God Is Moral Conclusion
Our previous article examined several things the Bible teaches concerning the sin of covetousness. This article will continue that study and conclude this series on “God Is Moral.”
Consequences of Coveting
Habakkuk 2:9 says, “Woe to him who covets evil gain.” The word translated “woe” involves “negative warnings or threats of God’s physical chastisement.”1 It makes “the point that judgment is inescapable”2 and “is tantamount to a prediction of death, a proclamation of the judgment of Yahweh.”3
Isaiah 57:17 declares that God “was angry and struck” a person because of “the iniquity of his covetousness.”
Achan was executed because he disobeyed God by coveting and taking valuable spoils from defeated Ai (Josh. 7:20–25).
Because Israel’s spiritual leaders in the prophet Isaiah’s time were so consumed with greed for personal gain, they led the nation into judgment (Isa. 56:10–12).
During the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the people of Judah, from highest to lowest, including the spiritual leaders, were so devoted to covetousness that they wanted nothing to do with God’s Word. As a result, God became so furious He severely judged them. That judgment involved Babylon destroying Jerusalem and the first Temple, executing many Jewish people, and taking most of the others into captivity (Jer. 6:9–13; 8:9–10).
Because the eyes and heart of Judah’s King Jehoiakim focused on satisfying his covetousness by treating others unjustly, shedding innocent blood, oppressing people, and using violence, God declared He would severely judge him. The people of Judah would not mourn his death, and He would be buried like a donkey that was usually dragged from its place of death and cast outside the city (22:13–19).
God also judged ancient Babylon according to the measure of its covetousness (51:13).
He declared He would make the land of Israel desolate because the people covetously pursued personal gain. They enjoyed coming to hear the prophet Ezekiel proclaim God’s Word, and they outwardly professed much love; but they did not do what God told them to do. They failed to obey His Word because their hearts were selfishly devoted to pursuing covetous, personal gain “in direct opposition to unselfish devotion to God”4 (Ezek. 33:28–33).
Covetous people are listed among the unrighteous, or sons of disobedience, who do not inherit the Kingdom of God and on whom God’s wrath falls (1 Cor. 6:9–10; Eph. 5:3–6).
The apostle Paul declared that the Lord is the avenger of those who, through coveting, take advantage of and defraud a man by having an adulterous relationship with his wife (1 Th. 4:3-6).
People who are filled with covetousness are “deserving of death” as part of “the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 1:28–32).
False teachers who unjustly exploit others with deceptive words in order to satisfy their covetous greed are “accursed,” and their judgment is actively waiting to bring their destruction (2 Pet. 2:1–3, 14).
All of these biblical expressions of judgment strongly emphasize that God regards covetousness as an extremely serious sin.
Ministry and Covetousness
Scripture indicates that those who devote their lives to God’s ministry must avoid covetousness. Paul is an example of a servant of God who was determined to avoid compromising God’s ministry with the sin of covetousness. Toward the end of his ministry he stated, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33). Instead of depending on material support from those to whom he ministered, he frequently practiced his trade to provide for himself and his companions (v. 34).
Paul was extremely careful that the Corinthians’ gift of money to the needy believers in Jerusalem be collected in a way that the Corinthians could not wrongly conclude he intended it to satisfy covetousness on his part (2 Cor. 9:5).
Paul was careful never to use deception to conceal covetousness: “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness––God is witness” (1 Th. 2:5).
Paul gave the following instruction to Timothy, his son in the faith, concerning those in ministry leadership:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous. Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double–tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money (1 Tim. 3:2–3, 8).
Those Who Do Not Covet
The Bible reveals the characteristics of people who do not covet. They hate covetousness (Ex. 18:21; Prov. 28:16), prevent their hearts from inclining to covetousness (Ps. 119:36), flee the love of money and pursue righteousness (1 Tim. 6:10–11), are loyal to God as their Master and despise the love of money (Lk. 16:13), do not keep company with covetous people who are considered to be believers (1 Cor. 5:11), never give cause to be identified as a covetous person (Eph. 5:3), put to death any tendency to covetousness (Col. 3:5), take heed of covetousness and recognize that their lives do not consist of the things they possess (Lk. 12:15), accept the fact that God’s will for believers is their sanctification, learn how to possess their own bodies in sanctification and honor (1 Th. 4:3–4), and are content with what they have (Heb. 13:5).
People who hate covetousness will prolong their lives (Prov. 28:16).
Because coveting what another possesses often prompts stealing, the Bible addresses the subject.
Old Testament. The Old Testament uses three basic Hebrew words for “stealing.” The first, ganab, means “‘to take that which belongs to another without his consent or knowledge.’ It is restricted to acts of theft done secretly.”5 It is the word used in the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
The second word, gazal, means “to snatch away violently.“6 It “clearly describes the forceful tearing away of an object from its owner or its place by a person or persons who are stronger than the object or its owner.”7
Gazal was used for the violent snatching away of people: a fatherless child from a nursing mother (Job 24:9), daughters (Gen. 31:31), and wives (Jud. 21:23); animals: a donkey (Dt. 28:31), flocks (Job 24:2), and an animal to be sacrificed (Mal. 1:13); and things: a well of water (Gen. 21:25), fields (Mic. 2:2), and houses (Job 20:19).8 The Old Testament prophets indicated that God hates this type of robbery (Isa. 61:8).9
Some of the victims of gazal robbery were neighbors (Lev. 19:13), travelers (Jud. 9:25), the poor (Prov. 22:22), and fathers and mothers (Prov. 28:24).10
Frequently gazal was used together with the third word, ashaq (Lev. 19:13; Dt. 28:29; Jer. 21:12; Mic. 2:2).11 This word is related to “acts of abuse of power or authority, the burdening, trampling, and crushing of those in lower station.”12 It carries the meanings of extorting or oppressing. “Those most likely to be mistreated or oppressed were those without adequate defense of their rights, i.e., the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and the poor”13 (Zech. 7:10).
God forbade the Israelites to oppress a neighbor (Lev. 19:13), a hired servant, another Israelite, or a foreigner living temporarily in Israel (Dt. 24:14).14 Such oppression was sin against God (Lev. 6:1–7).15 Because many Israelites repeatedly oppressed others (Amos 4:1; Mic. 2:2; Mal. 3:5), God declared that the nation would be continually oppressed and robbed by others, and no one would help it (Dt. 28:29, 33; Hos. 5:11).16
New Testament. The New Testament uses three Greek words for “stealing.” The first, klepto, refers to stealing something in a secret or deceptive manner. Its noun counterpart, kleptes, identifies a thief “who acts with subterfuge and secrecy.”17 It is the counterpart of the Hebrew ganab.
The New Testament uses klepto in Jesus’ and Paul’s quotations of the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal” (Mk. 10:19; Rom. 13:9). Paul used klepto in his instruction, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good” (Eph. 4:28). The apostle Peter linked thieves with murderers, evil-doers, and busybodies (1 Pet. 4:15).18
The second word, harpadzo, refers to taking “‘something forcefully’ (firmly, quickly or rapaciously).”19 The counterpart of the Old Testament word gazal, it is the New Testament word for “extortion.” Paul grouped extortioners with coveters, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, thieves, and the sexually immoral (1 Cor. 5:10–11); and he said they will not inherit the Kingdom of God unless they become saved (6:9–11).
The third word, lestes, implies “a ruthless use of force in seeking the goods of others.”20 “In 2 C. 11:26 [2 Corinthians 11:26] Paul mentions perils of robbers among the many perils to which he was exposed in the discharge of his apostolic office….Paul is thinking of the bandits who in their thirst for the goods of others lie in wait for the traveller in lonely places.”21 This word is used for the two thieves crucified with Christ (Mk. 15:27).
Weights, Measures, Scales
One means of stealing is the use of dishonest weights, measures, and scales. The Bible declares that dishonest weights, measures, and scales and those who use them are an abomination to God (Dt. 25:13–16; Prov. 11:1; 20:10, 23). By contrast, it states, “Honest weights and scales are the Lᴏʀᴅ’s” (Prov. 16:11), an honest weight is His delight (11:1), and the days of those who use them “may be lengthened” (Dt. 25:15).
- Carl Philip Weber, “hoy,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (hereafter cited as TWOT), ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:485.
- J. Zobel, “hoy,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, trans. David E. Green, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Alten Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 3:362.
- Ibid., 363–364.
- John O. Oswalt, “besa,” TWOT, 1:123.
- James E. Smith, “ganab,” TWOT, 1:168.
- Schupphaus, “gazal,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, trans. John T. Willis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 2:457.
- Ibid., 458.
- Ibid., 457.
- Ralph H. Alexander, “ashaq,” TWOT, 2:705.
- Ibid., 705–706.
- Herbert Preisker, “klepto, kleptes,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:754.
- Ibid., 755.
- Werner Foerster, “harpadzo,” TDNT, 1:472.
- Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “lestes,” TDNT, 4:258.
- Ibid., 260.