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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Making an Image out of God


Making God into This or That:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

Exodus 20:4 represents a more ancient or original teaching, namely that physical images of God should not be manufactured – whereas verses 5 and 6:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

are a later understood meaning of verse 4 added as a commentary to the text.

Thus, the general prohibition on manufacturing images in verse 4 [when read with this understanding in mind] applies only to Jehovah.  And it was only later that this prohibition was extended to include images of any other gods.

This makes sense in light of verses 2-3, where Jehovah disposes of all other gods outright, from the start:

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Israel was simply not to have them – and so a later prohibition on making images of other gods would obviously have been unnecessary.  So it appears that God’s concern was with people making images of Him.

 Idolatry of the Ancients:

Often, it is thought that ancient people identified their god with the physical idol.  This is seen in the Old Testament, where the prophets use a bit of rhetorical hyperbole in their judgments against idolatry, as though the worshipers actually thought their god was the idol — getting a bit of a chuckle out of the reading audience.

Isaiah:

They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; … and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.  Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing? …

The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.  He heweth him down [trees] … : he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.

Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, … and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth [meat] … and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:’  And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, ‘Deliver me; for thou art my god.’

And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

Habakkuk:

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?  Woe unto him that saith to the wood, ‘Awake’; to the dumb stone, ‘Arise, it shall teach!’ Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.

Ezekiel:

And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, ‘We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone.’

The ancients didn’t see the carving of wood or the molten stone as their very god – actually sitting there on a mantle or alter.  To them, the idol was similar to a voodoo doll – a tangible talisman that could be used as a means to control their god or affect his or her behavior.

For them to “worship” the piece of wood was not a manifestation of them thinking that the piece of wood itself could bless them with something – but that by serving an image of a god, the very god would be constrained to respond.

This was how the ancients used their images of gods.  To them, the idols were the ideals — the personification of an aspect of character that one could “serve” in an attempt to become it.

What Jehovah was Saying:

God is saying in Exodus 20:4 that He cannot be so controlled.  He is saying that Israel should not attempt to personify or encapsulate Him into an image of this-or-that thing – as though by so doing, they could attempt to control how He responds to them.

The implication of this being that to respond towards God from the left-brain-mind – as though God were this “out-there” elderly figure seated on a throne somewhere in the universe, to whom we speak out-loud to in prayer – is a form of “making unto thee a graven image” of Him.  It’s reducing God to this-thing that must respond to what I do in that-way.

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The Keys to Prophecy IV: Of Beasts and Men


753 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2005

The Keys to Prophecy IV:

Of Beasts and Men

Ancient monuments, temples, tombs and sacred texts are replete with strange, mysterious symbols and creatures.  By comparing those symbols to the verbal imagery of prophecy, we learn that they gave rise to even more bizarre language.

In order to understand the symbolism of the scriptures, we must allow ancient images to illuminate the texts, beliefs and traditions of the past, while permitting the texts, beliefs and traditions to illuminate the images.  This is one key to understanding the strange language used by the prophets.

A comparison will allow us to see how one gave rise to the other.

Take the vision of John, for example, in Revelation.  He described seeing four distinct creatures.

“And … in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.  And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.  (Revelation 4:6, 7.)

Ezekiel, too, saw four creatures in a similar setting.  “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.”  (Ezekiel 1:10.)

The lists of creatures are identical, save that Ezekiel named an ox where John listed a calf.  This is understandable given that the two prophets were separated in time by about 600 years, allowing for a slight ‘shift’ in cultural symbolism.

Of course, the universal mistake made by Bible scholars of all epochs is to assign some fantastic meaning to these symbolic creatures-especially in John’s vision because he says these creatures surround the throne of God in heaven.  In truth, the two prophets are probably describing something far more mundane, but quite remarkable, as we shall see momentarily.

Most revealing is the fact that these four creatures are not unique to the Israelite religious tradition.  They figure prominently in the religions of neighboring cultures-the Egyptian, for example, where we meet them face-to-face in funerary art.  They are called “canopic figures.”  Curiously, human figures with the heads of beasts dominate Egyptian art.  They are one of the most obvious features of their religious iconography.

Named after Canopus, an area in the Nile delta region, these jars were funerary furniture used to house various organs of the deceased during internment rites.  The four creatures were said to be the sons of Horus.

The Egyptians employed the heads of a baboon and a jackal rather than the Israelite ox (calf) and lion.  This variation is typical from culture to culture and across time, just as the names of the same gods varied.  But there is no mistaking that the four creatures seen in prophetic vision also adorned the burial art of Egyptians for hundreds of years.

Ezekiel is more specific in his description of the four.  “Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures.  And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.”  (Ezekiel 1:5.)

So, these four looked like men with the heads of beasts.

Anthropomorphic creatures-animals with the body and limbs of humans-figure prominently in Egyptian religious art.  Curiously, this is the same thing the prophets describe seeing in their visions.  Ezekiel described them as “living creatures” with “the likeness of a man,” which is exactly what we see here.

Israelite tradition prohibited the use of such symbolic masks, thanks to the Ten Commandments, so these did not exist in the Israelite culture.  Nevertheless, these four creatures figured prominently in their traditions, as we’ve seen in the visions of John and Ezekiel.

More interesting still is the fact that these same four are also found in the Pearl of Great Price.  Two of the facsimiles copied from the Joseph Smith papyri show these same four canopic figures, described as four “idolatrous gods.”

Significantly, most of the images for which Joseph provides explanations turn out to be planets and stars, suggesting that these four also represent celestial objects.  This, as it turns out, is a key that will be explored in a subsequent installment in this series.

As we have seen previously, the Israelites often strayed into pagan beliefs and practices.  It should hardly be surprising that these four ‘gods’ of their neighbors should show up in the system of symbols Israelites held sacred.

What is not generally acknowledged is that the language of prophecy also draws on these well-known images from antiquity.

While this explains the imagery of only a few passages of scriptural prophecy, Revelation and Ezekiel are among the most mysterious.  This comparison clearly points out the mechanism of describing sacred images in narrative form: prophetic imagery is drawn from ancient images or idols. 

This takes some of the mystery out of prophetic imagery.

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Scriptural Discussion #15: Abortion


ABORTION

The Lord said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.” (D&C 59: 6)

Discuss.

Next Scriptural Discussion: #16 DAVID AND SOLOMON

Previous Scriptural Discussion: #14 SACRAMENTAL PRAYERS—CHURCH SHOULD BE KNEELING DURING

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