A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Ninth and Tenth Commandments

This is part 11 of 26 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

(Psalm 19)

 

The Ninth Commandment.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, and obtain it by a show of [justice and] right, etc., but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Tenth Commandment.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not estrange, force, or entice away our neighbor’s wife, servants, or cattle, but urge them to stay and [diligently] do their duty.

 

These are the holy Ten Commands
Which our Lord God placed in our hands
Through Moses, His own servant true,
When he to Mount Sinai drew.
Kyrieleis!

Thou shalt not seek thy neighbor’s house,
Nor wife, nor servants, nor aught else,
But wish that his such good may be
As thy heart doth wish for thee.
Kyrieleis!

God hath giv’n us all these commands
That thou thy sin, O child of man,
Might know, and also well perceive
How unto God man should live.
Kyrieleis!

Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
A Mediator have in Thee.
With works we’d perish from the path;
They merit but endless wrath.
Kyrieleis! (TLH 287/LSB 581)

 

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments.

292] Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.

293] These two commandments are given quite exclusively to the Jews; nevertheless, in part they also concern us. For they do not interpret them as referring to unchastity or theft, because these are sufficiently forbidden above. They also thought that they had kept all those when they had done or not done the external act. Therefore God has added these two commandments in order that it be esteemed as sin and forbidden to desire or in any way to aim at getting our neighbor’s wife or possessions; 294] and especially because under the Jewish government man-servants and maid-servants were not free as now to serve for wages as long as they pleased, but were their master’s property with their body and all they had, as cattle and other possessions. 295] Moreover, every man had power over his wife to put her away publicly by giving her a bill of divorce, and to take another. Therefore they were in constant danger among each other that if one took a fancy to another’s wife, he might allege any reason both to dismiss his own wife and to estrange the other’s wife from him, that he might obtain her under pretext of right. That was not considered a sin nor disgrace with them; as little as now with hired help, when a proprietor dismisses his man-servant or maid-servant, or takes another’s servants from him in any way.

296] Therefore (I say) they thus interpreted these commandments, and that rightly (although their scope reaches somewhat farther and higher), that no one think or purpose to obtain what belongs to another, such as his wife, servants, house and estate, land, meadows, cattle, even with a show of right or by a subterfuge, yet with injury to his neighbor. For above, in the Seventh Commandment, the vice is forbidden where one wrests to himself the possessions of others, or withholds them from his neighbor, which he cannot do by right. But here it is also forbidden to alienate anything from your neighbor, even though you could do so with honor in the eyes of the world, so that no one could accuse or blame you as though you had obtained it wrongfully.

297] For we are so inclined by nature that no one desires to see another have as much as himself, and each one acquires as much as he can; the other may fare as best he can. 298] And yet we pretend to be godly, know how to adorn ourselves most finely and conceal our rascality, resort to and invent adroit devices and deceitful artifices (such as now are daily most ingeniously contrived) as though they were derived from the law codes; yea, we even dare impertinently to refer to it, and boast of it, and will not have it called rascality, but shrewdness and caution. 299] In this lawyers and jurists assist, who twist and stretch the law to suit it to their cause, stress words and use them for a subterfuge, irrespective of equity or their neighbor’s necessity. And, in short, whoever is the most expert and cunning in these affairs finds most help in law, as they themselves say: Vigilantibus iura subveniunt [that is, The laws favor the watchful].

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments make it specific that you should not covet your neighbor’s possessions or anything that is properly your neighbors.  This is to make it impossible to follow just the letter of the previous laws, but rather imputes the spirit of the laws as well.  For where as the previous Commandments obviously bar external acts, these two commandments bar internal desires.  Thus those who wish to be bare legalists have no escape (Matthew 5:17-48).

 

These commandments make it so that you cannot abuse the Second Table of the Law or do so only in a way that seems right.  Actual murder, adultery, theft, slander, and other evils are forbidden in the previous Commandments.  However the Ninth and Tenth Commandments make it clear that we are not to scheme to get what belongs to our neighbor nor are we to wrongfully desire it.

300] This last commandment therefore is given not for rogues in the eyes of the world, but just for the most pious, who wish to be praised and be called honest and upright people, since they have not offended against the former commandments, as especially the Jews claimed to be, and even now many great noblemen, gentlemen, and princes. For the other common masses belong yet farther down, under the Seventh Commandment, as those who are not much concerned whether they acquire their possessions with honor and right.

301] Now, this occurs most frequently in cases that are brought into court, where it is the purpose to get something from our neighbor and to force him out of his own. As (to give examples), when people quarrel and wrangle about a large inheritance, real estate, etc., they avail themselves of, and resort to, whatever has the appearance of right, so dressing and adorning everything that the law must favor their side, and they keep the property with such title that no one can make complaint or lay claim thereto. 302] In like manner, if any one desire to have a castle, city, duchy, or any other great thing, he practises so much financiering through relationships, and by any means he can, that the other is judicially deprived of it, and it is adjudicated to him, and confirmed with deed and seal and declared to have been acquired by princely title and honestly.

303] Likewise also in common trade where one dexterously slips something out of another’s hand, so that he must look after it, or surprises and defrauds him in a matter in which he sees advantage and benefit for himself, so that the latter, perhaps on account of distress or debt, cannot regain or redeem it without injury, and the former gains the half or even more; and yet this must not be considered as acquired by fraud or stolen, but honestly bought. Here they say: First come, first served, and every one must look to his own interest, let another get what he can. 304] And who can be so smart as to think of all the ways in which one can get many things into his possession by such specious pretexts? This the world does not consider wrong [nor is it punished by laws], and will not see that the neighbor is thereby placed at a disadvantage, and must sacrifice what he cannot spare without injury. Yet there is no one who wishes this to be done to him; from which we can easily perceive that such devices and pretexts are false.

305] Thus it was done formerly also with respect to wives: they knew such devices that if one were pleased with another woman, he personally or through others (as there were many ways and means to be invented) caused her husband to conceive a displeasure toward her, or had her resist him and so conduct herself that he was obliged to dismiss her and leave her to the other. That sort of thing undoubtedly prevailed much under the Law, as also we read in the Gospel of King Herod that he took his brother’s wife while he was yet living, and yet wished to be thought an honorable, pious man, as St. Mark also testifies of him. 306] But such an example, I trust, will not occur among us, because in the New Testament those who are married are forbidden to be divorced, except in such a case where one [shrewdly] by some stratagem takes away a rich bride from another. But it is not a rare thing with us that one estranges or alienates another’s man-servant or maid-servant, or entices them away by flattering words.

307] In whatever way such things happen, we must know that God does not wish that you deprive your neighbor of anything that belongs to him, so that he suffer the loss and you gratify your avarice with it, even if you could keep it honorably before the world; for it is a secret and insidious imposition practised under the hat, as we say, that it may not be observed. For although you go your way as if you had done no one any wrong, you have nevertheless injured your neighbor; and if it is not called stealing and cheating, yet it is called coveting your neighbor’s property, that is, aiming at possession of it, enticing it away from him without his will, and being unwilling to see him enjoy what God has granted him. 308] And although the judge and every one must leave you in possession of it, yet God will not leave you therein: for He sees the deceitful heart and the malice of the world, which is sure to take an ell in addition where-ever you yield to her a finger’s breadth, and at length public wrong and violence follow.

309] Therefore we allow these commandments to remain in their ordinary meaning, that it is commanded, first, that we do not desire our neighbor’s damage, nor even assist, nor give occasion for it, but gladly wish and leave him what he has, and, besides, advance and preserve for him what may be for his profit and service, as we should wish to be treated. 310] Thus these commandments are especially directed against envy and miserable avarice, God wishing to remove all causes and sources whence arises everything by which we do injury to our neighbor, and therefore He expresses it in plain words: Thou shalt not covet, etc. For He would especially have the heart pure, although we shall never attain to that as long as we live here; so that this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in the sight of God!

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments are given to those who appear pious and holy to the world.  The Pharisees among us (Luke 18:9-14).  After all, the scoundrel has no need for the 9th and 10th commandment as he is already breaking the previous commandments in an obvious way. These two commandments are instead for people who try to defraud each other using the courts or by shows of right (e.g. 1 Kings 21).  In common trade this also happens with those who overcharge or try to by some legal ruse to gain an advantage.  With wives and husbands as well, where one covets a spouse that is not one’s own or despises the one they already have (Mark 6:14-29, Mark 10:1-12).

 

We are not to deprive our neighbor of anything that is rightfully theirs that they do not wish to part with, nor should we desire it.  Rather we are to help and support our neighbor in keeping their possessions (Matthew 5:1-12, Matthew 7:12).  We are to seek the increase and protection of their possessions.  We are to praise God that He has blessed them with such wonderful gifts and pray to God for their preservation and increase.

Like the rest, these commandments accuse us and show us our sins.  They bring us to the uttermost realization that we are sinners even when we envy or covet our neighbor’s life, possessions, and family.  They also show us what good we are to desire for our neighbor.

1. If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the Rock that naught can move.

2. What can these anxious cares avail thee,
These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
What can it help if thou bewail thee
O’er each dark moment as it flies?
Our cross and trials do but press
The heavier for our bitterness.

3. Be patient and await His leisure
In cheerful hope, with heart content
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure
And His discerning love hath sent,
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
To Him who chose us for His own.

4. God knows full well when times of gladness
Shall be the needful thing for thee.
When He has tried thy soul with sadness
And from all guile has found thee free,
He comes to thee all unaware
And makes thee own His loving care.

5. Nor think amid the fiery trial
That God hath cast thee off unheard,
That he whose hopes meet no denial
Must surely be of God preferred.
Time passes and much change doth bring
And sets a bound to everything.

6. All are alike before the Highest;
‘Tis easy to our God, we know,
To raise thee up, though low thou liest,
To make the rich man poor and low.
True wonders still by Him are wrought
Who setteth up and brings to naught.

7. Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
Perform thy duties faithfully,
And trust His Word, though undeserving,
Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
God never yet forsook in need
The soul that trusted Him indeed.

(LSB 750)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

Comments

A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Ninth and Tenth Commandments — 1 Comment

  1. Dr. Edmon,
    Thank you for sharing your prodigious knowledge of the Lutheran Confessions. I hope the LCMS hears more from you in the future. In the meantime, I look forward to your next post on BJS. You are an exemplary layman and scientist.
    Mark

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