“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
or his male or female servant,
his ox or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Up until now, all of the preceding Words of God have dealt with persons— their lives, their marriages, their freedom, and their legal rights.
However, this last commandment has to do with property or more specifically the unlawful desire of coveting your neighbor’s property.
The Hebrew word for covet is AMAD.
Although we usually think of this word as just meaning “to want”, the true Hebrew sense of this verb exhibits a broader range of meaning.
It can mean “yearn for”, “desire”, and even “lust after”.
Regardless of which English word is used, AMAD clearly suggests wanting to possess something that belongs to someone else.
Now this final Word seems different in character from all the others, which concern actions rather than thoughts.
Breaking one of the first nine commandments was a matter of law requiring evidence and witnesses to establish guilt or innocence.
However, for this 10th Word of God, what evidence or witnesses other than a person’s conscience could prove guilt or innocence concerning desire?
Well, here again, we run into another major linguistic nuance difference between our modern English and the Hebrew.
This apparent inconsistency can be resolved when we realize that the distinction English speakers make between thoughts and action is too sharp.
In Hebrew, words meaning “desire” are linked with actions taken to fulfill the desire more closely than in English.
For example, take a look at this verse:
“I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.”-Exodus 34:24
The meaning is clear here.
This verse is talking about required pilgrimages and states that the land of Israel will be safe; no one, especially NOT a foreigner, will take it.
Clearly more than simple desire is the issue here.
Another more detailed example of this nuance can be found in the book of Micah.
“Woe to those who devise wickedness,
and evil deeds on their beds:
at morning’s light they do it,
because it is in their power.
They scheme against fields and seize them,
and houses, and they take them away.”
-Micah 2: 1– 2
Here, the English verb “scheme” is being used for the Hebrew word AMAD that is usually rendered as “covet”.
Again we can see that the proper meaning of AMAD is action prompted by desire.
Some scholars believe that the earliest form of this 10th Word may have been “You should not scheme against your neighbor’s house”.
In this case, “house” was understood as not just the physical abode but as “household” meaning all the property of the patriarch, including not just the real estate but also livestock, slaves, and wives.