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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 02 2021

The Tenth Commandment

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” (Exodus 20:17).

by Don Hooser

This commandment lets us know God judges our thoughts and motives (2 Corinthians 10:5). Even the Apostle Paul tells us he did not understand the implications of covetousness until God called him and he began to conduct his life according to God’s will (Romans 7:7).

Originally the English word “covet” simply meant desire, but the King James Version translates the Greek word for desire, zēloō, as “covet.” 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 1 Corinthians 14:39 are about a positive desire for spiritual gifts, but in modern English, covet usually refers to the worst kinds of lust i.e. lust for what belongs to someone else.

In our materialistic and affluent society, we are dazzled by a seemingly endless variety of products and we convince ourselves we need many of them. We unwisely “compare ourselves” and envy others (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Psalms 23:1 (KJV) is translated as: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The popular meaning of “want” has changed since 1611 when the KJV was published. The New Living Translation makes the meaning of this verse clearer: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

It’s not wrong to be dissatisfied with your present situation when you have the opportunity to improve it in an ethical manner, but God wants us to have godly goals, and to choose godly ways of striving for those goals.

Paul endured much suffering and wrote his epistle to the Philippians while in prison. Nevertheless he explains, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).

In Philippians 4:4-14 Paul also mentions the virtues that promote contentment: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). “Prayer” (vs. 6). “Thanksgiving” (vs. 6). Think about pure and noble things (Philippians 4:8). Contentment focuses gratefully on what one has rather than what one does not have.

Being wealthy is not evil, but being infatuated with money or lusting for riches can lead to transgression. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy: “Those who want to get rich fall into ... many foolish and harmful desires.... For the love of money [covetousness!] is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). It is important to practise the way of give versus the way of get (Acts 20:35).

Paul also equates covetousness with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5), which is a violation of the First Commandment. Being obsessed with possessing something is idolizing it, and breaking the Tenth Commandment can also lead to breaking the First. God commands us to look to Him as our primary Provider (1 Timothy 6:17) and exhorts Christians: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

Herod the Great

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.