Tenth and Final Word of Community Design - Deuteronomy 5:1-5, 21
A Sunday school class was studying the Ten Commandments. They were ready to discuss the last one. The teacher asked if anyone could tell her what it was.
Susie raised her hand, stood tall, and quoted, "Thou shall not take the covers off the neighbor's wife."
My brothers and sisters, we conclude, today, our ten-week journey through God’s Words of Community Design, or as we more commonly call them, The Ten Commandments, recalling that the Hebrew word we frequently translate as commandment is actually more commonly, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, translated at “word” or “saying.” Along this journey, we have come to encounter the commandments or words in such a way as to understand that they are not simply a list of do’s and don’ts but God’s guidance in helping us live together in community as He designed it to be.
In the first word, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other God’s before me,” we were reminded that this is God’s community, not ours, it is about Him, not us; we are special enough that God invites us to be a part of this community; participation in this community is voluntary, not forced; however, if we choose to be part of His community, God must take priority over our lives.
The second word, “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” reminded us that God cannot be manipulated or controlled. He is the Creator, we are the creature. It also reminds us that we are not supposed to attempt to control or manipulate those in the community with us.
As we heard God’s third word, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord Your God,” we were reminded that we must be careful how we use God’s name. It is not simply avoiding the use of vulgar words containing God’s name, but we must caution ourselves from using God’s name so frivolously that it has no significance to us, so sparingly that we deny God’s role in our lives, and as we bear the name of God as Christians, we must be careful how our actions depict God to the world.
The fourth word, “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” was a packed word. In this word, we are reminded that God rested after six days of creation…and created in the image of God we are called to be like God…we are called to set aside a day of rest and worship apart from our work, to refused to do so is to place ourselves above God. This word reminds us that we, and those around us, are of more value than simply what they can produce. It reminds us that we are to take time to admire the work that we and others have accomplished. It reminds us to celebrate our freedom. It also serves as a reminder that not all things are mundane, that some things are sacred, and among those things is the gift of time from God.
The fifth word, “Honor your father and mother,” served as the word that transferred us from a focus that was directly on God and led to our community, to a focus on our interaction with the community directly. We are to honor our father and mother, for how we treat and honor them is reflective of how we honor God. We are reminded, also, that this word is difficult for some, especially those who have had abusive or absent mothers and fathers, but the word comes to treat them with decency and respect as a command from God…not because they deserve it, but that God expects it. That does not mean that we remain or place ourselves in abusive situations, but that we ensure that those who gave us life are cared for in this life. We are also reminded that our parents were created in God’s image, not God created in their image, and when they fall short, it is their falling short, not a reflection of God falling short.
We are given the word not to murder or kill, and in hearing this sixth word we are reminded of the sacredness of life. We are also reminded that sometimes we take lives when we diminish someone’s livelihood, self-respect, or character. We were reminded that when we lose a member of the community, we lose part of our very selves.
In the seventh word warning against committing adultery, we were reminded that a marriage within the Judeo-Christian tradition is a marriage that is Trinitarian…it is husband, wife, and God. We were also reminded that sex is a sacred gift from God and that we must be careful in how we use this gift. We were reminded that as husband and wife are joined, they become one flesh…and so a violation of this covenant is also a violation of “you shall not murder” and “you shall not steal.”
With the warning against stealing, we were reminded that we are not to take what doesn’t belong to us. We are to be respecters of other persons. We were cautioned not to steal, not only are we cautioned against stealing physical property, but stealing their innocence, stealing their courage, stealing their hope, or stealing their faith. Rather than taking, this word reminds us that we are to be givers…we are to share the blessings God has showered upon us, rather than taking what God has given someone else.
In the word we last shared when we were together, “neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor,” we were cautioned about the words we use in relation to our neighbor. We are to use words that build up, strengthen, and help rather than words that will tear apart or destroy.
So now we come to the tenth and final “word” of Community design, and it is not about taking the covers off of your neighbor’s wife…well not completely. The word comes to us, “neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” We notice right away something different about this word. Now before anyone gets upset that the wife is listed alongside of house, field, slaves, oxen, donkey, or other property belonging to our neighbor, let us remember that in the patriarchal days of this writing, the wife was considered a piece of property…property handed down from the woman’s father to the husband. That kind of thinking is what lies behind the traditional phrase, “Who give this woman to be married to this man?” However, that’s a detailed discussion for marriage planning, not community design planning.
Actually, what sets this “word” apart from the other nine “words” is that it is about feelings. All of the rest of the commandments are about actions we are to take or actions we are to avoid. This word is telling us that we are to be in control of our thoughts and desires.
“But preacher, that is ridiculous, how I feel is not as important as how I act.” Well, my friends, that is not the case, not according to God’s words of community design, and not according to Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’…But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”
What is in the heart matters, and as Jesus points out, the violation of the heart brings about all other violations…the caution against coveting is the keypin on which all the other Words of Community Design stand or fall. A person coveting what belongs to another can lead to the violation of the other commandments. If not, consider the illustrations of this offered to us biblically:
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her…The woman conceived and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
“So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.”…When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the ward was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”
“…Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”
“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him so that he may be struck down and die.”
“Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab went home resentful and sullen…
“His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” “Give up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
“So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal…She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; sat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.
“As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard…”
Coveting…false witness, murder.
We can think of situations in our time…stories of teens murdering another teen over a pair of tennis shoes or a jacket…stories, appropriate as we are in the Christmas season, of children coveting the toy of another child, leading their parents to stoop to unbelievable actions in pursuit of that particular toy…the first tales I remember of this was the original release of the Cabbage Patch Kids…but it doesn’t have to involve children or toys…it was only a year or two ago where a man was trampled to death on “Black Friday” as folks rushed into Wal-Mart to get what they coveted on that particular day.
Coveting, wanting what we do not have that someone else has, leads us to lie, to steal, to commit adultery, to murder, to dishonor our parents, to disregard the sacred worth of others, to refuse to take a time of rest, to misrepresent God’s name, to try and manipulate God, and to disregard what God has done for us, and set out on our own.
What else is wrong with coveting? It simply denies that God knows what God is doing…that we know better than God what we need. If we trust that God provides for us, then we will be satisfied with what God has given us. Jesus reminds us not to worry about what we do not have, what we think we need, he says to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Coveting says, “God you have not given me my daily bread. God you have not provided me with what I need to survive. God you have failed to be a good God.”
Not coveting leads us back to the first word…”I am the Lord Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” God is God and the Father has given us what we need.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.