You Shall Not Covet: Bible Lesson and Life Application

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

We live in a consumer driven culture, where everything from marketing to popularity is driven by the desire to have it all. If we just drive the right car, marry the right person, have the right job, or live in the right house we are told that we will be happy. However, no matter what we have, we always end up finding that there is something else that others have that we want. To get a healthy perspective on our desire to have things a Bible lesson and life application study of the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet,” is necessary.

What does it mean to covet?

The word covet is commonly defined as (1): (Verb) 1. To wish for earnestly 2. To desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably. From this definition, to covet means to strongly desire to have something that belongs to someone else.

What does God say about coveting?

You shall not covet1

The tenth commandment reads like this:

“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” (Exodus 20:17).

This commandment adds to the common definition in that it specifically refers to certain things in addition to all other things.

In this verse, the Hebrew word hamad (2) is used and is commonly translated as covet, desire, delight, or lust, amongst other words. Like the common definition, it also communicates a strong desire to have something that belongs to someone else. This desire, called lust, has three main areas of focus: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-16). When looking at Exodus 20:17, we find these three lusts displayed in three ways:

  1. Coveting things: Coveting someone’s house, their ox, or their ass primarily speaks to our desire to have things that belong to someone else. It could be the coveting of the house they live in, the car they drive (ass used for transportation), or job (ox used for farming) they have. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by lust of the eyes.
  2. Coveting intimate relationships: Coveting someone’s wife speaks to our desire to have a relationship with someone else’s spouse. It could be the coveting of how they provide for each other’s physical day-to-day needs, their closeness, or sexual relations. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by lust of the flesh.
  3. Coveting influence: Coveting someone’s manservant or maidservant speaks to our desire to have the influence that someone else has. It could be the number of servants they have, the power they have in ruling over others, or how they are perceived by others in wealth and status. This target of coveting is primarily motivated by the pride of life.

What is the Spiritual perspective of coveting?

Coveting is based on our desire to please our self and does not have eternal benefit nor give glory to God or esteem others (Matthew 6:19-34). God tells us that our lusts (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride) tempts us by drawing us away and enticing us. When we allow these lusts to continue in our thoughts, it conceives the desire to sin, which destroys relationships and leads to our demise (James 1:12-16; 1 Timothy 6:10). Satan used the three lusts to seduce Eve in the garden successfully (Genesis 3:1-7) and he used the three lusts to try to seduce Jesus in the wilderness unsuccessfully (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

Is coveting ever justified?

God does tell us there are things that we should covet after. In 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 and 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 we are told that we should covet the best gifts of the Spirit. Of these gifts, the highest are related to preaching and teaching the Word of God. This is why God says special honor should be given to those who do so (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

How do we defend against the desire to covet?

To covet after these gifts requires that we spend time in study of God’s Word (Psalms 119:11; John 8:28), seeking to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1-11). When that is the focus of our study and prayer, God guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6-9). The result is that we learn to be content with what we have and our desire is to glorify God through His strength, no matter what the situation (Matthew 6: Philippians 4:10-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-12).


God commanded us not to covet in the tenth commandment. Although this was an Old Testament commandment, it pointed to the fact that coveting is not in keeping with loving God and our neighbor above our self. Coveting in motivated by lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride. It consumes our desires to serve God and others and demonstrates that what God provides for us in not enough. The prescription for coveting is having the mind of Christ, which changes our thinking.

Related reading: What Are the Ten Commandments?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Merriam-Webster. (2014). “Covet”. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster Dictionary: (2) Strong, James, (2014). “Covet”. Strong’s number H2530. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits November 19, 2014 at 2:28 am

Hi Dr Williams,

Hopefully you can set me straight here, because I am that guy who wants/desires what other people have. I don’t want their possessions, by taking their possessions from them. I just want the same items they have which I will purchase for myself. I want a nice car, house and lawn , with no weeds just like my neighbor, Bob. I really desire to have a lawn that looks just like my neighbor’s great looking lawn…

When the new iPhones(6 Plus) came out, I wanted one, just like my tech savvy son-in-law has. Man that big screen and those cool features float my boat and I can hardly wait until my contract comes up in only 14 more days so I can place my order!!

Now, I always thought, much like most of your examples pointed out, that if I wanted “The Exact” iPhone my son-in-law has, wanting his iPhone(that one which belongs to him and he has in his back pocket) for my very own…which would deny him of his having it….then that would be covetous.

OTOH, if I wanted to have 10 servants just like he has, that would not be covetous…. unless my desire was to dispossess him of his servants, taking them for myself. That would be covetous. I would have the wicked intent of robbing him of what was his possession.

Are we on the same page here?

So having nice things and even being desirous of what your neighbor has is not covetousness, IMO. Covetousness, is the desire to have what your neighbor has with the additional intent of satisfying your desire by taking those things for yourself, which rightfully belong to your neighbor.

Having said all of that, “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim 6:6), although I still plan, God willing, on getting that iPhone 6 Plus…;-)




Dr. Michael Williams November 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Thanks for your reply DocReits. Here are verses that I often use in counseling and I constantly challenge myself with that answer these questions. The question has to be, where is my focus and what difference will it make in eternity?

Psalms 37:16; Psalms 62:10; Proverbs 13:7; Proverbs 22:1-2; Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 27:23-27; Matthew 6:19-34; Mark 4:18-19; 2 Timothy 2 (see verse 3 and 4); 1 Peter 4:16-17.


DocReits November 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Thank you for those Scripture references.



David November 25, 2014 at 3:41 am

Dr Williams, good article. The LORD has been speaking to me on the same topic.
I remember reading the excellent book by Richard Foster ”The Celebration of Discipline”, and I quote ”the purpose of marketing is to persuade people to buy the things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like”.
The purpose, it makes them covet, and they will want to buy that product.
Blessings. David Central Europe.


babatope joseph November 9, 2015 at 6:53 pm

please help me in your prayer.


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