-17 The laws of the SECOND table, that is, the last six of the ten commandments, state our duty to ourselves and to one another, and explain the great commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, Lu 10:27. Godliness and honesty must go together. The fifth commandment concerns the duties we owe to our relations. Honour thy father and thy mother, includes esteem of them, shown in our conduct; obedience to their lawful commands; come when they call you, go where they send you, do what they bid you, refrain from what they forbid you; and this, as children, cheerfully, and from a principle of love. Also submission to their counsels and corrections. Endeavouring, in every thing, to comfort parents, and to make their old age easy; maintaining them if they need support, which our Saviour makes to be particularly intended in this commandment, Mt 15:4-6. Careful observers have noted a peculiar blessing in temporal things on obedient, and the reverse on disobedient children. The sixth commandment requires that we regard the life and the safety of others as we do our own. Magistrates and their officers, and witnesses testifying the truth, do not break this command. Self-defence is lawful; but much which is not deemed murder by the laws of man, is such before God. Furious passions, stirred up by anger or by drunkenness, are no excuse: more guilty is murder in duels, which is a horrible effect of a haughty, revengeful spirit. All fighting, whether for wages, for renown, or out of anger and malice, breaks this command, and the bloodshed therein is murder. To tempt men to vice and crimes which shorten life, may be included. Misconduct, such as may break the heart, or shorten the lives of parents, wives, or other relatives, is a breach of this command. This command forbids all envy, malice, hatred, or anger, all provoking or insulting language. The destruction of our own lives is here forbidden. This commandment requires a spirit of kindness, longsuffering, and forgiveness. The seventh commandment concerns chastity. We should be as much afraid of that which defiles the body, as of that which destroys it. Whatever tends to pollute the imagination, or to raise the passions, falls under this law, as impure pictures, books, conversation, or any other like matters. The eighth commandment is the law of love as it respects the property of others. The portion of worldly things allotted us, as far as it is obtained in an honest way, is the bread which God hath given us; for that we ought to be thankful, to be contented with it, and, in the use of lawful means, to trust Providence for the future. Imposing upon the ignorance, easiness, or necessity of others, and many other things, break God's law, though scarcely blamed in society. Plunderers of kingdoms though above human justice, will be included in this sentence. Defrauding the public, contracting debts without prospect of paying them, or evading payment of just debts, extravagance, all living upon charity when not needful, all squeezing the poor in their wages; these, and such things, break this command; which requires industry, frugality, and content, and to do to others, about worldly property, as we would they should do to us. The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour's good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false witness against him, or in common conversation slandering, backbiting, and tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour's. How much this command is every day broken among persons of all ranks! The tenth commandment strikes at the root; Thou shalt not covet. The others forbid all desire of doing what will be an injury to our neighbour; this forbids all wrong desire of having what will gratify ourselves.As the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments forbid us to injure our neighbor in deed, the ninth forbids us to injure him in word, and the tenth, in thought. No human eye can see the coveting heart; it is witnessed only by him who possesses it and by Him to whom all things are naked and open Luke 12:15-21. But it is the root of all sins of word or deed against our neighbor James 1:14-15. 8. Remember the sabbath day—implying it was already known, and recognized as a season of sacred rest. The first four commandments [Ex 20:3-11] comprise our duties to God—the other six [Ex 20:12-17] our duties to our fellow men; and as interpreted by Christ, they reach to the government of the heart as well as the lip (Mt 5:17). "If a man do them he shall live in them" [Le 18:5; Ne 9:29]. But, ah! what an if for frail and fallen man. Whoever rests his hope upon the law stands debtor to it all; and in this view every one would be without hope were not "the Lord our Righteousness" [Jer 23:6; 33:16] (Joh 1:17). The coveting here forbidden is either,

1. The inward and deliberate purpose and desire of a deceitful or violent taking away of another man’s goods; but this is forbidden in the eighth commandment. And it is hard to conceive that St. Paul should think that this command did not forbid such a practice, Romans 7:7, which even the better sort of heathens esteemed a sin, whose words are, that they who are withheld from incest, or whoredom, or theft, only from a principle of fear, are guilty of those crimes; especially seeing the Old Testament Scriptures, which doubtless he diligently studied, do so plainly condemn evil purposes of the heart, as Leviticus 19:17 Deu 9:4,5 15:7,9, &c. Or,

2. The greedy desire of that which is another man’s, though it be without injury to him. Thus Ahab sinned in desiring Naboth’s vineyard, though he offered him money for it, 1 Kings 21:2. Or rather,

3. Those inward motions of the heart, which from the fountain of original corruption do spring up in the heart, and tickle it with some secret delight, though they do not obtain tie deliberate consent of the will. For seeing this law of God is spiritual and holy, Romans 7:12,14, and reacheth the thoughts, intents, and all the actual motions of the heart, as is apparent from the nature of God, and of his law; and seeing such motions are both the fruits of a sinful nature, and the common causes of sinful actions, and are not agreeable either to man’s first and uncorrupted nature, or to God’s law; they must needs be a swerving from it, and therefore sin. And this is the reason why this command is added as distinct from all the rest.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's house,.... This is the tenth and last commandment, and is an explanation of several of the past; showing that the law of God not only forbids external acts of sin, but the inward and first motions of the mind to it, which are not known, and would not be thought to be sinful, were it not for this law; nor are they known by this law until the Spirit of God by it convinces men of them, in whose light they see them to be sinful; even not only the schemes and contrivances of sin in the mind, the imaginations of it, thoughts dwelling upon it with pleasure, but even the first risings of sin in the heart; and such motions of it which are not assented unto, and unawares spring up from the corruption of nature, and are sudden craving desires after unlawful things, even these are forbidden by this law; which shows the spirituality of the law of God, and the impossibility of its being perfectly kept by fallen men. The apostle has reference to it, Romans 7:7. Several particulars are here mentioned not to be coveted, as instances and examples instead of others. Thus, for instance, "a neighbour's house" is not to be coveted; "nor his field", as the Septuagint version here adds, agreeably to Deuteronomy 5:21, a man is not secretly to wish and desire that such a man's house or land were his, since this arises from a discontent of mind with respect to his own habitation and possessions; and a man should be content with such things as he has, and not covet another's, which is not without sin:

thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife: and wish she was thine, and lust after her; this is a breach of the seventh command, and serves to explain and illustrate that. This clause stands first in the Septuagint version, as it does in Deuteronomy 5:21,

nor his manservant, nor maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbours'; which, with the first clause, serve to explain the eighth command, showing that we are not only forbid to take away what is another man's property, any of the goods here mentioned, or any other, but we are not secretly to desire them, and wish they were in our possession; since it discovers uneasiness and dissatisfaction with our own lot and portion, and is coveting another man's property, which is coveting an evil covetousness.

Thou shalt not {n} 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.

(n) You may not so much as wish his hinderance in anything.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. The tenth commandment. The most inward of all the commandments, forbidding not an external act, but a hidden mental state, a state, however, which is the spring and root of nearly every sin against a neighbour, the unlawful desire (ἐπιθυμία) for something which is another’s.

covet] lit. desire, which may be used of a perfectly lawful, and indeed laudable, affection (Psalm 19:10; Psalm 68:16): it acquires its bad sense solely from the context; comp. Joshua 7:21, and especially Micah 2:2.

house] i.e. (Kn. Di. Bä. al.) domestic establishment generally (Genesis 15:2, Job 8:15): examples follow of things belonging to it, and most likely to be coveted, wife, male and female slaves, &c. In Deuteronomy 5:21 the wife is given the first place, and the house and other belongings follow, shewing that ‘house’ is there used in the sense of ‘dwelling.’ In its original form, the command—no doubt—ended at ‘house’ (i.e. establishment), the examples following being a later expansion. ‘The command is aimed against that greedy desire for another’s goods, which so often issued in violent acts—the oppressions and cheating which were rife among the wealthier classes, and were denounced by the prophets’ (McNeile, p. lix): cf. Amos 3:10; Amos 5:11, Micah 2:2; Micah 2:9, Isaiah 3:14-15; Isaiah 5:8, &c.

Verse 17. - Thou shalt not covet. Here the Mosaic law takes a step enormously in advance of any other ancient code. Most codes stopped short at the deed; a few went on to words; not one attempted to control thoughts. "Thou shalt not covet" teaches men that there is One who sees the heart; to whose eyes "all things are naked and open;" and who cares far less for the outward act than the inward thought or motive from which the act proceeds. "Thou shalt not covet: lays it down again that we are not mere slaves of our natural desires and passions, but have a controlling power implanted within us, by means of which we can keep down passion, check desire, resist impulse. Man is lord of himself, capable, by the exercise of his free-will, of moulding his feelings, weakening or intensifying his passions, shaping his character. God, who "requires truth in the inward parts," looks that we should in all cases go to the root of the matter, and not be content with restraining ourselves from evil acts and evil words, but eradicate the evil feeling from which the acts and words proceed. Thy neighbours house, etc. The "house" is mentioned first as being of primary necessity, and as in some sort containing all the rest. A man does not take a wife until he has a home to bring her to, or engage domestic servants, or buy slaves, except to form part of a household. The other objects mentioned are placed in the order in which they are usually valued. The multiplication of objects is by way of emphasis.

CHAPTER 20:18-21 Exodus 20:17The other Five Words or commandments, which determine the duties to one's neighbour, are summed up in Leviticus 19:18 in the one word, "Love thy neighbour as thyself." The order in which they follow one another is the following: they first of all secure life, marriage, and property against active invasion or attack, and then, proceeding from deed to word and thought, they forbid false witness and coveting.

(Note: Luther has pointed out this mirum et aptum ordinem, and expounds it thus: Incipit prohibitio a majori usque ad minimum, nam maximum damnum est occisio hominis, deinde proximum violatio conjugis, tertium ablatio facultatis. Quod qui in iis nocere non possunt, saltem lingua nocent, ideo quartum est laesio famae. Quodsi in iis non praevalent omnibus, saltem corde laedunt proximum, cupiendo quae ejus sunt, in quo et invidia proprie consistit.)

If, therefore, the first three commandments in this table refer primarily to deeds; the subsequent advance to the prohibition of desire is a proof that the deed is not to be separated from the disposition, and that "the fulfilment of the law is only complete when the heart itself is sanctified" (Oehler). Accordingly, in the command, "Thou shalt not kill," not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, whether it proceed from open violence or stratagem (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:14, Exodus 21:18), but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness (Deuteronomy 22:8) or wantonness (Leviticus 19:14), or from hatred, anger, and revenge (Leviticus 19:17-18). Life is placed at the head of these commandments, not as being the highest earthly possession, but because it is the basis of human existence, and in the life the personality is attacked, and in that the image of God (Genesis 9:6). The omission of the object still remains to be noticed, as showing that the prohibition includes not only the killing of a fellow-man, but the destruction of one's own life, or suicide. - The two following commandments are couched in equally general terms. Adultery, נאף, which is used in Leviticus 20:10 of both man and woman, signifies (as distinguished from זנה to commit fornication) the sexual intercourse of a husband with the wife of another, or of a wife with the husband of another. This prohibition is not only directed against any assault upon the husband's dearest possession, for the tenth commandment guards against that, but upholds the sacredness of marriage as the divine appointment for the propagation and multiplication of the human race; and although addressed primarily to the man, like all the commandments that were given to the whole nation, applies quite as much to the woman as to the man, just as we find in Leviticus 20:10 that adultery was to be punished with death in the case of both the man and the woman. - Property was to be equally inviolable. The command, "Thou shalt not steal," prohibited not only the secret or open removal of another person's property, but injury done to it, or fraudulent retention of it, through carelessness or indifference (Exodus 21:33; Exodus 22:13; Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4). - But lest these commandments should be understood as relating merely to the outward act as such, as they were by the Pharisees, in opposition to whom Christ set forth their true fulfilment (Matthew 5:21.), God added the further prohibition, "Thou shalt not answer as a false witness against thy neighbour," i.e., give false testimony against him. ענה and בּ: to answer or give evidence against a person (Genesis 30:33). עד is not evidence, but a witness. Instead of שׁקר עד, a witness of a lie, who consciously gives utterance to falsehood, we find שׁוא עד in Deuteronomy, one who says what is vain, worthless, unfounded (שׁוא שׁמע, Exodus 23:1; on שׁוא see Exodus 23:7). From this it is evident, that not only is lying prohibited, but false and unfounded evidence in general; and not only evidence before a judge, but false evidence of every kind, by which (according to the context) the life, married relation, or property of a neighbour might be endangered (cf. Exodus 23:1; Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Deuteronomy 22:13.). - The last or tenth commandment is directed against desiring (coveting), as the root from which every sin against a neighbour springs, whether it be in word or deed. The חמד, ἐπιθυμεῖν (lxx), coveting, proceeds from the heart (Proverbs 6:25), and brings forth sin, which "is finished" in the act (James 1:14-15). The repetition of the words, "Thou shalt not covet," does not prove that there are two different commandments, any more than the substitution of תּתאוּה in Deuteronomy 5:18 for the second תּחמד. חמד and התאוּה are synonyms, - the only difference between them being, that "the former denotes the desire as founded upon the perception of beauty, and therefore excited from without, the latter, desire originating at the very outset in the person himself, and arising from his own want or inclination" (Schultz). The repetition merely serves to strengthen and give the great emphasis to that which constitutes the very kernel of the command, and is just as much in harmony with the simple and appropriate language of the law, as the employment of a synonym in the place of the repetition of the same word is with the rhetorical character of Deuteronomy. Moreover, the objects of desire do not point to two different commandments. This is evident at once from the transposition of the house and wife in Deuteronomy. בּית (the house) is not merely the dwelling, but the entire household (as in Genesis 15:2; Job 8:15), either including the wife, or exclusive of her. In the text before us she is included; in Deuteronomy she is not, but is placed first as the crown of the man, and a possession more costly than pearls (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 31:10). In this case, the idea of the "house" is restricted to the other property belonging to the domestic economy, which is classified in Deuteronomy as fields, servants, cattle, and whatever else a man may have; whereas in Exodus the "house" is divided into wife, servants, cattle, and the rest of the possessions.

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