John Piper in his book Money, Sex & Power makes an interesting observation. He asks, “Have you ever pondered the possibility that the first and the last Commandments are virtually the same, and function as kind of an enclosure, or bracketing, that makes the other eight commandments in the middle possible?”
I had never thought of that. Upon reading, reflecting upon the idea, and studying the Commandments, I suspect Piper may be on to something, at least as far as the inseparably close relationship of the first and last Commandments. I have some doubt about the bracketing concept or that they are “virtually the same”, but I will leave that as a topic for another day.
What I want to do here is look closely at those two Commandments and do the pondering Piper asked about.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
17 “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.”
They don’t look or sound the same and, at first glance, there appears to be no similarity. However, think about the focus of the heart. What is the focus of the person’s heart who loves other gods? What is the focus of the covetous heart? That is where the similarity begins to appear and Piper starts to look like he is onto something. As usual, the heart of most of our problems is a problem of the heart. See What About the Heart?
First, let’s examine the First Commandment and the heart of a person who puts anything before God. If someone puts anything before God, it is rebellion against God’s sovereignty. Such a focus elevates whatever stands before God into a false god or idol. This is the concern clearly expressed by Jesus when He preached on our focus and our heart’s direction:
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
God is very uncompromising about our hearts.
What makes this analysis interesting is that the Tenth Commandment is equally uncompromising. The heart of someone who wants more than he has (more than God has given him), may very well be a heart that wants it badly enough to disregard God. According to Dictionary.com, to covet is to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others. The primary Hebrew word commonly translated as “covet” is chamad, or hemdah, which means “covet”, “lust”, and “strong desire.” An inordinate desire is a powerful, demanding desire for something to which you have no right or claim.
The traditional Jewish view of the danger of covetousness and the reason for this prohibition is that the Commandment stands as a high fence protecting us from our desires which could lead to violation of other Commandments such as theft, adultery, lying and even murder. For more detail, see Jewish Encyclopedia.com.
Both of these Commandments focus on the heart – on thoughts and not the actions. The other commandments are more (but not entirely) about actions and the things we should or should not do, whereas these two bookend commandments are all about the heart. We should never forget that Jesus addressed the focus of the heart in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. He made His message about the heart as well as actions.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
To covet, you must elevate what you covet to a point of being your god. That is likely why there are more than 2,300 verses in the Bible about possessions, property and money, far more than even about heaven and hell combined. That is why the love of money is identified as the root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy 6:10, and why money is a common topic of warning from God.
And that is why Jesus emphasized a point about the fear of wealth and said,
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
After making many mistakes and following false trails and going down many dark alleys of failure, Solomon eventually understood the truth about money and his own heart.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24. Make your choice and please choose wisely. Give us a call at the Idlewild Foundation. We would love to help with any questions you may have.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.