“You have heard much against SIN. Are you hearers—or are you learners? How many sermons have you heard against covetousness, that it is the root, on which pride and idolatry grow? One calls it a metropolitan sin; it is a complex evil, it does twist a great many sins in with it. There is hardly any sin—but covetousness is a main ingredient of it.”
–Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment
Here are some scriptural examples of covetousness–particularly with regards to material possessions. I think too often we define the sin of coveting in terms of a desire for material things; this desire to possess material things is often translated as “greed”. However, it is important to understand that the covetous heart does not always desire material things. In the posts that shall follow, we will see from scripture that coveting can (and in all actuality, almost always does) transcend material desires. Though at its most base, it can be seen in this desire to obtain material possessions, this is just the farthest reaching branch of this detestable sin. The root of coveting at its heart is discontentment with and rebellion against God.
We will begin with the branch, though, that we often call greed, working backwards from just a few examples we have in the Scriptures.
Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira
1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Joshua 7:10-26: The Sin of Achan
10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the LORD takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the LORD takes shall come near by households. And the household that the LORD takes shall come near man by man.15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.'”
16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken.17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken.18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did:21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath.23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the LORD.24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.