Coveting Truth? Look Beyond This Lesson

I read this week’s Adult Bible Study Guide earlier than normal. Its focus on personal piety and admonitions against covetousness left me uninspired for days. It begins with a condescending tone, a “beware of covetousness” message that seems more appropriate as the moral in an Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Story: “Little Billy ate too much candy and due to his sick tummy he learned not to covet.” The fact is that desire, selfishness, overconsumption, unrestrained capitalism, and entitlement contribute in complex ways to what is also oversimplified as the deadly sin of avarice. The lesson does provide a solution from an Ellen White quote: the cure for coveting is benevolence.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://spectrummagazine.org/sabbath-school/2023/coveting-truth-look-beyond-lesson
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Somehow, I always had the impression that ‘coveting’ meant not just wanting something, but wanting something someone else had. I am not teaching today, but if I were, I would rather have focused on the idea of ‘contentment’…to be content with what one has, at least in terms of material possessions. To be content does not preclude being aspirational, with respect to education, career, opportunity, etc., but rather, to live in a state of peaceful happiness.

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Anecdotally, I have interacted with more people angry about this quarter’s lesson than any other time in my life. People who don’t even normally read the lesson were pulled to do it because of the controversy from many. From the tithe and offering lesson to this most recent one, people have been vocal (both in and out of the US) in their disapproval of both message and tone.

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I consider Alexander Carpenter a friend, and he shall be no less my friend despite my disagreement with things in his Sabbath School commentary. He says that “the references used to support this idea of Satan’s covetousness mislead. Except those Adventist professors and clergy who covet power and place in the current climate of ideological control, few biblical scholars interpret the Star of the Morning in Isaiah 14 as Satan. In fact, the origin of the name Lucifer itself comes from fifth-century Bible translator St. Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus). In forming the Vulgate, he created the name essentially out of thin air by turning what’s best translated as ‘bright one’ as ‘carrier of light.’ St. Jerome combined the Latin words for light (lux) and carry (ferō) to create the term lucifer. All the surrounding verses focus on Babylonian royalty.” I shall either be guilty of being among “those Adventist professors and clergy who covet power and place in the current climate of ideological control” or of being a person not worthy to be included among “Adventist professors and clergy.” Whichever applies, the connection between the illustrious star in Isaiah 14 and Satan is much older than Jerome. It is articulated most forcefully–and as a matter of great importance–by Origen (185-254) in his two most important books and in numerous passages throughout his voluminous writings, and it precedes Origen because he features it as an element in a received tradition. I have written about this in the essay, “Theodicy and the Theme of Cosmic Conflict in the Early Church,” AUSS 42 (2004), 169-202, and in my book God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense emphasized text (Chapter 3). Without meaning to hurt anyone among “Adventist professors and clergy,” I cannot think of anyone else who has taken interest in this subject as much as I have. Jerome chose “Lucifer” because it is a reasonably good rendition in Latin of the Hebrew or Septuagint antecedent, but the notion of a satanic figure in Isaiah is much older. Indeed, it echoes in the New Testament, in texts like Revelation 9:1-11 and 12:7-12.

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What is the point of this article? It helps noone in their Christian walk.

How do you know that? I think it might have helped me…

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OK, Achan. OK, Judas, Ok - of course ! - Lucifer and the ultimate original sin - - -

Ananias and Saphira ? - They could have kept their lot, they could have declared their donation of one half of the sum - -

    • but they both boasted and bragged as the great donators , their auditorium being the little Christian church - -

(What did we hear - and read in periodials and books - about the phantastic experiences and the miraculous guidance of one recently converted shorttime minister after WW II) (Or in our local church - ingathering time, every week one raised his hand for one more pile of pamphlets he is going to sell - years afterwards they all were found dustcovered in his attic ! - he, a low invcome man, had personally paid for all of them - - but a whole congregation each fall on these Sabbaths felt their shame facing this great missionary ! )

Just wait for the Quarter II soon to come !

I have coveted someone who I felt was a completely non-judgmental and kind person that I truly wanted to imitate. I don’t have any regrets about it. I think that our wishes to have what we see in others, should be tempered with whether it is their good qualities, or simply wanting their power, crisma, their abilities to attract attention, their wealth, their attractiveness, or any other qualities that would simply make me more attractive by worldly standards. To covet someone for their righteous traits is something we should strive for. And I have no regrets for my wishing to be more like the individual that I had hoped to become more like.

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“I’m not saying that Achan was a scapegoat, but he sure functions like one in the story—especially when one understands that something like dice were cast to isolate the problem. Of course, God controlled the casting of the lots for the Israelites. This form of sortition was used among almost all ancient cultures, which is how a literal scapegoat is chosen in Leviticus 16” …

But of course he was a scapegoat, and probably even, to ensure victory in battle as was the tradition back then, the victim of a human sacrifice, along the lines of an Agamnenon or of a Jethro - complete with its own monument made out of the very pile of stones in which the victim of the stoning was buried.

And the rest, for all practical reasons, is all a posteriori rationalization.

And all that, to top it all, in the name of the very same God who in Jesus called for forgiveness (“for they know what they do”) up until the very end, and even rebuked his own disciples who asked for sending fire from heaven Elijah-style on the Samaritan town that wouldn’t receive them ("Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them) !

“And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones unto this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger. Wherefore the name of that place was called, The valley of Achor, unto this day. And the Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: and thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it. (…) And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a desolation unto this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until eventide: and as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his carcase down from the tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this day. Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings.”

Joshua 7: 25-26 - 8: 1-30

“If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”

Jesus (Luke 17: 3-4)

“The tomb is nothing but the first human monument to be raised over the surrogate victim, the first most elemental and fundamental matrix of meaning. There is no culture without a tomb and no tomb without a culture; in the end the tomb is the first and only cultural symbol. The above-ground tomb does not have to be invented. It is the pile of stones in which the victim of the unanimous stoning is buried. It is the first pyramid.”

René Girard

“It begins with a condescending tone, a “beware of covetousness” message that seems more appropriate as the moral in an Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Story: “Little Billy ate too much candy and due to his sick tummy he learned not to covet. (…) But the biggest moral claim made by the lesson is that coveting is the “ultimate original sin.” The sinners are not Adam and Eve but Lucifer, coveting the homage paid to God. A few verses from Isaiah and a paragraph from Ellen White support this idea in the [study guide. However, there are plenty of other Ellen White quotes that [predicate pride as the first cause of Lucifer’s fall.”

What condescending tone, Sir, when Psy 101 itself tells us, as Shakespeare, Proust or René Girard famously reminded us, that indeed the Decalogue is right to “devote its ultimate command to prohibit our desire for our neighbor’s assets, because it lucidly recognizes in this desire the cause of the violence prohibited in the four commandments which precede it”.

“Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

Deuteronomy 5: 21

That thou hast her it is not all my grief,

And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;

That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,

A loss in love that touches me more nearly.

Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:

Thou dost love her because thou knowst I love her;

And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,

Suff’ring my friend for my sake to approve her.

If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,

And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;

Both find each other, and I lose both twain,

And both for my sake lay on me this cross.

But here’s the joy; my friend and I are one;

Sweet flatt’ry! Then she loves but me alone.

Shakespeare (Sonnet 42)

“If we were better at analysing our love affairs, we might find that often we love the women we do only because of the counterweight of the men against whom we have to compete to win them; remove the counterweight and the woman’s charm will collapse. We have an example of this (…) in the man who, conscious of a decline in his affection for the woman whom he loves, spontaneously applies the rules that he has deduced and, to make sure of his not ceasing to love the woman, places her in a dangerous environment from which he is obliged to protect her daily.”

Marcel Proust

“If the Decalogue devotes its ultimate command to prohibit our desire for our neighbor’s assets, it is because it lucidly recognizes in this desire the cause of the violence prohibited in the four commandments which precede it. Were we to stop desiring our neighbor’s property, we would never be guilty of murder or adultery, theft or perjury. If the tenth commandment was fulfilled, it would make unnecessary the four commandments which precede it. Instead of starting with the cause and going on with the consequences, as would a philosophical treatise, the Decalogue follows the reverse order. Attending to the most urgent priority first: to avoid violence, it prohibits violent actions. Then it returns to the cause and uncovers the desire inspired by our neighbor.”

René Girard

While Paul identified in Romans 7 the prohibition to covet as a representative commandment of the law in line with the Judaism of his day, he does not stay fixated on the law as the solution to the problem. In Galatians he focuses on life in the spirit, as he also does in Romans 8. Those who are living in mutual love, shared joy and peace, and who treat one another with the gentleness, generosity, and kindness inspired and fueled by the spirit do not need to be told not to kill, perjure, or even covet. Against this fruit there is no law. In fact Paul was implying that the written code of law was superfluous for God’s spirit people in Christ. This is borne out in Acts 2 where the post Pentecost group of believers just took care of one another, without being commanded, and beyond anything the law demanded.

The lesson and even some comments here seem to revert back to law and its keeping as the answer. The church, especially the Adventist church, is still uncomfortable with the implications of what Paul taught.

Frank

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There is no scriptural support for the existence…ever…,of an angel named Lucifer!

The Lucifer in The Great Conflict is stolen fiction EGW adapted from Joseph Smith. Owch!
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Yes, of course ! Even satan, as a person, doesn’t have much either ! But then, even Adam and Eve, while we’re at it, are probably largely reworkings of myth to teach new theological lessons …

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Thanks, @sktonstad.

You said:

What do you mean by “a received tradition”?

That is, apparently like @TheAdventistPodcast, I am also a person who does not buy the proposition that Isaiah 14 is about Satan. (I have no problem with Achan, though, or with much of the rest of that to which Alexander objects in his fine essay.)

Additionally, when that story is whip-creamed by Ellen White’s narrative of Christ being rolled out before the angels like a new Buick, and “Lucifer” becoming jealous because he wanted the place of Christ, and/or because he was not consulted in the creation of man…my goodness: Mormon much?

HA

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