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Word Wisdom: Covet

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

Gerri stood patiently in line as her four year old approached the Santa Claus in the mall. Dylan climbed up on Santa’s knee and she heard him softly say, “I have my heart set on a puppy this year.” Gerri smiled and thought, “Like that’s going to happen.” They had repeatedly told Dylan that a puppy was not a good fit in apartment living.

Gerri had her own desires for Christmas. She had her heart set on owning a house sometime soon. Her husband had his heart set on large screen TV so the football would look a lot bigger during the Rider games. “Maybe Santa could arrange those things too,” she pondered.

There is nothing wrong with hopes, dreams, and desires. In fact, that keeps us going at times. Working hard to find fulfillment in attaining them is crucial.

However, when desire turns into an ungoverned, selfish craving, it is called “coveting.” The dictionary defines “covet” as to desire what belongs to another in an inordinate or culpable way. To covet means to long for something in a way that exceeds reasonable limits to attain it. To covet means to crave something so much that the way you anticipate acquiring it merits condemnation. Coveting leads to unethical actions.

In the Book of Exodus God commanded, “Do not covet,” as the last of the basic principles for living as the Creator intended. Many people are aware of these standards as the Ten Commandments. If you have been reading this column for the past months you may have realized I have been focusing on the verbs contained in the Exodus directives.

The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:17 is khawmad, meaning to desire greatly and take pleasure in. In a good and positive way the word is used in Song of Songs, “As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With khawmad I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” However, the word is used most often in a negative sense that leads to sin. The implication is that as you desire something so much, you might act in a way that breaks one of the preceding commandments to attain it. “To set your heart on something” must be controlled and kept in proper perspective. Or it is as Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:21)

The Biblical creation account clearly portrays the difference implicit in khawmad. After creating the man of dust, Genesis chapter two records, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is khawmad to the sight and good for food.” Trees that provide sustenance to people are to be desired for the pleasure they bring in eating their fruit. This is a good thing.

However, when Satan tempted Eve to desire the one tree in the garden that God had commanded of them not to crave and eat, desire turned to covet, which acted out in disobedience and wrongful action. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was khawmad to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6)

Desire is a matter of the heart, which needs to be regulated. As James penned, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” But people do not like to practice self-control, as we are encouraged to be true to ourselves and do what is “right for me”. So, to desire greatly can become coveting. We all need to work on this. As Jesus declared, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Most sins start with coveting. The story of King David and Bathsheba clearly illustrate this issue. (Read 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12).

So, there is nothing inherently wrong with “setting your heart” on something. But be careful. Keep a moral compass. Be guided by ethical strategies. We all need a framework that leads to good and wholesome actions. What is it that frames your actions and guides your heart?

Columnist John Kreutzwieser loves to research words and writes this weekly Word Wisdom column for Moose Jaw Express/  He has an interest in the usage, origin, and relevance of words for society today. Greek and Latin form the basis of many words, with ancient Hebrew shedding light on word usage.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to . Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.