Israel, under General Joshua, had just returned from a stunning victory over Jericho, the first of their military campaigns to conquer the Promised Land of Canaan. The next city to attack, Ai, was a small city which hardly seemed like much of an obstacle. Based on his intel, instead of the whole army, Joshua only sent about 3,000 men to attack the city. The 3,000 were roundly defeated and 36 of them died in the conflict. Upon hearing the news of the defeat, Joshua is beside himself. “How could this happen? Lord, the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will no longer fear us. We will be wiped out!” The Lord reveals to Joshua and the leaders that there is “sin in the camp.” Someone took spoil from Jericho which was under the ban. The lot falls on the family of Achan and Achan confesses to Joshua that he coveted silver, gold, and a “beautiful mantle from Shinar.” Achan, his family, his animals, and all his belongings are stoned to death and burned with fire in the Valley of Achor. Such a fierce punishment and all because Achan coveted. So what is coveting and how is it different from envy and jealousy?
The Hebrew definition of coveting carries the idea of “desiring, craving that which belongs to another.” It is the tenth of the 10 Commandments. Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” The key words here are “belongs to your neighbor.” Coveting is craving for what does not belong to me but I want it and, were it possible, I would take it!
How does coveting differ from envy? Envy is an attitude, not an action. It is similar to jealousy. In Genesis 26:14 we read that God blessed Isaac as he sojourned in Gerar, a Philistine city. Isaac became rich in flocks and herds and the Philistines envied him. Envy is seeing the prosperity of another and wanting that prosperity for ourselves. It is an attitude of dissatisfaction with what God has given us.
Jealousy is different. The Bible says that God is a “jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). God’s jealousy, however, is quite different from man’s jealousy. God’s jealousy is protective, wanting to protect His own from harm. In Deuteronomy 4:23, God makes it clear that He will not tolerate idolatry in His people because He is a jealous God. He wants His people to love Him and serve Him with a whole, undistracted heart. Why? Idolatry will lead His people into believing the lies of the devil; that we can serve other gods without consequences. Human jealous, like envy, wants what it does not possess.
Bottom line: God has called us to be content (Philippians 4:11),