Ten Covenant Words, No Coveting
Wife and Life
Psalm 30:11-12 says: “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!”
The last covenant word is found in Exodus 20:17b: “You must not covet your neighbor’s wife.”
This covenant word (commandment) was and is particularly personal and lacks great understanding. It was really important to the Israeli community at the time because God needed to establish a strong foundation for the family. The Egyptian culture at the time of Moses dates to the 13th/14th Centuries B.C.E. During that time period they practiced open sexuality for singles. Historians believe there is some evidence of homosexuality, prostitution, and abortion. Singles were not discouraged from engaging in sexual activity. (https://www.ancient.eu/article/934/love-sex-and-marriage-in-ancient-egypt/).
However, in an effort to maintain harmony in the greater community, married couples were expected to be faithful and adultery was unacceptable. The degree of punishment was decided by the couple. If the injured party was willing to forgive the infidelity, they could move forward without punishment. However, if the person who was injured (man or woman) sought a strong punishment, the court would hear the evidence and render a verdict. (https://www.ancient.eu/Egyptian_Law/).
Because there is evidence of societal rules against adultery in the culture Israel had been a part of for centuries, it’s highly possible that is why this commandment was not just saying “don’t commit adultery”. God was going to the root of the problem and was telling Israel ‘don’t even think about it’. God loved them and went beyond promoting harmony related to infidelity. God wanted married couples to remain faithful in heart, soul, mind, and body.
I remember when my boys were small I would watch them and I instinctively knew when they were getting ready to do something. I would watch them to see if the thoughts would come to fruition or if they were going to turn to something else. At the point I could tell the idea had taken root, I would say to them, “Don’t even think about it.” Then they would look innocent and act like they had no idea what I was talking about. My follow up would usually be, “I’m not kidding.” That usually did the trick. They knew they’d been spotted and that (at least for that moment) I was aware of what they were thinking about doing. My daughter (the oldest) was obedient, innocent, and compliant even as a young toddler. She was my side-kick for nearly two years before her oldest brother arrived. I’m not sure if that was because she she was the oldest or because it was just because of how God created her. She was not capable of telling “a good” lie because her “tell” was so obvious (as is mine) so she stopped trying. She was also capable of seeing when her brothers were “up to” something and she would give me a certain look. It was clear to me and to their older sister when they were planning something. The plan always proceeded the action.
God was doing the same thing to his children. He was telling them, “Don’t even think about it.” God knew that adultery begins in the mind and soul. I believe that Instead of simply telling them, “Don’t commit adultery”, God was telling them they needed to stop before they considered committing adultery.
God wanted them to understand they needed to love the person in front of them because sexuality in marriage is a sacred bond. God’s desire for a man and woman can clearly been seen in Genesis 2:21-25 (NLT):
“So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed.
“This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!She will be called ‘woman,’because she was taken from ‘man.’”
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.”
God’s intent for man and woman was that they would be one flesh, united in every way, and in full fellowship with one another.
Symbolically, it’s important that scripture mentions here that they were “naked, but they felt no shame.” That is significant because the genre in this part of Genesis is poetic. If we read two lines of poetry that say, “they were naked and they were not ashamed”, we would take that to mean that they were so close they had no shame between them. That connection would have extended far beyond an emotional connection or even a sexual connection (but it would have included both). That line indicates that even after being completely exposed to one another psychologically, sexually, emotionally, relationally, and even socially, they had a complete understanding of what the other was feeling and they cherished and honored those feelings. The ancient Hebrew mind would have engaged all of their senses when interacting with others.
That meant if the husband even looked at another woman with some measure of desire he was causing his partner pain. God’s intent for marriage was that he would cherish her so deeply that he would desire only her. Note that it would have been even more damaging to the relationship if the husband (or wife) would have commented openly about noticing another person (especially the physical). Each time he (or she) spoke about noticing a person of the opposite sex it would have brought damage to their relationship. Each time, the other partner would have suffered shame that they were not the cherished one.
Are you getting the idea?
God intended for marriage to be the deepest relationship any two people can have. God wanted each partner to be completely safe even when they were being vulnerable with the other. God wanted them to know each other so well that they could completely trust and hold each other’s hearts even when they were not physically together.
God also knew the damage that can come to the relationship if one or both are not cherished. God knew that living with someone who is not really ‘known’ would result in a very lonely and painful relationship. That’s why getting to the root of the problem was absolutely necessary. God wanted men and women to experience a love that was full and free. No games. Everything was up front and nothing was hidden.
God did all of this because He loved His children and wanted them to cherish the gift of each other.
Male and female covenant relationships are sometimes difficult. God created Men and women to be different and to compliment each other. God intended for the man to be pursuer, wooer, and gentle lover. Women love beauty, verbal expression, and the freedom to be who God created them to be! In the books Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldredge, and in Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge, they write about the male and female deep desires given to us by God.
In Song of Songs 1:4 (NLT) the young woman says, “The king has brought me into his bedroom.” As the poem progresses the young woman declares in Song of Songs 2:7 (NLT), “Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and wild deer, not to awaken love until the time is right.”
In this scripture the young woman wants the man to woo her. She is saying, ‘Don’t rush this because it’s a beautiful thing.’ By Song of Songs 4, the young man is clearly wooing his bride:
Song of Songs 4:1-7 (NLT)
You are beautiful, my darling, beautiful beyond words.
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil. Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are as white as sheep, recently shorn and freshly washed. Your smile is flawless, each tooth matched with its twin.
Your lips are like scarlet ribbon; your mouth is inviting. Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates behind your veil.
Your neck is as beautiful as the tower of David, jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes.
Your breasts are like two fawns, twin fawns of a gazelle grazing among the lilies.
Before the dawn breezes blow and the night shadows flee, I will hurry to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.”
The young man is beginning to understand what his bride needs and how to love her. By the end of chapter 4 in verse 16, the young woman is moving toward the young man. She says (NLT):
“Awake, north wind! Rise up, south wind! Blow on my garden and spread its fragrance all around. Come into your garden, my love; taste its finest fruits.”
The young woman is beginning to open her heart to his love. In chapter 5 her lover tries to “unlatch the door” (vs. 4) but when she goes to the door he is gone. As a result the young woman searches for him but doesn’t find him.
In Song of Songs Chapter 7 the young man sings her praises and beauty again. The young man speaks words of love to her and extols her as being the one who has taken him captive. As a result of his wooing and pursuing, the woman says in Song of Songs 7:10-11 (NLT),
“I am my lover’s, and he claims me as his own. Come, my love, let us go out to the fields and spend the night among the wildflowers.”
The young woman has been won by her lover and she is ready to give him her love. We need to remember that it was God who created man and woman and who designed (intricately) our make-up. God created desire and knows that desire channeled properly allows a man and a woman to experience love and sexuality as He created it. God did not intend sexuality to be separate from love. What God wanted his children to understand was that marriage is sacred and is to be treated with care and patience.
In Song of Songs the young man and the young woman took time to get to know each other, really know each other and they didn’t rush love.
Waiting and knowing each other is essential; especially this kind of waiting and knowing. This knowing is the kind of knowing that includes listening with your heart and watching for what your partner needs. It means you are careful with each other’s hearts in order not to bring shame to your partner. It means you know your partner’s needs and they know yours and they merge into one.
Jesus reiterated what was said when he came. Jesus said in Matthew 5:27 (NLT), “You have heard the commandment that says, “You must not commit adultery”. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus followed up with, “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The last commandment goes far beyond “don’t do” to say, “don’t want something other that what God has given you”.
Jesus knew that men and women needed to be thankful for the gift of marriage and be careful to treat it with kindness.
The ancient Hebrew culture understood waiting and taking time to get to know someone. The men would go sit at the city gate in order to get to know each other. The Hebrew people do not have spacial issues and they sit very close to each other. Think of it as a guys hunting trip.
No breath mints.
No special foot wash.
It’s all you out there.
In the ancient Hebrew culture the senses were important and thought was not hidden. They would have understood expression in a different way than we understand it, but their understanding was clear and concrete. For example, the Hebrew word איל (ayil) can mean a tree or a leader. We have words in English that are used in different ways but many times there is not such a direct association. In this case ‘ayil’ actually means something that stands tall and strong (like a tree or a strong leader). The point is, it’s helpful for us to understand that when God gave the ten covenant words to the children of Israel He was being direct with them. God wanted couples who had made a lifetime commitment to each other to be blessed by their union. Men were ‘out there’. They were direct. In Song of Songs, God was telling them they weren’t dealing with other men. They needed to learn they were dealing with a women who is an enigma. She is a mysterious beauty who needs to be approached slowly. She needs to be convinced you love only her.
In his mind, a man needs to believe she is the only one he loves. If he doesn’t believe that (again in his mind), she will know it.
Likewise, she needs to believe he is THE one.
Both need to be fully committed in their minds.
After all, it takes two to tango.
Our culture today is very fast-paced and leads us to believe life is all about instant gratification. Today we are more influenced by the Greek culture and thought and everything isn’t so concrete. We’re not so ‘out there’. Much more is hidden and abstract. Gaining a clear understanding of how the children of Israel thought and how that differs from our way of processing information helps us to understand several things. First, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. God had the ability to speak to the Hebrew children and also has the ability to speak clearly to us. Second, God is ever-changing.
The same but ever-changing?
God is both (because He is God).
Because God is ever-changing but the same, full integration of the past and the future are possible.
Third, God IS past, present, and future. The children of Israel lived in a culture that was more apt to embrace the past. Many cultures today embrace the future, but others still connect to the past or the present. Regardless, it doesn’t matter how we think or process information because God is all in all. God effectively communicated to the children of Israel and just as effectively communicates with us.
This part of the covenant focused on couples, but we need to briefly think about how God relates to single people and their desires. God is very actively involved in the lives of single people, and has a fierce love for them! Single people have needs and issues that are unique and they need to address this commandment just like couples need to address it. Single people need to appreciate what they have and treat themselves with kindness. God gives special care and love to singles. God understands there are lonely times for singles and is ready and willing to fill the void left by not having a partner. God can fill that void.
After being married for 30 years, I intentionally chose to remain single for several years. By choice, I did not date. Instead, I did several rounds of counseling concurrent with 10 years of Spiritual Direction. It was a healing time for me. I got to know myself again. I spent time with women. I relied on their strength (and humor). At one point (after 10 years) I thought I might be ready to date, so I started seeing someone. Once I was in the relationship I realized I had more healing to do. I knew I was not ready to commit to another relationship. I stopped seeing the fellow I was dating. I really liked him, but I knew I wasn’t ready. After I divorced, a wise woman told me for every three years of marriage it takes at least one year to heal. My healing took 12 years, 3 rounds of counseling, 10 years of Spiritual Direction, and 7 years of Seminary to heal.
During that time, I needed female singles as allies…people who stood in my corner and encouraged me. I needed other single women to walk with me. I needed their strength, humor, their courage, and their verbal exchanges. I don’t know about your life, but in my life I’ve noticed that women need to express themselves verbally. They need to be heard. I’ve also noticed that many men do not embrace verbal expression. If a woman speaks too many words, they turn her off or they roll their eyes. Many men (but not all) are not patient when it comes to listening to women. That’s one reason women need women whether they are in a covenant relationship or are single.
If someone is temporarily single they can rely on God to fill their needs and desires. It’s a great time to draw close to God and grow to understand ‘yourself’ better. It’s very difficult to know someone else if you don’t know yourself first. If you are single, take the time to work through your past and let God help you discover your future. You’ll be glad you did!
I’ve noticed that women and men who remain single for an extended period of time come to a point where they are strong in God and themselves. I think that’s because they have really learned to rely fully on God. They’ve accepted being single and they really like their life. They often have their own ‘tribe’ they rely on and they exhibit an air of freedom in their lives. They are some of the strongest people I know.
God intended for married people to have a partner as an ally, but if you do not have an ally in your partner then you need other allies as well. Everyone needs people who stand in their corner and encourage them. We all need a ‘tribe’ of folks who love us and stand by us in hard times.
If you are single for life, thank God His extra care and love. Thank God for your courage and strength.
If you are temporarily single, ask God to heal you and help you to connect to yourself.
If you are married, thank God for the gift of your partner. I would also add, even if you are married men and women need their own ‘tribe’ that supports them.
Thank God for giving us desire and helping us understand it through His Word.
7 thankful things about this covenant:
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
Song of Songs 2:7
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles and wild deer,
not to awaken love until the time is right.
Song of Songs 4:10
Your love delights me,
my treasure, my bride. Your love is better than wine,
your perfume more fragrant than spices.
Revelation 19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.
Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.
“…the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.”
1 Corinthians 6:16
And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.”
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: BE thankful for your allies.
Whatever ‘place’ you are in, you need allies. Having allies, or your own ‘tribe’ is healthy and helpful. If you have a ‘tribe’ pray for them. Thank God for their help and support. If you do not have people who support you, ask God to send you a ‘tribe’. In the interim, Ask God to stand in the gap with you.