On the importance of the last of the 10 commandments.
Jim was talking about the Olympics; I guess it’s still fresh in people’s minds. Along with the elation of getting a medal, there is also a lot of discontentment, unhappiness and disappointment. They train for at least four years, or maybe more, to be successful.
When you consider your own life, would you say that you are satisfied? What is your current contentment index on a scale of 1 to 10? Are you satisfied with your job, your career prospects? Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you thought you were in line for, and someone else did? Maybe you feel there is a lack of recognition in your life. Maybe you don’t feel appreciated, even in your church community.
Maybe there is something we desperately want, something we set all our plans around and it didn’t actually materialise. Maybe we made some bad decisions where our emotions ruled over our head, and so we may be smarting over that.
All of these things can cause a degree of discontentment and disappointment, when we really want something badly but can’t have it.
It’s not wrong to desire things.
3 John 2:1
1 Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
Humans are designed that way; it’s OK to desire things. In the Greek where it says prosper; it is actually referring to business affairs and general living. So the wish is there that you would prosper, also in your health and spiritual health. Humans are designed this way; we live in a physical world, and it only becomes a problem if what we want becomes an obsession.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.”
The question is: who is your neighbour? It could be a person in this room, a person down the road, or it could even be a neighbouring state. The breaking of the 10th commandment drives many, if not most, of society’s ills. The desire for territory, greed and excess is the source of war. This all comes from the human mindset.
Coveting brings the seeds of discontent, when we want something desperately and can’t have it. It can even lead to depression. Many people have spent their entire life trying to find heaven on earth, through money and position and things, but they never really find the contentment they so desperately crave.
This afternoon I would like to look at an Old Testament story about a man who scaled the heights of success, who followed God and God blessed him, and seemingly nothing was withheld from him. He had it all.
I’ll give you a clue; he was a widely acclaimed national leader. The prophet Isaiah was born during his reign. He was the king of Judah, and he resigned after Amaziah. He was also known by two names (you’ve probably latched on to who he was now). He enjoyed vast military power, and possessed great wealth and influence. He was highly respected throughout the known world. So, who was this man?
We find the story in 2 Chronicles 26.
2 Chronicles 26:1
1 Now all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah.
Now, the other name that I mentioned for Uzziah was Azariah, and that’s found in 2 Kings. The word Uzziah is a shortened form of that.
2 Chronicles 26:2
2 He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king rested with his fathers.
So Elath had obviously been taken away from them, and if you know your geography, you’ll know that's on the Gulf of Acabar. He restored it, and it is said that he traded extensively from the port of Elath to countries as far away as India.
2 Chronicles 26:3
3 Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecholiah of Jerusalem.
Behind a good man there is always a good mother, and she must have raised him well. He started reigning at the age of 16, and assumed a throne occupied by a lineage of kings beginning with David, and many of those kings did not follow God. His first 24 years was as a co-reagent, and for the next 27 years he had independent rule.
2 Chronicles 26:4-5
4 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.
It is said that only the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was as prosperous since the days of Solomon. God gave him a great deal of prosperity, and he had developed a zeal to understand and obey God. He was a very popular ruler. So God really did bless him.
2 Chronicles 26:10
10 Also he built towers in the desert. He dug many wells, for he had much livestock, both in the lowlands and in the plains; he also had farmers and vinedressers in the mountains and in Carmel, for he loved the soil.
He was a great agricultural man; he did lots of irrigation channels and grew crops and vineyards. He was a multitalented individual.
2 Chronicles 26:11-15
11 Moreover Uzziah had an army of fighting men who went out to war by companies, according to the number on their roll as prepared by Jeiel the scribe and Maaseiah the officer, under the hand of Hananiah, one of the king’s captains. 12 The total number of chief officers of the mighty men of valor was two thousand six hundred. 13 And under their authority was an army of three hundred and seven thousand five hundred, that made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. 14 Then Uzziah prepared for them, for the entire army, shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows, and slings to cast stones. 15 And he made devices in Jerusalem, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and large stones. So his fame spread far and wide, for he was marvelously helped till he became strong.
So he had a standing army of over 300,000 men. He was also very inventive and made war machinery and fortified Jerusalem and the whole of Judea. He was at the height of his powers at this time.
2 Chronicles 26:16
16 But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction
That first statement is quite a simple statement, but what happened after that is almost inconceivable, and it really strips away human nature and reveals it for what it is. It drives home the point of this sermon. In spite of all his wealth and power, it wasn’t enough. Few things were denied during his rule, but there was one area of responsibility which was out of his reach.
2 Chronicles 26:16
16 (cont.) for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.
So here we have king Uzziah taking it on himself to burn incense (and this was obviously a preconceived plan). It is interesting that king Jeroboam II, who ruled in the northern ten tribes at that same time, was permitted to combine political and religious offices. So Jeroboam could wander into what they considered their house of God, and he would offer incense. They had become corrupted, and it could very well be that Uzziah saw what Jeroboam was up to and decided that if Jeroboam could offer incense, he should be able to as well. He coveted the role of high priest, and took that role upon himself. But the Levitical priesthood would have none of it.
2 Chronicles 26:17-18
17 So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord—valiant men. 18 And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God.”
The function of officiating at Gods temple was the sole domain of the Levites, the descendants of Aaron. Uzziah was a Jew of the tribe of Judah, so he could have no priestly role at all. During the holy days it was always the high priest who officiated, not the king. In ecclesiastical matters, Uzziah had to take the back seat, and he obviously resented this. It put a brake on his ambitions.
2 Chronicles 26:19
19 Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense.
In the old king James, it says he was “full of wrath”. So here he is, white hot with rage, and threatening to go ahead and do this anyway.
2 Chronicles 26:19-20
19 (cont.) And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the incense altar. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the Lord had struck him.
There is an interesting side point according to Josephus, referring to Zechariah 14:5. He talks of an earthquake that took place in the days of Uzziah. Josephus makes the comment that it occurred at this time. That’s just speculation, I haven’t gone in to prove it either way, but it would be rather interesting and quite incredible if when this happened to Uzziah, there was also an earthquake at the same time. That would certainly cause him to move out of the temple very quickly. But we can’t say that for sure.
2 Chronicles 26:21
21 King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. Then Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land.
Uzziah’s epitaph was very brief. "He was a leper"; that’s all it says about him. He was buried in the royal burial ground, but he wasn’t actually buried in the royal tombs.
Uzziah lost everything because of his covetousness. He had the knowledge of God’s way, but his heart ruled over his head. He desperately wanted something and all logic went out the window.
Have we made bad decisions? Have we allowed our heart to get on top of our head, defying all logic and reasoning but going ahead and doing it anyway? What is coveting? It’s an old medieval term. To some extent, most of us have badly wanted something, and we’ve come up with all sorts of reasons and strategies as to why we should have that something. I think we’ve all done that at times. The dictionary definition is “to long to possess something, to wish for or crave for something belonging to another, something we cannot have”, and there was another comment of “something you could salivate over”. It’s like pressing your nose against the window pane of a store, and looking at all those things you would really love.
Coveting is basically setting one’s heart on something.
Mark 7:20-23. This follows a discourse He’s having with the Pharisees, and I’ll just beak into it here:
20 And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
Pride is so often the companion of covetousness. Coveting can be deadly, particularly when we set our hearts on the wrong things. It can be complicated. It can also be very well camouflaged, because Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful. It has a way of working around situations and circumstances.
In the book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira coveted and wanted to enhance their reputation and position. It caused them to lie against the Holy Spirit.
When you think about Uzziah and what he had, he wanted for absolutely nothing, but in one single day he went from riches to rags, from fame to infamy. Coveting has the potential to damage or destroy relationships, hurting ourselves and our neighbours, simply because our heart gets in the road. It can cause us to want far more than we deserve, or that which we should rightfully share in.
In any transactions we get involved in our daily lives; it shouldn’t be about grinding someone down. I know we want to get the best prices. And yes, we should go for a discount and go for the best arrangement we can, but at the end of the day, we should walk away feeling that it is a fair arrangement, and both parties benefit. It’s not about grinding down and lusting after the last penny, and getting advantage in that sense.
The 10th commandment not to covet is essentially a commandment to make sure our hearts are right and clean. It’s aimed at the heart and mind; it’s not so much about what we must do, but how we should think. Coveting is of the mind.
7 “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. 9 Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. 10 You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.
In taking advantage of someone or squeezing the last out of somebody, that’s the heart at work there - the mind of our human nature wanting to take advantage, and grudging generosity. Exodus 18 brings out a principle which relates to every one of us. Jethro is giving Moses some advice here:
21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens
If you’re going to select people who are going to be rulers, they must hate covetousness. They must love God and the truth. That principle should apply to every one of us, but particularly to those who are in service roles. Moses took Jethro’s advice, and went ahead.
The opposite of coveting is a positive desire to preserve and protect the blessings people get from God, not to tear away at them and break them down. Rejoice when others are blessed, and also contribute to the wellbeing of others.
The antidote for the ills of violating the 10th commandment is the 1st commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:5, and this is talking about the collection for the saints in Judea as they had a terrible famine:
5 Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.
In the King James, it says “and without covetousness”. In other words, covetousness kills generosity.
Have we ever thought about being a blessing to others by our presence in their lives? By being involved and working with others, we can be a blessing in terms of giving of ourselves and not holding back. Covetousness hinders generosity and our desire to give.
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
We have all at some point let our desires rule our behaviour. We live in a covetous society, and modern day Israel is being cursed for that. You only have to look at how the whole business of consumerism and globalism works; it’s all about physical acquisition, making and selling things and manipulating the appetites of people through ad agencies, causing them to consume. It’s also creating great expectations of “this is what we should have – we are just not with it unless we have this or that brand.” There are ridiculous expectations that are placed on people.
Research show that those who spend more than one hour a day on Facebook or social media show signs of depression. When we compare ourselves with others it can be rather discouraging.
It's pointless comparing ourselves with others, whether it is in our church community or elsewhere. We are not competitors; we are all running the same race. It's not about the pecking order, power or control. It's about working together. It's also about the need to be careful about what we take into our minds in terms of what we see around us. If you look at some of these social websites you may think that you are not making it anywhere in your life, in terms of lifestyle.
4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
That's an interesting statement. To get rid of covetousness, which is idolatry. Covetousness is more than just a social evil. When greed or excessive desires get between us and God, it becomes idolatry. Coveting is not so much about what we don't have, but what we can't have.
At the end of the day, it's not that God doesn't want us to improve our physical state; He does want us to prosper. It's all a matter of perspective. It's about avoiding becoming obsessed by our physical desires, lest we become possessed by them.
5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.
The accompanying scripture to that would be Matthew 6:33
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
The things of this world are not our ultimate goal. Paul says in another scripture that he has learned to be content in whatever state he finds himself. That can be difficult because we have our ups and downs, and sometimes a very tough road to walk. He found a way of saying "look, I've been through a great deal, but I have learned to be content in whatever state I find myself."
I'll just mention a few of what I call “cures for discontentment”, and it's not pop psychology by the way, but I was just thinking about the young people and thinking it’s probably a good idea to limit or control exposure to Facebook and social media because there are some totally unrealistic expectations out there.
There is no such thing as the perfect lifestyle, the perfect body, perfect marriage, perfect house, perfect job, perfect holiday. A man these days is supposed to (in order to be appealing to a lady) be a gourmet chef, have knowledge of wine and a good homemaker, plus expectations of how you should look and feel about something. It's getting out of control. Sometimes these unreal expectations can permeate and start affecting you, causing a lot of discontentment.
There's no point coveting these things because they are actually total facades.
Another one I have heard is keeping a list of things you are grateful for, and reading them every morning. In other words, count your blessings if you feel like life is treating you badly.
Make thanksgiving a big part of your prayers. When you do that, a lot of the angst and disappointment tends to go away.
Uzziah's story is a great lesson for us all. 2 Chronicles 26 is there for a very special reason. When you look at the Gospels of the New Testament, it's really written in perspective of the lessons learned in the Old Testament. How often do they quote the Old Testament examples? All of these are examples for us, it may be a dramatic example but it certainly gets the point across.
In his lifetime, very little was held back from Uzziah. He was tremendously blessed. Uzziah broke the 10th commandment, and it broke him in the end. His story tells us that we are not to covet anything that is not rightfully ours or to let our heart rule over our head (and I know that is easier said than done, we fight that battle every single day). The ten commandments begin with a prohibition of idolatry, and they end with a prohibition of covetousness, which is idolatry. Uzziah did not get the message.
This commandment focuses on the thoughts and the intentions of our hearts. Jesus, our foremost authority, said in Luke 12:15
15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
Let's think about the lesson of Uzziah and his encounter with the 10th commandment; Thou shalt not covet.