Thou shalt not “covet”

The 10th Commandment reads as follows:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.  (KJV Ex. 20:17)

Recently I was reading someone’s claim that the Hebrew word chamad, which was translated above by the KJV translators into “covet,” was a mistranslation.  The author claimed that the original Hebrew word chamad meant “to take.”  So, the commandment would read, instead, as:

Do not take your neighbour’s house, do not take your neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbour’s.

Here is his entire blog post (The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting) on this issue:

In the original Hebrew, the Ten Commandments don’t address coveting, so common renditions like “do not covet” or “thou shalt not covet” are mistranslations.

The Hebrew verb in the 10th commandment (or, for some, the 9th and 10th commandments) is chamad. As usual, we learn what the word means by looking at how it is used elsewhere.

The clearest case against “covet” is Exodus 34:24, which has to do with the three pilgrimage holidays, for which the Israelites would leave their homes and ascend to Jerusalem. Exodus 34:24 promises that no one will chamad the Israelites’ land when they leave for Jerusalem to appear before God.

It seems absurd to me to think that the Israelites were afraid that in leaving their land for a while, other people would desire (“covet”) it. After all, other people could desire the land whether or not the Israelites were around.

So it’s pretty clear that chamad doesn’t mean “covet” or “desire” there.

In Deuteronomy 7:25, we see chamad in parallel with “take” (lakach): “Do not chamad the silver and gold [of statues of false gods] and take [lakach] it…” Just from this context, the verb could mean “covet,” but other than our preconceptions of what the text should mean, we see nothing to suggest that translation. (By similar reasoning, it could mean “draw a picture of” or any number of other possibilities for which there is no evidence.)

Furthermore, the parallelism here suggests that chamad is like lakach. That is, to chamad is to take in some way, not to want in some way.

We find the same juxtaposition of chamad and lakach elsewhere. For example, in Joshua 7:21 we read “[Achan said,] `when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I chamaded them and took them” (NRSV, my emphasis). Proverbs 6:25, too, puts the two verbs together. These examples further reinforce the close connection between chamad and lakach.

And in Proverbs 12:12, we see a pair of opposites: “righteous” and “give” versus “wicked” and “chamad.” So chamad seems to be the opposite of “give.”

All of these point in a clear direction: chamad doesn’t mean “covet” or “want.” It means “take.”

So the last commandment should read: “Do not take…”

Okay, so when I first read this idea of his, I only skimmed his reasoning and skipped to the end, to see what he thought the translation was.  When I found it was “to take,” that didn’t ring exactly right to me, although it appeared closer than “to covet.”  But I didn’t want to give it any more thought, so I put it out of my mind.

Then a couple of days ago I was reading the prophecy of Micah and I came across this passage:

Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand. And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. Therefore thus saith the Lord;

Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil. (Micah 2:1-3)

As soon as I read that, my mind turned its attention back to this man’s idea of an alternate meaning for chamad, so I decided to go back to his writings and actually read the entire thing.  Which I’ve now done.  Once again, his idea that it meant “to take” didn’t appear to be right, but this time a new thought popped into the noggin’: that chamad actually means “to accept as payment for debt.”

Throwing out covet and take

There are a great many people that think chamad means “to covet” and there is at least one guy that thinks it means “to take” or “to take temporarily.”  But I don’t care about those other definitions and ideas.  This blog is a repository for my thoughts, so this new, intriguing thought is the one I will apply to these scriptures, and I will see what kind of new information comes of it.

Do not accept a man’s stuff as payment for debt

Here is the 10th commandment with this new definition inserted:

Do not accept your neighbour’s house as payment for debt, do not accept your neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbour’s, as payment for debt.

So, the first scripture that the man mentions, which has chamad, is Exodus 34:24, which now reads:

For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man accept thy land as payment for debt, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year.

In other words, if the man had any outstanding debts, no one could consider his land as payment for any levy made upon him while he was gone (nor even when he was around.)

Next he mentions Deuteronomy 7:25, which now reads:

The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not accept the silver or gold that is on them as payment for their debt to you, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God.

So, these nations that the Israelites were supposed to entirely wipe out, were to be considered debt-free.  They didn’t owe the Israelites anything, at all, therefore, there was to be no spoiling of their stuff.  Their stuff was to be destroyed, not accepted as payment for the trouble of having to go in with the Israelite army and wipe them out.  They couldn’t chamad it (accept it as the pay that was due them) nor lakach it (take it.)

The next scripture cited is Joshua 7:21, which now reads:

When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I accepted them as payment for their debt to me, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.

Once again we find that he first accepted the spoils as payment and then took his payment (the spoils.)  This is how every transaction is supposed to be done.  You don’t walk into a store and just take something and then walk out with it.  That would be theft.  No, you first negotiate the terms of the exchange or sale, arrange for payment, and then take your stuff.  So, the relationship between chamad and lakach is clear: the one deals with the payment arrangement (what is to be considered as payment) and the other deals with the delivery or receipt of the goods.

He next mentions Proverbs 6:25, which I’ve now re-written as:

Do not accept her beauty in thine heart as a payment for debt; neither let her take you (as her goods received) with her eyelids.

The whole thing, when written out in this way, assigning chamad and lakach these meanings, reveals the whore contract in all its vileness.  It shows the whole sexual affair as a mere transaction.

Lastly, he mentions Proverbs 12:12, which now reads:

The wicked accepts the net of evil men as payment for debt: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.

The point being that the wicked will accept all sorts of things as payment for debt, including things they are not supposed to.  The word play is that the wicked accepts (which is like receiving, or agreeing to receive), while the righteous yields (or in other translations, gives), showing the opposite parallel: for receiving is the opposite of giving (not taking, as he supposed.)

So, in all these scriptures, using “to accept as payment for debt” as the meaning for chamad works perfectly.

What it is all about

Continuing on with the assumption that I’m right on this point, then the 10th commandment is basically saying, “No one put a lien for debts accrued on a man’s house, land, wife, servants, and so forth.”  If a man owes something, he must pay what he owes, or deliver the goods that he promised to pay, but barring that, no one is allowed to deprive that man of his home and wife and servants and so forth, which are his property and not someone else’s property.

To be clearer, I’ll use the Book of Mormon as an explanatory text.

Now if a man owed another, and he would not pay that which he did owe, he was complained of to the judge; and the judge executed authority, and sent forth officers that the man should be brought before him; and he judged the man according to the law and the evidences which were brought against him, and thus the man was compelled to pay that which he owed, or be stripped, or be cast out from among the people as a thief and a robber.  (Alma 11:2)

So, let’s say that I walk into a bicycle shop and negotiate with the owner for a bicycle.  I say, “I’ll pay you $100 for such-and-such a bike, upon delivery.”  We are agreed and I walk out.  Later, my custom-made bike is delivered to me, but I refuse to pay the $100.  The bike shop owner complains to the judge, who brings me to court.  I am found guilty and I am then compelled to pay the $100.

Now, if the situation was reversed, say, for example, I walked into the shop and gave the owner $100 for my custom bike, which was to be delivered on such-and-such a day, and then walk out.  But the day comes and goes and my bike never shows up.  The owner refuses to deliver the goods.  So I complain to the judge, who hauls the man to court, and he is found guilty and is stripped—meaning that the officers go into his shop and take the bike I had coming to me—of my goods, not his goods, for that bike is mine.

If, though, he does not have the bike, or in the reverse situation, if I don’t have the $100, the guilty party is cast out as a thief and a robber.  My house cannot be assessed as payment for the cost of the bike, because my house is my property that I need to live in.  If they took that, I’d be homeless.  My wife can’t be assessed, because the Lord commands that no one is allowed to split us up (separate us.)  My servants can’t be assessed as payment because I need them to work my land, and I need my animals, and so forth.  All my stuff is still mine.  The law only takes what pertains to the party who won the case and gives that back.  It has no authority to substitute what I need to survive as payment for my debts.

The 10th commandment, then, is a commandment against any practice that accepts as payment a man’s stuff.  If people obeyed the 10th commandment, there could be no taxation, whatsoever.  There could also be no taking of the lands of the little guy by the big guy.  In other words, a wealthy land owner that was owed debts, can’t increase his holdings by accepting the debtor’s house and lands and so forth, making the latter man destitute, while enriching the wealthy man.  All of this is wickedness.  The 10th commandment, then, was to be a protection against such wicked practices.

Taxation is the legalized breaking of the 10th commandment

When a man refuses to pay his taxes, or is unable to, he can lose everything, both his house, his wife and kids (through divorce and separation), his employment and employees and business, his land, all his possessions, and even his freedom (jailtime.)  All of these practices violate the 10th commandment, which has nothing to do, whatsoever, with desiring anything, but with accepting a man’s goods as payment for debt.

On a spiritual level, yes, we can say that to spiritually break the 10th commandment, we can desire to accept as payment (or take) a man’s stuff.  In other words, greed and the desire to re-distribute the wealth by taking from the one and giving to the other, spiritually breaks this commandment, just as it is possible to spiritually commit adultery, by desiring to do so, or any other of the 10 commandments, by desiring to kill, steal and so forth.

All 10 commandments are action commandments

Worship God, make no idols, do not bow down to idols, do not speak the Lord’s name vainly, work six days, rest on the seventh, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.  All these things are commandments concerning actions (or words spoken.)  The 10th commandment is an anomaly if it is taken to mean covet (meaning, “desire,”) for that has nothing to do with actions.  However, when understood as meaning “accept as payment for debt,” it, too, becomes an action commandment, and this time it has extremely broad application, condemning just about everyone, everywhere, for neither governments, nor businesses and private individuals have any qualms about leaving a man who hasn’t paid his bills destitute.  But the Lord finds that to be grossly wicked.

When we look at wicked king Noah, who broke many of the 10 commandments, a case could be made that it was the introduction of taxation among the people that ultimately caused their downfall.  If a man isn’t protected in his goods, then he isn’t protected in his life or freedoms, either.  Without private property protections, nothing is protected.  It is then, from that moment on, fair game to assess everything and anything, including a man’s life and freedom and wife, as payment for debts incurred.  Thus, you get everything for sale, including prostitutes and slaves and so forth, hence king Noah introducing harlotry among the people.  Even God comes with a price tag, hence the introduction of idolatry.  And so on and so forth.

This means nothing, of course

None of what I wrote above means anything, of course, because it is based upon a mere thought I had as to the meaning of the Hebrew word chamad, and I have no proof that it is correct.  But it seemed interesting enough to post about it, nonetheless.

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  1. There is another thing about this thought that I hadn’t considered until just now, and that is that by taking chamad to mean “accept as payment for debt,” the 10th commandment now becomes enforceable, like the other commandments. So, if someone breaks it, there can be legal consequences (assuming that the law is written to prohibit it.) But you cannot write any law that will prohibit coveting property.

    Assuming that this is the real meaning of chamad, the Nephite laws appear to have prohibited breaking the 10th commandment altogether, so everyone was fully protected. Only during king Noah reign do we get a prophet citing to the people this commandment.

    Notice also that king Mosiah’s words about coveting also seem to apply to this new meaning:

    And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.

    And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received. (Mosiah 4:24-25)

    Inserting the new meaning into the text:

    And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.

    And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye accept that which ye have not received as payment for a debt you assume to be owed to you. (Mosiah 4:24-25)

    In other words, he is saying that if you say, “I do not have to give to you, but even if I did have something to give to you, I would not give it to you, because I would assess it (or it would be assessed by me) as payment to me for a debt owed to me,” that you would be condemned because you are spiritually breaking the 10th commandment. You are desiring to accept as payment to you for a supposed debt that society has to you, something that pertains to another person (for the surpluses of the people belong to the poor and the needy.)

  2. How does this tie into the evil gift Mormon speaks of in Moroni 7? he defines an evil gift as giving with the intent to retain what is given. The gift is retained by changing its form into something else, like money. Of course the gift will be withheld unless the recipient of the gift is not indebted to complete the exchange. Also this type of evil gift giving hides the fact that most of what we give is tainted with a grudge, that is, we would not give it if we were not being paid.

    Moroni layer says to touch not the evil gift in Chapter ten

  3. freestonepeaches, I’m not sure that there is a tie-in. I’m also not sure what you mean by this:

    The gift is retained by changing its form into something else, like money. Of course the gift will be withheld unless the recipient of the gift is not indebted to complete the exchange./blockquote>

  4. The scripture I’m referring to is found in Moroni chapter 7 verse 8.

    For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.

    How is it possible for an evil man to both give and retain a gift? It’s possible by the introduction of a concept called debt. I give ‘this’ with the condition that you owe me ‘that’ in exchange. This exchanging numbs both of the parties to a grudge they are overshadowed by.

    And also in Moroni 10,

    And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.

    Your emphasis is on “Thou shalt not accept another man’s stuff as payment for a debt owed to you. If this is the correct definition. We would not deal in money at all, especially the debt notes that we use currently.

  5. Okay, now I think I understand. But these things are different: a gift and an exchange. I don’t think Mormon was talking about an exchange, but an actual gift: “Here, this is something I give you, without recompense to me required or expected.” There is nothing wrong with an exchange, this for that. The whole economy of God is based upon that. (See They did it for prosperity, etc.)

    And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? (Mosiah 2:24)

    So, the concept of paying for something is not contrary to God’s will, nor is the concept of contracting debt, nor is the concept of just giving a free gift. The evil thing comes in getting paid in something that is contrary to God’s will, because it will leave the man destitute of what he needs to survive, etc., or in contracting debt with no intention to pay back, or in giving grudgingly, without wanting to do it, or “giving” with the expectation of receiving some benefit (so that it outwardly appears to be a gift, but in reality you are getting something in exchange, such as prestige, a tax-break, and so on. Such things are not really gifts, and are not accounted as gifts by God, but as you are pretending it’s a gift, it is a hypocritical act on your part.)

    For example, with all the holidays that present themselves, in which a person is expected to give a gift, the societal pressure to give, even if you don’t want to give, or don’t think the person deserves a gift, is sometimes great enough to cause a person to do it anyway, just so that they don’t get labeled as a cheapskate or inconsiderate or whatever. So, we’ve kind of already set up the societal conditions in which people can readily and routinely give grudgingly.

    The fiat debt notes is yet another unjust and unfair variable under which this present society functions. But money, per se, is not contrary to God’s will. It just needs to be a fair and sound form of money, that doesn’t cheat them of their wealth, inflating it away (the hidden taxation), etc.

  6. Very informative article. I also believe that the 10th commandment needs to be a carnal commandment in nature. I believe your assessment of the proper meaning of “covet” is accurate.

  7. Here’s a word I made up:

    debtify v. tr. (2016) 1: to make (something) acceptable as payment for a debt. 2: to make (something) a debt.

    Usage in a sentence:

    Thou shalt not debtify thy neighbour’s house; thou shalt not debtify thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

  8. LDSA, did you run this new definition of “covet” by the D&C scriptures?

    And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property (Doctrine and Covenants 19:26)

    Accepting your own property as someone’s payment of debt to you, doesnt make sense, does it?

  9. jackdale76,

    LDSA, did you run this new definition of “covet” by the D&C scriptures?

    I did not use that modern scripture for this post. It uses the modern sense of covet, not the ancient one, so it doesn’t apply to the post.

  10. OK, thanks. It makes sense that the D&C’s “covet” was given with the modern meaning.

    However, Paul says 2 times the phrase “thou shalt not covet” (in Rom.7:7 and 13:9)
    It uses the Strong’s word 1937

    This same word is used 16 times in the Bible and you can see that every time the word has the meaning along the lines of lust/desire/long.

    So, isnt it logical to conclude that since Paul quoted the Old Testament commandment and used the word 1937 and the same word was used elsewhere to mean “desire” than that is the words true meaning as understood by Paul?

  11. jackdale76,

    So, isnt it logical to conclude that since Paul quoted the Old Testament commandment and used the word 1937 and the same word was used elsewhere to mean “desire” than that is the words true meaning as understood by Paul?

    Again, the post only covers the ancient (original Hebrew) usage of covet, not the modern usage. Paul’s time is still considered the modern usage, as it is the usage that has been retained even until today.

  12. Sorry, but you’ll have to run this one by me again. Are you saying that when Paul says this

    9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    (Romans 13:9)

    by “thou shall not covet” he does NOT mean what was written in Exodus 20:17

    17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
    (Exodus 20:17)

    but instead he means something different? Some other commandment not mentioned in the OT?

  13. jackdale76,

    Paul wasn’t writing in Hebrew. He was writing in Greek, from which his words are translated. He is citing the commandments in Greek, not the original Hebrew. The original Hebrew meaning of the words he wrote in Greek meant something different than what was believed at the time of Paul. So, although he is referring to the original commandment, the understanding of what that commandment meant in the time of Paul was different than the understanding that the people during the time of Moses had of it.

  14. VERY interesting theory—I like it! I would love to know if a linguist could confirm this.

    If accurate, this would make the 10th commandment (coveting) be an interesting contrast with the 9th commandment (false witness). That is, the 9th commandment would be, “Don’t misuse the law (witnessing falsely) to take your neighbor’s belongings,” while the 10th commandment would be an even higher expection, “Don’t even use the law legitimately (debt payment) to take your neighbors’ belongings, especially your poor neighbors’ few belongings.” Or in other words, you must not only be just (9th commandment, don’t witness falsely); you must also be merciful (don’t take necessities for debt, even if it’s technically legal or you’re allowed to demand it by contract).

    Regarding JackDale76’s comment, I think this proposed meaning of chamad even works for D&C 19:26. “Thou shalt not covet thine own property” would be another way of saying, “Don’t think your material possessions are something the Lord ‘owes’ you as a debt for your righteousness. They are a gift, not a payment, so you should be grateful for them.”

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