God said, “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbour. You must not covet your neighbour’s house.” Exodus 20:13-17
These blunt commandments are even more brief in Hebrew, where a better translation would be: “No murder. No adultery. No stealing.” In quick succession, God sets out the activities that must be stopped if a community is to thrive. Having respect for human life, marriage, property and truth-telling are foundational to a peaceful and harmonious society, and coveting what others have can only be destructive.
On first reading, the trouble with these commandments is that they sound so negative. But the reason for this is, quite clearly, because God’s desire is the best. He won’t settle for anything less than that and so he is ruthlessly opposed to anything that will spoil life for his much- loved children. The sanctions showed how serious he was. Murder would lead to capital punishment, adultery to stoning and the thief had to make full restitution.
As human beings we never enjoy being told what we can’t do, but it is often a sign of love. My parents spent years telling me the things I shouldn’t do.
Their rules were often annoying and frustrating, but there is no doubt that they were a sign of their love for me and my sisters. If they had allowed us to do whatever we wanted, it would have been the clearest sign that they didn’t care. But they did.
Coveting might well be the most challenging of these five commandments for us. We live in a society in which coveting is continually encouraged. Every advertisement encourages us to want something. But God has a much better plan. He wants us to be content with what we have and to find peace in not continually rushing after more and more of everything.
Which of these five commandments do you find most challenging and why?
Lord God, I thank you for your complete love for me. Help me to believe that your commandments are always an expression of your love. Amen