God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting

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.

New! This post is also available as a video, part of the Exploring the Bible Videos series.

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…”


March 2, 2011 - Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , ,


  1. I was just going through all these references in Hebrew myself the other day. I’m not sure it means the same as לקח, however. It seems to indicate something just prior to the “taking” action, though implying the “taking” that is coming later.

    I think the real problem here is that we don’t have an English word that appropriately encapsulates this idea, as it seems to mean “desire and decide to take.” As such, I don’t think “take” works either, but if you took something right in between the two concepts of “covet/desire” and “take,” that would be it.

    Comment by Jason A. Staples | March 2, 2011

    • How about “claim”? Does that work?
      I am thinking of how minority owned land was “acquired” during reconstruction here. Some people went to Courthouse and claimed property that belonged to their Black or Indian neighbors.

      Could the same process work in ancient Israel? There was no courthouse, but if the officials of the town allowed a land-owner to slowly move his boundary markers, that would establish a “claim” that result in a “take”.

      Comment by marian | March 3, 2011

      • When we consider the use of chamad in Song of Solomon 2:3 where it is translated “delight” and the relationship between speaker and her beloved is strong and settled there is no sense of wishing, anticipation or hope of a ‘change for the better’. It is more like an existent ‘possession’ which could also be applied to Josh 7 where possession (or initial control) precedes taking (removing to his tent).

        Comment by RF | March 8, 2017

    • These guys beat me to it, but yes, I assume you don’t mean to say that one should translate Joshua 7:21 as “then I took them and took them”. I’m fine with a definition of chamad that isn’t “desire” or “covet,” but surely it holds some shade of meaning different than lakach or why would the Hebrew text use the two different words?

      Comment by Mark Baker-Wright | March 3, 2011

      • I think you’re right, Mark, that the words are different, but they could be very close in meaning. As you know, Hebrew frequently uses the rhetorical device of pairing up near synonyms. (Shim’u and ha’azinu — “listen” and the absurd “give ear” — come to mind.)

        So far I haven’t been able to figure out in any convincing way how the two words were different, but as a guess, chamad meant to take with intent to return, while lakach was more general. (And ganav — “rob” — meant to take with no intent to return.) It makes sense, but it’s really speculation on my part.

        Comment by Joel H. | March 3, 2011

    • Maybe, Jason. It could mean “to go through the steps of imagining ownership,” the way one might plan a road trip with a car even before actually buying the car. But I don’t see any particular reason to think that chamad is a precursor to lakach, just as we have so many other doublets where we don’t make that kind of assumption. And, equally, chamad could mean “take with intent to return” (which one might do to land if the occupants were expected back based on a fixed schedule).

      I can think of other possibilities that make sense, too, but I haven’t been able to find any evidence to convince me of one over the other.

      Based on what I know about the Ten Commandments, though, I do think that chamad was an action.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 3, 2011

    • How about “seek”? Webster’s gives the 4th definition of seek as: “to try to acquire or gain : aim at.” An example would be to ” seek the overthrow of the governmen.” Linguists speak of *success terms.” In baseball, “hit’ is a success term; “swing” is not. Perhaps lakach is the success term, meaning a successful taking, as opposed to the attempt. This would explain the parallelism (although, as Joel H. points out, many translations would explain it equally well.) I agree that several of the references suggest this sort of precursory meaning for chamad.

      Comment by Steve K. | June 18, 2011

  2. I heard somewhere recently that the reason coveting was taken seriously by the Hebrews was due to the “evil eye” superstition of Middle-Eastern cultures, in which a malicious gaze or intent towards someone and their property could have a tangible negative effect on them.

    I wonder how your linguistic analysis here impacts that. What does the LXX say, out of curiosity?

    Comment by Paul D. | March 2, 2011

  3. I once heard Dennis Prager say that the sense of “covet” there would have to mean wanting to have something at the expense of someone else’s having it. So I guess that matches pretty well with “take.”

    BTW, awesome blog. You understand that I’m going to have to read your book now. It’s what I do. I have the spiritual gift of reading. 😉

    Comment by SethH | March 3, 2011

    • Thank you for your kind words, Seth.

      Comment by Joel H. | March 3, 2011

  4. I don’t see that the context of Exodus 34:24 is a definitive case against ‘covet’. It is not inconceivable that when a real opportunity to take something arises, the underlying or latent desire can be aroused and become magnified and pronounced. Think about a petty thief who suddenly sees an empty car with the driver’s door unlocked and the key still in the ignition.

    I see the promise (that no one will ‘chamad’ the Israelites’ land when they leave for Jerusalem to appear before God) as conveying that the fear and terror of God had already fallen on the surrounding inhabitants, thus restraining any pre-existing desire that those people had to occupy the land.

    I can see that Deuteronomy 7:25 and Joshua 7:21 portray the close connection between ‘chamad’ and ‘lakach’. But how does translating two different Hebrew words, which occur in the same breath, into the same English word bring out the original meaning of the text?

    To me, these passages indicate that not only did they possess different meanings, but also ‘chamad’ is a precursor to ‘lakach’.

    As for Proverbs 12:12, yes ‘chamad’ seems to be the opposite of ‘give’, but this poetic example doesn’t come across to me as clear evidence that it is the opposite in a semantic sense.

    More importantly, is there any evidence from the Hebrew literature that the word order (chamad and lakach) is ever reversed? If so, such evidence would look much more like a bulletproof argument for establishing a case against ‘covet’.

    Comment by Robert Kan | March 3, 2011

    • I’m not sure we would expect to find the reverse order.

      In English, we have (near) synonyms that always appear in the same order, like “aid and abet.” “Aid” isn’t meant to be a precursor to “abet.” (Originally, they were meant to be synonyms. The point was to use both a Romance word and a Germanic word, to help as many people as possible understand the concept.)

      At any rate, looking at the evidence, do you think that it points toward chamad meaning “want,” or are you trying to justify an opinion that was formed in part by (what I think are) mistranslations?

      For example, I see chamad as the opposite of lakach, and I don’t see any reason not to draw the conclusion that it therefore means “take.”

      Comment by Joel H. | March 3, 2011

  5. Wow, a very interesting post!

    The LXX has epithumeis, which I believe means “crave.” As it is written…

    “Thou shalt not crave thy neighbor’s wife, his ass or his wife’s ass.”

    Comment by WoundedEgo | March 3, 2011

    • You made me look that up. ! Dirty dog.

      Comment by Scripture Zealot | March 4, 2011

  6. According to my cursory research, doesn’t ‘chamad’ firstly occur in Genesis 2:9 (translated ‘pleasant’ in KJV)? If so, what do you think it means there?

    And doesn’t it also occur in Genesis 27:15, where the word order is reversed in a slightly different manner (‘lakach’ immediately precedes ‘chamad’)?

    What do you make of this?

    Comment by Robert Kan | March 4, 2011

    • Do you have any comment on the translation into English for Gen 27:15 ? The KJV has “And Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son.”

      Comment by RF | March 5, 2017

  7. What we find in Genesis 2:9 is not the verb chamad but a different word from the same root: nechmad.

    One of the biggest Bible translation traps is relying too heavily on roots. In this case, I wonder if the similarity of the two words helped create the wrong translation “covet” for chamad.

    Genesis 25:9, too, has a different word from the same root.

    Comment by Joel H. | March 4, 2011

  8. I do not think the argument as sufficiently been made to abandon the use of “covet”. First, it is clear that chamad qualifies lakach so the two are not the same. This is precisely why the word, “covet” was chosen.

    To covet is not merely to “want”. Rather, to covet is a class of wanting whose nuance must be attended to in order to appreciate its use. Coveting exceeds wanting, it is a kind of wanting that implies entitlement and inordinate desire. In other words to merely “want” something does not communicate the disposition of the covetous desire.

    Therefore merely to “want” or “desire” then to “take” fails to bring to light the cause for the taking which is a certain kind of wanting, namely the covetous kind which compels.

    When we want something we do not always find ourselves taking that something, but when we take something we are not to take we will always find it preceded by our having coveted it.

    Comment by Alex Guggenheim | March 4, 2011

  9. If ‘chamad’ and ‘lakach’ merely form a rhetorical device, wouldn’t you expect it to occur this way in the 10th commandment?

    My perception of ‘chamad’ as a precursor is based on the fact that, when paired with ‘lakach’, the consequence of the act is either acknowledged or confessed – in Deut 7:25 (‘you will be snared by it’) and Josh 7:21 (‘they are concealed in the earth inside my tent’).

    As the 10th commandment does not deal with consequences, this appears to be consistent with the fact that it also makes no mention of ‘lakach’.

    Wouldn’t this be a valid argument that the pair is not a rhetorical or literary device, but a two-step process that leads to inevitable consequences? (And where only ‘chamad’ is mentioned, those consequences also need not be mentioned.)

    Comment by Robert Kan | March 5, 2011

  10. in spanish we have “quitar” meaning to get/ take off/pick up and “quedarse” meaning to take/own/possess

    Comment by sureño | March 5, 2011

  11. Well, my Esperanto Bible which was translated in 1880 by a native Hebrew speaker, has “Ne deziru la domon de via proksimulo;”- “Don’t DESIRE or WANT the house of your neighbor”
    The word for covet is “avidi” which is not used here…hmmm….

    Comment by Ant Writes | March 5, 2011

  12. There is obviously some difference between the 8th and the 10th commandments, but “steal” and “take” seem mostly synonymous to me.

    Comment by Dannii | March 5, 2011

    • I agree Dannii. Why would God instruct His people “do not steal” and then say “do not take”?

      Any lexicons I’ve referred to define chamad as: to delight in, greatly beloved, covet, desire. I suppose the writers of Theological word books could have just been in love with their translation and wanted to preserve good old King James’ rendering, but that seems unlikely, since most scholars are interested in truth first. It also seems to me that Jesus’ reference to murder and lust in Matthew 5 deals directly with commandment #10. And, since Jesus is God, if he said it, God said it!

      Comment by Tyrone | March 18, 2011

  13. […] These first three videos mirror blog posts I’ve written (here, here, and here). […]

    Pingback by Exploring the Bible Videos « God Didn't Say That | March 28, 2011

  14. […] Moving on to Exodus, Joel Hoffman scored an easy layup with The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting. […]

    Pingback by Biblical Studies Carnival LXI – March Madness Edition | Dr. Platypus | April 1, 2011

  15. “Do not seek to appropriate by dishonest means” perhaps. Not blatant stealing, but usurping by deviousness or opportunism. Sort of like conspiracy to commit a crime is a distinct offense in modern penal codes.

    Comment by C.J. O'Brien | April 1, 2011

  16. I am not sure what “covet” means, as I am not conversant in old English.

    As for “chamad”, it is used about 20 times as a verb, several more times as a noun and adjective. What we find when we look at all its uses, it refers to desire, but a unique type of desire, for a particular person or object, not a generalized desire. That desire for a particular object or person will often lead to taking it, e.g. Aachen at Jericho desired a particular set of items, so he took them. A generalized desire would be more willing to leave those specific items alone, hoping to get the value from other sources.

    In a negative sense, the Lord’s slave in Isaiah 53:2 would not have the looks that we would want specifically him.

    I don’t know of any single word in English that carries that meaning.

    Comment by Karl W. Randolph. | April 4, 2011

    • As for “chamad”, it is used about 20 times as a verb, several more times as a noun and adjective.

      You mean that the root Ch.M.D is used about 20 times as a verb, etc., right? The actual Kal verb chamad is rarer.

      I think it’s a mistake to assume that the Kal verb must be directly and clearly related to, for example, the Niph’al verb nechmad, or to the noun machmad. More specifically, even if nechmad means “desirable,” it doesn’t follow that chamad means “desire.”

      By comparison, the Niph’al of R.A.H, nir’ah, means “to appear,” not just “to be seen,” even though the Qal ra’ah means “see.”

      In fact, it may even be this kind of reasoning — which in And God Said I call the translation trap of relying on “internal structure” — that led to the mistranslation of the Ten Commandments in the first place.

      Comment by Joel H. | April 6, 2011

  17. Joel, my research indicates that the 10th commandment as it is found in Deuteronomy 5:21 contains two different Hebrew words that are translated into covet and desire respectively (in contrast to Exodus 20:17 where ‘chamad’ occurs twice).

    Could you please confirm whether this is indeed the case, and how do you propose to address this? Would you say that the second Hebrew term was also mistranslated??

    Comment by Robert Kan | April 5, 2011

    • Yes, the version of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy is more complicated, because there are two verbs there where the version in Exodus has but one. (This is true only in Hebrew. The Greek translates both Hebrew verbs as epithumeo.)

      Not only is the second Hebrew verb in Dueteronomy, hitavah, complicated, but we don’t find it Deuteronomy in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Rather, the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q41) have chamad twice there (even though the rest of the text is the same).

      All of which is to say that I’m not sure what to do with hitavah there.

      Comment by Joel H. | April 6, 2011

  18. As a compromise between ‘covet’ and ‘take’, I would propose ‘plot/scheme/plan in order to possess’ as a plausible meaning.

    I think this works pretty well with all of the passages mentioned in this post for the following reasons:

    (a) It occurs prior to ‘take’, and is therefore clearly distinguished from ‘lackach’.

    (b) It is an action, and is therefore worthy of the context of Exodus 34:24.

    (c) It is not stealing, and is therefore not confused with the 8th commandment.

    (d) It is not necessarily dishonest, and is therefore not confused with the 9th commandment.

    On the spiritual level however, as Jesus told it, the 10th commandment would prohibit coveting in the same way that the 6th commandment prohibits anger/malice and the 7th commandment prohibits lust.

    Comment by Robert Kan | April 7, 2011

  19. […] These first three videos mirror blog posts I’ve written on God Didn’t Say That (here, here, and here). […]

    Pingback by Exploring the Bible Videos « Joel M. Hoffman, PhD | April 15, 2011

  20. This is a very late comment, but I recently presented your Book to my Men’s Bible Study (and other interested members of our congregation).

    NB: I predict an upsurge in book orders. People were absolutely rivited by your findings. Among many Christians, at least, there seems to be a real hunger for deeper and more objective Bible study that is as approachable as “What God Said…”.

    Anyway, in addition to ‘take’, I offered a couple of other thoughts to the group: “use/borrow without asking” and “make a selection“. I hope that’s not too out-of-bounds.

    Two other questions:

    1) Is there any significance to the observation that the “Don’t covet…” command immediately follows “Don’t commit adultery”? Might this not imply that tachmode implies something other than a sexual taking?

    2) Did King David violate the prohibition of coveting by ‘using’ Bathsheba in a way that would bring her to his bed (i.e., inviting her to his palace)? If so, then did he actually violate two commandments — the prohibition on coveting AND the prohibition of adultery?.



    Comment by Michael | May 21, 2011

    • Thank you for your support, Michael. (And incidentally, I also travel to communities to present and expand on the material in And God Said. Please be in touch directly if this is something your congregation might be interested in.)

      1) Is there any significance to the observation that the “Don’t covet” command immediately follows “Don’t commit adultery”? Might this not imply that tachmode implies something other than a sexual taking?

      It’s an interesting suggestion. I’m less convinced by the ordering of the commandments, but I think it’s reasonable to suppose that such a short list wouldn’t contain any duplicates. One possibility, then, is that chamad is non-sexual. Another possibility, though, is that “adultery” refers to something consensual, while chamad is taking by force.

      If so, then did [King David] actually violate two commandments

      Seems like just adultery to me, though, more generally, King David is hardly a model of morality.

      Comment by Joel H. | May 22, 2011

      • Joel, the suggestion that ‘chamad’ is taking by force doesn’t appear to work well in relation to the objects mentioned. I can’t conceive how one could take their neighbor’s wife, male servant, female servant etc. as if to merely force a transfer. The term indicates some kind of complex transaction so as to fulfill the desire for function of the person being taken, and possibly even the person himself/herself. One would think that this requires consent, at least from the person to be taken, if not from the one to whom the person belongs.

        In other words, it may be ok to ‘chamad’ your neighbor’s female servant if you want her as a wife, but not so if you want her as a servant.

        Comment by Robert Kan | May 25, 2011

  21. […] an eagle and a vulture? Q&A: What’s the best Bible translation to read and study from? The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting Making Jesus the “Human One” The Value of a Word for Word Translation Gender in the […]

    Pingback by The Year in Review (2011) « God Didn't Say That | January 1, 2012

  22. The “Year in Review” post led me to read this for the first time.

    I suggest that chamad could be translated as “seize.” This would make the pairings with lakach into a pair of closely related, but also chronologically sequential actions: First you chamad the gold and silver, then you lakach it away with you.

    The promise in Exodus 34:24 seems to support this translation. As you noted, it’s absurd to think that the Israelites feared that their brief absence from the land would lead other to “covet” it; rather, they feared that it might be seized. Land, however, cannot be taken away like a sack of plunder, so chamad does the job here by itself.

    The commandment, then, is “do not seize.” Or if you want to be informal, “do not grab.” If this is correct, then the commandment is a vividly expressed prohibition of greed.

    Comment by alarob | January 15, 2012

    • I looked up “commandeer” at reference.com and it gave me these suggestions:

      Main Entry:

      commandeer  [kom-uhn-deer] Show IPA

      Part of Speech:



      seize, take over


      accroach, activate, annex, appropriate, arrogate, assume, confiscate, conscript, draft, enslave, expropriate, grab, hijack, liberate, moonlight requisition, preempt, requisition, sequester, sequestrate, snatch, take, usurp

      Comment by bibleshockers | January 15, 2012

  23. In Portuguese we have two distinct words. Pegar, take with you, and levar, take there. I can say in the same sentence: “Pega e leva isso!” we can also say: “don’t take what is not yours”

    Comment by Heloisa | February 18, 2012

  24. For Paul the 10th commandment seems to address inner disposition (Romans 7:7-8). At least, there is some connection. I do not master Greek, so I have to go by the English: “…for I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” Paul goes on to say that the law “produced…evil desire.” How can we make sense of this. Did Paul misunderstand the commandment?

    Do we have a dual aspect akin to levav and nephesh? That is, chamad is part of the heart and mind aspect of life and lakach is the manifestation of chamad?

    An observation: growing up in a protestant tradition, I am raised on the assumption that the Christian ethics is mainly about inner disposition. So my tendency is to read into the text that idea that the heart is more important than the body. Thus, reading Ex. 20 I tend to think of intention rather than action. Reconsidering the matter, one can note that while desiring can lead to taking, JC. on out of the heart…, bad tree producing bad fruits, etc., the other way around also seems plausible: taking leading to coveting. Taking can happen out of curiosity, ignorance, peer pressure, and then leads to covetness. As in the case of addiction. People can give in to simple actions without tremendous interior, psychological pressure, and then end up being hooked.

    Maybe this is what Paul meant when he wrote that the commandment said do not take and then in his case lead to the worse condition of coveting. As in kids being told not to drink until they are of age thus producing the desire. Paul being a Pharisee grew up on restrictions, do not do this or that, which lead to a levav of coveting. He took what was not his, Pharisees in competition with the priesthood / Sadducees, and that produced the religious arrogance as depicted in the gospels. This of course is a very broad stroke.

    I think the observation that the 10 C. are about actions rather than intentions is very significant. It might suggest that the inversion of the intention-action sequence is indeed what the sayings are about. Do not do this because it will lead to worse consequences. It’s like addressing the nephesh aspect to protect the levav. Do not make an image (nephesh) because it will ruin your heart-and-mind. Do not work on he Sabbath (nephesh) because if you do your levav will suffer, etc.

    Comment by Tom | March 10, 2012

  25. The 8th commandment prohibits stealing, which means “taking something without permission”. So I don’t think the 10th commandment would prohibit taking in general. That wouldn’t make much sense. Covet is actually a good translation, though it’s an old English word. Other possible translations: desire, lust after, and maybe (?) want. I think what the 10th commandment is trying to say is, don’t be jealous of what somebody else has. Don’t be jealous of people’s abundance of possesions. Just because they have a bigger house than you, doesn’t mean you have to have it. Just because they have more wives than you– joking
    I’ve got it. Be happy with what you’ve got, is basically what God is trying to say.

    Comment by James | May 4, 2012

  26. Joel, I heard your TED talk on “covet” and the Ten Commandments, and I really liked your observation that the commandments establish an objective morality, and human laws simply can’t do this. But even though this point was very good, there are several passages where chamad seems to make more sense as referring to one’s inner cravings rather than to physically taking something. For instance,

    Proverbs 1:22 – How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers chamad (delight) in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

    Prov. 6:25 Do not chamad (desire) her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes…

    Your conclusion that chamad refers to “taking” rather than “desiring” really is only based on Exodus 34:24. You point out that Ex 34:24 sounds as if it refers to others taking the Israelite’s land, not just desiring it. But this line also makes sense if it is read as an overstatement for effect. People are being reassured that if they make a pilgrimage to observe the feasts, they need not worry about what they leave behind. No one will take their land – in fact, no one will even look at it longingly. The desire for it won’t even cross their minds.

    That’s not an unreasonable reading, considering that often God promises Israel their enemies will fear and dread them – their hearts will “melt” within them. Somehow their inner attitudes will be affected, not just their actions.

    Comment by Lois Tverberg | May 19, 2012

    • Hi Lois,

      I have more about chamad in this short video: “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” and I address the issue in much more depth in Chapter 7 of my And God Said.

      Proverbs 1:22 is tricky, as you point out. Here’s what I write about it in And God Said:

      Finally, we have Proverbs 1:22: “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners chamad in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?” (KJV). We have three verbs, “love,” “hate,” and between those two, chamad. So it might seem that chamad, like the other two, is a verb of intention, not of action. That’s why KJV translates “delight” here (not “covet,” though).

      But the entire line is poetic, with two parallel phrases followed by a third one that contrasts with the first two, conveying the same meaning, but breaking the pattern: “simple ones love simplicity” / “scorners chamad in scorn” / “fools hate knowledge” (KJV). Though disagreement abounds about the exact meanings of the words translated as “simplicity” and “scorn,” we can use those translations to look at the rhetorical style of the passage.

      But in another regard, it’s the middle part that’s different. The first and last parts use the words “love” and “hate,” which form a familiar pair of opposites. From this point of view, chamad is the odd one out. We can’t conclude from this fact that chamad isn’t a verb of intention, but neither can we conclude from the line that chamad is a verb of intention. The threefold structure in which chamad differs from the other two verbs makes it hard to draw any conclusions at all. So Proverbs 1:22 is interesting in its own right, and a useful example of Biblical poetry, but it doesn’t help us much with chamad.

      Comment by Joel H. | May 20, 2012

  27. […] example comes from the Ten Commandments. There’s very good reason to think that the 10th commandment has to do with taking, not wanting, but not everyone agrees that we should update the translations or our understanding of the […]

    Pingback by If Jerome Jumped off a Cliff, Would You? « God Didn't Say That | October 10, 2012

  28. How much does Hebrew divide experiences? It’s already been pointed out that the root Ch-M-D does have to do with desire and desirability but is there a distinction between attraction to something, and “lusting about it” (going over and over it in your mind” and actually making a plan to acquire it. For example David sees Bathsheba and admires her immediately, but instead of turning away he continues to watch her and think about her (lusting) and then makes a plan to seduce her. Had he not been lusting for her, the action of inviting her to the palace would otherwise have been a neutral action.

    Could “Chamad”ing something be that final category of not merely admiring something but actually making a plan to get, or beginning to act in such a way as to get something (that is already someone else’s or is forbidden)

    Comment by Sarah | October 24, 2012

    • I think talking about the root in this case isn’t helpful. We should be talking about the words, chamad and nechmad. And they just mean different things. (I just wrote a post expanding on this kind of situation: “How Similar Words Lead Bible Translators Astray.”)

      Comment by Joel H. | October 26, 2012

  29. […] read “do not take,” not “do not covet.” (I have lots more here: “The Ten Commandments Don’t Forbid Coveting” and in this video: “Thou shalt not […]

    Pingback by How Similar Words Lead Bible Translators Astray « God Didn't Say That | October 26, 2012

  30. My only question is how does “do not take” differ from “do not steal?” same thing is it not?

    Comment by Josh Gould | October 26, 2012

    • It’s a great question, and I don’t have a wholly convincing answer. As a guess, “stealing” was taking with no indent to return, while “taking” was taking temporarily — this would make sense in the context of Exodus 34:24, at least.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 27, 2012

      • Unlike most of the other 10 commandments, “take” doesn’t have any moral connotations attached to it, like “murder”, “adultery” or “stealing”. That’s why people are averse to change in this case. If you suggested something with moral connotations, you would appear more convincing. So it’s one thing to seek to challenge the traditional understanding of a word (by saying what it doesn’t mean). Equally as important, I think, you need to offer an alternative with sufficient moral content attached (in suggesting what it might mean).

        What about “take advantage of” or “use to one’s advantage”, to make it a bit more abstract? As you know, to simply translate it as “take” raises more questions than it answers.

        Comment by Robert Kan | October 28, 2012

      • I’m pretty sure that in this context “taking” means “taking something that isn’t yours.” That surely has moral content, don’t you think?

        More generally, I think that our sense of which laws have moral connotations comes from the Ten Commandments, and not the other way around. In other words, I think that the reason you think that “murder,” “adultery,” and so forth are immoral is that they appear in the Ten Commandments. That’s also the reason many people think that coveting is immoral.

        By contrast, most people don’t think that, say, illegal parking is immoral.

        I’m fascinated by the connection between morality and legality, and I have lots more in And God Said in my chapter on the Ten Commandments, and also in my TEDx presentation.

        Comment by Joel H. | October 28, 2012

      • Joel, weren’t you who said, here or elsewhere, that “take” means appropriating something that you know does not belong to you, like stray sheep or cultivated land that was abandoned by some reason? It’s like robbing, but without violence. Without the presence of the person there to claim what is his and should be returned to him.
        I see many examples of “taking” in modern life: a politician might use funds in a way that does not benefit himself directly but that is not in the best interest of the community, for instance. He is not stealing, but he is taking. I think the prohibition against taking is a great idea; it’s a pity it was interpreted as a mere desire, which cannot be a crime in itself.

        Comment by helopait | October 28, 2012


Dear Joel Hoffman, It is stunning to see this piece by a PhD in theoretical linguistics in such a short space completely redefine the word covet. I hope that those who might read my words will forever remember the blueletterbible.org and the excellent lexicon it makes available to any who will use it.

From that lexicon we see that “covet” is a different word than “take” altogether, and the 10th commandment really does mean Thou shalt not covet, NOT thou shalt not take. 

Lexicon Results
    Strong’s H2530 – chamad חָמַד
    Transliteration – chamad
    Pronunciation – khä·mad’ (Key)
    Parts of Speech – feminine noun, verb

    Outline of Biblical Usage
    1) to desire, covet, take pleasure in, delight in
    a) (Qal) to desire
    b) (Niphal) to be desirable
    c) (Piel) to delight greatly, desire greatly
    n f
    desirableness, preciousness


    Lexicon Results
    Strong’s H3947 – laqach לָקַח
    Transliteration – laqach
    Pronunciation – lä·kakh’ (Key)
    Part of Speech – verb

    Outline of Biblical Usage
    1) to take, get, fetch, lay hold of, seize, receive, acquire, buy, bring, marry, take a wife, snatch, take away
    a) (Qal)
    1) to take, take in the hand
    2) to take and carry along
    3) to take from, take out of, take, carry away, take away
    4) to take to or for a person, procure, get, take possession of, select, choose, take in marriage, receive, accept
    5) to take up or upon, put upon
    6) to fetch
    7) to take, lead, conduct
    8) to take, capture, seize
    9) to take, carry off
    10) to take (vengeance)
    b) (Niphal)
    1) to be captured
    2) to be taken away, be removed
    3) to be taken, brought unto
    c) (Pual)
    1) to be taken from or out of
    2) to be stolen from
    3) to be taken captive
    4) to be taken away, be removed
    d) (Hophal)
    1) to be taken unto, be brought unto
    2) to be taken out of
    3) to be taken away
    e) (Hithpael)
    1) to take hold of oneself
    to flash about (of lightning)

    If we apply the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2) with the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the sermon on the mount, it should become clear that covetousness is surely more than taking. Consider that taking something belonging to another ~ 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 ~ taking these things from their owners is stealing, and the eighth commandment is “thou shalt not steal.” To reduce covetousness to simply taking something not belonging to you would be to repeat the eighth commandment, albeit using a different word.

    Lexicon Results
    Strong’s H1589 – ganab גָּנַב
    Transliteration – ganab
    Pronunciation – gä·nav’ (Key)
    Part of Speech – verb

    Outline of Biblical Usage
    1) to steal, steal away, carry away
    a) (Qal) to steal
    b) (Niphal) to be stolen
    c) (Piel) to steal away
    d) (Pual) to be stolen away, be brought by stealth
    e) (Hithpael) to go by stealth, steal away

    Coveting is akin stealing, but it is not outright stealing, it is not outright taking, covetousness is an act of the heart. Just as Jesus said that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” I believe He would also say that whosoever looketh on another man’s possessions and desireth them to be his own has already made them his own in his heart.

    God is saying that I must not desire continually in my heart to have your wife, your manservant, your maidservant, your ox, your ass, or any thing that is yours, for if I do, my thought and heart are sinning. We see this sin illuminated by the admonition for God’s children not to covet but to be content with the things that they do possess. 

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

The Rich Young Man
    Mark 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

This rich young man was far from the Kingdom of God because of that which DID belong to him! Scripture from both Testaments teaches very many times that wealth, money, mammon enslave those who covet and posses it. 1 Timothy 6

False Teachers and True Contentment
    1 Timothy 1:2 …Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound[b] words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and[c] we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

    No clearer words can be heard than these from our Master’s heart:

Matthew 6 (Complete Jewish Bible) 19 “Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. 20 Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. 21 For where your wealth is, there your heart will be also. 22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body.’ So if you have a ‘good eye’ [that is, if you are generous] your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if you have an ‘evil eye’ [if you are stingy] your whole body will be full of darkness. If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 No one can be slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can’t be a slave to both God and money.
    25 “Therefore, I tell you, don’t worry about your life — what you will eat or drink; or about your body — what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they are? 27 Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to his life?
    28 “And why be anxious about clothing? Think about the fields of wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread, 29 yet I tell you that not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. 30 If this is how God clothes grass in the field — which is here today and gone tomorrow, thrown in an oven — won’t he much more clothe you? What little trust you have!
    31 “So don’t be anxious, asking, ‘What will we eat?,’ ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘How will we be clothed?’ 32 For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. 33 But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Don’t worry about tomorrow — tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough tsuris already!

    Deuteronomy 7:25 (Complete Jewish Bible)
    25 You are to burn up completely the carved statues of their gods. Don’t be greedy for the silver or gold on them; don’t take it with you, or you will be trapped by it; for it is abhorrent to Adonai your God.

    David Stern correctly translates Deuteronomy 7:25 using “don’t be greedy” for “you shall not covet.” Greed is the best word for covetousness there is today. Truly the Israelites were not to take the silver or gold of pagan idols as their possession. Yet if there was no desire in their hearts for it they would not need to be warned. God knows what is in the heart of man. He knows that: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:…” Jeremiah 17:9 God warned them because they were human, fallen, sinners and prone to desire and be greedy for riches. Although they were to destroy, to slay completely every pagan in Canaan, they were forbidden to covet, to lust after and take their idols. It would not have been stealing had God allowed them to take them. 

God knows that to covet and take the things pagans idolize leads to a pagan lifestyle and exposes one to demons.

1 Corinthians 10:19-21 King James Version (KJV)
    19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
    20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
    21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

Colossians 3:5 King James Version (KJV)
    Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Colossians 3 The Message (MSG)
    He Is Your Life
     1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
    3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
    5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It’s because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
    9-11 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
    12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
    15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

    Comment by David B Severy | October 28, 2012

    • Thanks for weighing in, David.

      I am, obviously, aware of the lexicon listings.

      I think it’s helpful to remember, though, that the lexicons were compiled before the advent of modern linguistics and translation theory, so even though they are certainly a useful tool, but they are not perfect. And when the information in lexicons conflicts with the information in the texts themselves, I think it makes sense to reevaluate the lexicons.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 28, 2012

      • You ARE a higher critic aren’t you! God is not Burger King and we can’t “have it our way.” We must be taught as we are to worship in Spirit and in Truth.

        Comment by David B Severy | October 29, 2012

  32. Joel, are you aware that the 10th commandment occurs in the NT as well, in Paul’s letter to the Romans? Well, that’s how it reads in English in Rom 7:7 & 13:9. If we are to regard Paul as authoritative and we understand him correctly, then the only logical deduction we can make is that “epithumeo” is also a mistranslation in these passages. That would be a very bold claim to make if one is not an ancient Greek scholar. Would you disagree with Paul or Greek scholarship in this case?

    Comment by Robert Kan | October 29, 2012

    • Robert,

      I think you raise two issues.

      The first is linguistic, and it’s pretty straightforward. The Greek epithumeo, which we find not only in Romans but also in the LXX translations of the OT Ten Commandments — and also elsewhere — almost certainly means “desire.”

      The second issue is who decides what the text means. You suggest that we should “regard Paul as authoritative,” and that’s certainly a legitimate option.

      When my publisher, agent, and I were talking about the subtitle for my Bible-translation book And God Said, one option was “how translations conceal the Bible’s real meaning.” Even though the marketers liked that one a lot, I rejected it in favor of “…the Bible’s original meaning,” because that’s what I’m really looking at. Most people who take Scripture seriously agree that the original meaning is only one way of looking at the text, and to call it the “real” meaning is to misunderstand how religion works.

      So my best informed opinion is this: the Hebrew of the last commandment originally referred to taking. Then it was reinterpreted to refer to wanting.

      For me, the most interesting question is why that transition took place, but it’s a question we can’t even ask if we don’t look at the original Hebrew separately from the tradition that interpreted it.

      Comment by Joel H. | October 29, 2012

      • Joel, I thought that’s how you would reply. But that tradition pre-dates Jesus, surely. So a whole generation of learned men, going back more than two centuries, lost the meaning because they relied on the Greek rather than the Hebrew? So Paul didn’t know any better? I would have thought that the 10 commandments, at least, would have been handed down unscathed.

        Comment by Robert Kan | October 29, 2012

      • As I see it, there are three possibilities:

        1. Someone (probably Jews long before Paul) made a mistake.

        2. Someone (again, probably Jews long before Paul) purposely reinterpreted the text, or, at least, didn’t object to a new interpretation.

        3. I’m wrong.

        My guess is (2) in this case, though (1) wouldn’t surprise me as much as you say it would surprise you. (To be fair, I guess (3) wouldn’t surprise you as much as it would me, though I always try to stay open to the possibility.)

        Comment by Joel H. | October 29, 2012

      • Is the question now become this: “Is there really such a thing as greed/covetousness, and is it a sin?”

        Greed is a very real motive of the human heart (even seen in animals!) and a sin. I cannot really fathom the motive you have Joel H., for wanting to redact covetousness/greed from the 10th commandment! If you do, you redact it from the entire Bible. I don’t have the training to tell you in logical, methodological or theological terms why you are wrong, but common sense is sufficient!

        What is plain to me is that covetousness is the expression of a heart which says: “My needs and desires for what you own are greater than your right to own them.” This attitude does not need to result in a literal taking away of the possession, by being covetousness I take away with my heart what does not belong to me yet have not the use or pleasure of what is coveted.

        James 1
        13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
        14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
        15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

        If the 10th Commandment were to read: “Thou shalt not take,” what would that mean different that “Thou shalt not steal?”

        What is your motive for reinterpreting what has been made plain for 3500 years? Do you believe God? “Did God say…?”

        Comment by David B Severy | October 29, 2012

  33. Joel, I am pretty confident that you cover all the available facts and argue your case logically and coherently. But even so, as strange as it may sound, I still think it is quite possible that you have built up an argument here that remains under a cloud of doubt.

    It seems to me that your case against “covet” is largely based on what you think would make “sense” to us in the modern western world. Because you think it is “absurd” that such an idea could be expressed today and because you wouldn’t say the same thing if you were the one speaking, then, to you, it cannot be saying what it has been purported to say for centuries according to tradition. I would say that this form of persuasion looks more like an intellectual attempt to reconcile “unacceptable” differences, but this may have little to do with “reality”. We know, particularly from Jesus, that juxtaposing mindsets can often yield some interesting results. On the other hand, Paul said that he “coveted” no one’s silver or gold or clothes (Acts 20:33) – not exactly a phrase we might use. But would anyone contend that he doesn’t make sense?

    Comment by Robert Kan | October 31, 2012

    • It seems to me that your case against “covet” is largely based on what you think would make “sense” to us in the modern western world.

      I’m not sure why you say that.

      My approach, both in general and here, is based on what the original meant when it was written. In this case, my evidence comes from how the Hebrew word chamad was used, and other than our preconceptions, I don’t see any evidence to point in the direction of “desire,” and lots of evidence against it.

      On the other hand, I do believe that by Jesus’ time the 10th commandment had already been reinterpreted to mean “desire.”

      Comment by Joel H. | November 1, 2012

  34. The reinterpretation theory leads me to postulate the following.

    “You shall not GO AFTER your neighbor’s house; you shall not GO AFTER your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

    “You shall not go after…” could have been understood to also imply “You shall not desire…” Desiring something precedes the action of going after it before eventually acquiring it.

    Comment by Robert Kan | November 1, 2012

    • James 1
      12 Blessed (happy, to be envied) is the man who is patient under trial and stands up under temptation, for when he has stood the test and been approved, he will receive [the victor’s] crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.
      13 Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one.
      14 But every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions).
      15 Then the evil desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully matured, brings forth death.
      16 Do not be misled, my beloved brethren.

      Comment by David B Severy | November 1, 2012

  35. Joel H., It isn’t wrong to want things, but it is wrong to want the things which belong to other people. That’s in part why we dislike the IRS! But Jesus takes us even further showing us that our desires can hinder our salvation! Luke 12:15 says it very well:

    Luke 12:15
    Amplified Bible (AMP)
    15 And He said to them, Guard yourselves and keep free from all covetousness (the immoderate desire for wealth, the greedy longing to have more); for a man’s life does not consist in and is not derived from possessing overflowing abundance or that which is over and above his needs.

    Deuteronomy 8:3
    He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

    Matthew 4:4
    Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

    Comment by David B Severy | November 1, 2012

  36. Has anyone considered the nature of the commandment if it were to mean “desire?” Look at the other commandments. Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, observe the sabbath etc. These are observable offences. They can all be enforced should someone break one of them. How do you enforce “wanting” something? How can you even tell if someone is “wanting” their neighbours things? Under this assumption, this is the only command given in the 10 you can’t observe which is highly unusual.

    Considering the concordance definition of “taking delight in” and the connection it has with “taking” we might be able to explain the word to have something to do with “using without permission.” This might help reconcile Exodus 34:24 to the meaning.

    Comment by Josh Gould | November 14, 2012

    • It is different somewhat, and in a way it is like a doorway into the sermon on the mount. Essentially everything that defiles us is from what is deep in our heart!! Jesus is after our hearts! Note verse Psalm 51:6 and 10. He also our minds, souls and strengths!

      Psalm 51
      1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

      2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

      3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

      4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

      5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

      6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

      7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

      8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

      9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

      10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

      11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

      12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

      13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

      Comment by David B Severy | November 14, 2012

  37. The Psalms are nothing more than a collection of prayers. Prayers of lament and prayers of thanksgiving. This prayer seems to be a lament. I see no correlation to the 10th commandment and I fail to see the purpose in posting it to this thread.

    Comment by Josh Gould | November 14, 2012

    • God forgives failure Josh. Me too!

      Comment by lambsev | November 14, 2012

  38. Joel,
    I’m not a traditionalist by nature. I just don’t think your case is as strong as you claim it is.

    A. The only text that seems clearly to indicate that chamad is not inward desire is Ex. 34:24. However, the fact that chamad there has to include some idea of actual taking does not mean that chamad can only mean that in other contexts. You seem to be reading a meaning required by one context into the actual denotation of the word. “X means Y in passage A, therefore X means Y in passage B.” Is this a valid way of arguing for the meaning of a word?

    B. Are you working with a false dichotomy? Your argument in A. seems to require that: “it means take, therefore it cannot also mean desire.” Either chamad means take (physical action) or desire (internal disposition)? Why can’t the semantic range of chamad include either or both, depending upon context? It really sounds like you’re oversimplifying here. “X either means Y or Z; it can’t mean Z, therefore it means Y.” Is this a sound way of arguing for the meaning of a word?

    C. The Deut. 7 and Josh. 7 passages only establish “connection” between chamad and lakach, but “connection” does not necessitate “near-synonymity,” as you seem to claim. [Inward desire–>resulting action] is also a connection. So, there’s a fallacy of presumption here, the presumption being [connection=near synonymity]. “These two words are connected, therefore they mean the same thing.” Is this a valid argument?

    D. You also simply assert that Prov. 6:25 supports your case by saying vaguely that that passage “puts the two verbs together.” But “putting two verbs together,” like “connection,” does not require that they mean the same thing. Furthermore, you don’t discuss at all the limitations on chamad in that context: the direct object “her beauty,” and the prepositional phrase “with/in your heart.” Now, these might be explained in a way that fits your claim, but you don’t actually do that.

    E. Your dismissal of Prov. 1:22 is not particularly consistent with the way you handle parallels in C. & D. Even granting the complexity of the line, chamad there does occur in parallel with two verbs of intention (as you concede). But somehow this tells us nothing at all about the meaning of chamad? Really? It doesn’t at least tell us that chamad fits with “love” and “hate”? I find it odd that the parallels in Deut. 7 & Josh. 7 automatically demonstrate synonymity, but that here the parallel gives no information at all.

    F. What’s your take on Micah 2:2? Chamad there is parallel to gazal, but parallel does not equal synonym. Indeed, v. 1 focuses on the nature of the people as those who plan and figure out evil well before they take action. Does v. 2’s chamad-gazal re-iterate the same pattern as v. 1, of internal disposition preceding action?

    G. What about Isa. 1:29? Chamad there is parallel to bachar, to choose, and the object is “oak/terebinth trees.” Did they take the trees?

    H. I’m not sure you’ve characterized the role of Greek translations fairly. Are the only options a mistake or a deliberate re-interpretation? It’s not possible that the Greek translator made some of these same considerations and decided that epithumeo was in fact a good translation? And so, we might want to take some account of that translation as evidence for what the verb means?

    So, in short, I’m not necessarily arguing against your claim about the verb chamad in substance. I’m just arguing against it in the form it takes here.

    Comment by Joshua W.D. Smith | December 16, 2012

    • Covetousness shows the hearts has taken the object, even if the hands have not.
      Just as in adultery lust in the heart has taken another’s spouse.

      Comment by lambsev | December 17, 2012

    • Joshua,

      Thank you for this very detailed rebuttal.

      I unfortunately don’t have time at the moment to reply with the kind at attention that I would like, but here are some quick thoughts.

      In general, I agree with some of your points, and disagree with others.

      My biggest question is whether you see any evidence that specifically points in the direction of “desire.” I don’t, though I do see lots of passages that are consistent with “desire.” So what I see is a lot of evidence that’s inconclusive, and a few passages that make “desire” very unlikely.

      So there’s no reason a word couldn’t mean both “desire” and “take,” but I don’t see any evidence of it.

      I think Isaiah 1:29 is your strongest case, but even there, I think both verbs — chamad and bachar — could be verbs of taking. Frequently, bachar (“choose”) is used of kings and of God, in which case it indicates not just wanting, but actually adopting a king or God. Equally, bachar often appears in parallel with other verbs of action, not of intention. (Incidentally, as it happens, the LXX has a different understanding of Isaiah 1:29.)

      I understand your confusion about how I present parallel structure. My claim is not that two words in parallel always mean the same thing. It’s obviously more complicated than that, and I gloss over some details that would become clear only in the light of much more complex analysis.

      Finally, the LXX in general is often a poor way to figure out what a Hebrew word means, not just here.

      As I say, your comments deserve a longer response, but regretfully this is all I have time for now.


      Comment by Joel H. | December 17, 2012

  39. Seems you were right Brother in Jesus Christ, watch this,

    Septuagint Exodus 20:17

    οὐκ (KEY WORD–>)ἐπιθυμήσεις()γυναῖκα(<–KEY WORD) τοῦ πλησίον σου. οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ πλησίον σου οὔτε τὸν ἀγρὸν αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὸν παῖδα αὐτοῦ οὔτε τὴν παιδίσκην αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ βοὸς αὐτοῦ οὔτε τοῦ ὑποζυγίου αὐτοῦ οὔτε παντὸς κτήνους αὐτοῦ οὔτε ὅσα τῷ πλησίον σού ἐστιν. (Ex 20:17 LXX)

    The words for חָמַד and אֵ֣שֶׁת in Hebrew are Chamad and Wife, which in The Septuagint(Greek translation of Old Testament) is translated ἐπιθυμήσεις(epithumeseis) and γυναῖκα(gunaika)

    Now watch this, Matthew 5:27-28(which is often misinterpreted) says this,

    Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· οὐ μοιχεύσεις. ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

    πρὸς τὸ(pros to) comes BEFORE ἐπιθυμῆσαι(epithumesai) so that makes it a verb, in order to, just like these verses, watch this,

    so now just like these verses, where it would be rendered IN ORDER TO,

    “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be noticed by them.” (Matt 6:1)

    Original Greek – Προσέχετε [a]δὲ τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑμῶν μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς· εἰ δὲ μή γε, μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν τῷ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

    “… First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles in order to burn them up ….” (Matt 13:30)

    Original Greek, 30 ἄφετε συναυξάνεσθαι ἀμφότερα [a]μέχρι τοῦ θερισμοῦ· καὶ ἐν καιρῷ τοῦ θερισμοῦ ἐρῶ τοῖς θερισταῖς· Συλλέξατε πρῶτον τὰ ζιζάνια καὶ δήσατε αὐτὰ εἰς δέσμας πρὸς τὸ κατακαῦσαι αὐτά, τὸν δὲ σῖτον συναγάγετε εἰς τὴν ἀποθήκην μου.

    “But they do all their deeds in order to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” (Matt 23:5)

    Original Greek – 5 πάντα δὲ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν ποιοῦσιν πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· πλατύνουσι [a]γὰρ τὰ φυλακτήρια αὐτῶν καὶ μεγαλύνουσι τὰ κράσπεδα,

    “For when she poured this perfume on my body, she did it in order to prepare me for burial.” (Matt 26:12)

    Original Greek – 12 βαλοῦσα γὰρ αὕτη τὸ μύρον τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ σώματός μου πρὸς τὸ ἐνταφιάσαι με ἐποίησεν.

    So with that said, Matthew 5:27-28 doesn't express a desire but an action, an intent. so if Jesus Christ was condemning lusting after a woman, He would have said whoever looks at a woman with lust commits adultery,

    but it says whoever looks at a woman in order to….

    So their is an intent on the look in order to do something.

    and since it uses epithumesai which was used as covet in Exodus 20:17 and it refers to adultery, and James 1:15 says that lust gives birth to sin but isn't sin itself, Jesus Christ presents an action.

    So after that it is,

    " You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a married woman to covet her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

    but if covet is used in modern day definition, it would be rendered, "You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a married woman to desire her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

    That would make no sense, you don't look at a woman to want her, you either do or don't, also desire isn't an Action which is expressed in the verse, so it cannot be a desire.

    and as you proven the 10 Commandments Chamad should mean take, which fits well with the action Jesus Christ is trying to present.

    So Matthew 5:27-28 should be rendered,

    You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a married woman with the intention of taking her(stealing her from the husband or cheating with her) has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

    or You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who intends to cheat(or take) a married woman, has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

    Added with The 8th Commandment of Thou Shall Not Steal, the word for steal is ganab and that can mean Kidnap, and is used in Exodus 21(Exodus 21:16 – Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.) for kidnap,

    so the 10 commandments are,

    1, You shall have no other gods before Yahweh(The True God, The Trinity of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit)
    2, You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
    3, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
    4, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
    5, Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
    6, You shall not murder.
    7, You shall not commit adultery.
    8, You shall not Kidnap
    9, You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
    10, “You shall not take(steal) your neighbor’s house. You shall not take(steal) your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”


    Which means slavery was always a sin and condemned by God(The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit), and looking at a woman lustfully isn't a sin(but a God given desire)

    Comment by SavedByChrist94 | January 20, 2013

  40. My thoughts are that chamad might be more in line with usurp…to not usurp and take over another’s first right or claim.

    Comment by Eyes2see | August 5, 2013

  41. I notice people are citing Deuteronomy 5:21 as if it’s proof that Desire is being condemned,

    The word used for Desire here is Avah, problem is that there are, Correct me if I am wrong, 2 Avah’s,

    http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/183.htm and http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/5753.htm

    One means desire while the other means “do amiss, bow down, make crooked, commit iniquity, pervert, do perversely, trouble, turn,

    A primitive root; to crook, literally or figuratively (as follows) — do amiss, bow down, make crooked, commit iniquity, pervert, (do) perverse(-ly), trouble, X turn, do wickedly, do wrong. ”

    So Deuteronomy 5:21 probably supports that stealing is condemned, what are your thoughts Joel?

    Also 8th commandment uses word Ganab which can mean Kidnap and according to some Jewish people does mean that

    Comment by SavedByChrist94 | October 23, 2013

  42. […] entirely within a person’s thoughts. But even here, there’s some disagreement. Dr. Joel Hoffman makes an interesting case for seeing even the tenth commandment as legislating in the realm of action, with chemed being a […]

    Pingback by Double Mitzvah – Yitro – Jewrotica | January 17, 2014

  43. The word chamad meaning is to choose, to separate, to select, to pick out from heap (an untidy collection of things piled up haphazardly)

    Comment by Vinio Jubilee | February 22, 2014

    • Why do you think so?

      Comment by Joel H. | March 11, 2014

      • Pro 12:12 The wicked “chamad” the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous is “nathan”

        We can say this verse in other words:
        1. The root of righteousness is nathan (all-giving, devotion).
        We believe in God’s words, all sets of do’s and dont’s. It’s an attitude of faithfulness
        2. The root of wickedness is chamad (picky)
        We choose only what we think is good for us, comfortable for us. We know that God is all-knowing, but we deny partly. It’s the seed of faithlesness.

        Thus why chamad is prohibited.

        God bless you

        Comment by Vinio Jubilee | March 22, 2014

  44. The argument hinges on assumptions about what the Hebrews were concerned their neighbors might do (which we cannot know) and on parallelism in a non-poetic text. There is NO actual linguistic evidence to support saying terms translated “covet” and “take” really mean the same thing. I desire for the chamad to mean something other than covet in the Decalogue, but unfortunately Dr. Hoffman has given no evidence to help me do so.

    Comment by Nick Matthews | April 13, 2014

    • I don’t think we have to guess what the Hebrew were concerned about. My point is that the context of being afraid that someone will chamad your property in your absence suggests that chamad is something only likely to be done when you’re not around. “Taking” fits, but “wanting” does not.

      And I’m not sure why you say there is no linguistic evidence. Reliable linguistic evidence comes only in the form of context, and all of it points in a single direction: chamad means “to take.”

      Comment by Joel H. | April 14, 2014

      • The logic is all good but the real question, Joel, is whether “to take” is the only meaning that fits. I can see “to seek” or “to pursue” as fitting as well. Can you not see that?

        Comment by Robert Kan | April 17, 2014

      • I don’t think that “take” is the only possibility, but I do think it’s the most likely.

        Forget for a moment that you already think you know what the verb means, and forget for a moment how important it is to the Ten Commandments.

        We have a puzzle:

        1. What is the opposite of “give” (Proverbs 12:12)?

        2. What is similar to “take” (Deuteronomy 7:25, Joshua 7:21, Proverbs 6:25)?

        3. What is something more likely to be done to your land when you’re away temporarily (Exodus 34:24)?

        (For those just joining the conversation, I summarize these cases in my “Exploring the Bible” video:

        and go through all of the evidence in detail in And God Said.)

        I think (3) rules out “covet” or any other state of mind; that’s my main point. Chamad is an action of some sort.

        As for what action, your suggestion of “try to take” (“pursue”) is an option, but I don’t see any evidence to point toward “pursue” and away from “take.” Do you?

        My best guess is that chamad means “to take temporarily.” That’s consistent with Exodus 34:24. But my interpretation of the nuance is a guess.

        What evidence do you see that prompts you to reject “take” as a translation?

        Comment by Joel H. | April 17, 2014

      • The evidence is right there in your question “2” as well as your article – “…chamad is like lakach. That is, to chamad is to take in some way, not to want in some way.” In fact, you have never disputed that lakach means “to take”. So you seem complacent by accepting the same meaning for both words.

        As far as my perspective goes, your argument is incomplete and that’s enough for me to reject your assertion that “take” is the most likely meaning.

        Comment by Robert Kan | April 18, 2014

  45. I propose “to pick” for the translation. There’s a slight difference between “to take” and “to pick”

    To “take” is to choose those things that you want, and to make them yours.

    To “pick” is to choose perhaps somewhat more selectively than “take”, but the word doesn’t imply that you are now in possession of the thing.

    Comment by Vinio Jubilee | April 18, 2014

  46. The problem with “to pick” is that it isn’t an adequate answer to Joel’s first and third questions (see his previous comment).


    “Grab” and “capture” have already been suggested in previous comments but you didn’t respond to these. The pairing of “grab (or capture) and take” for Deuteronomy 7:25 and Joshua 7:21 sounds plausible.

    I would also propose “to encroach”.

    Comment by Robert Kan | April 19, 2014

  47. So, I wrote a blog post on this topic today: Thou shalt not “covet”

    Thanks for stimulating my thoughts.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist | April 26, 2016

  48. I suppose that I will give here my own idea as to the meaning of the word chamad so that no one needs to read my entire post about it (unless you want to.) So, the meaning that I assigned is: “to accept as payment for debt.” Plug that into the various scriptures that have chamad and notice what comes of it.

    Comment by LDS Anarchist | April 27, 2016

  49. Just a simple comment, I’m no scholar. But to me it makes perfect sense that “chamad” would mean want, desire, or covet, similar to the progression of desire to sin in Genesis, when Eve looked on the forbidden and seen it was desirable to make one wise, she took and eat of it, or the discription of temptation in James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death”. And this passage in Romans 7:7, where Paul comments, “What shall we say then? Is the law of sin? May never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to no sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about “coveting” if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet”. NASB. I know in the KJV it uses “lust”. Maybe these have more to do with the mechanisms and mechanics of sinning, but seem to have their basis in the covetousness, to me anyhow…Thank you, for your time. GB

    Comment by ljm58 | July 7, 2016

  50. What did you conclude after all these years? I have always used “lust after,” not so much because “covet” is wrong (the range of meaning from “desire (to have)” or “want to take” to “obsessively want to take” to “plan to take” seems right to me, but always short of “take”), but because people don’t really have any inherent intuition about what covet means, except by reference to the KJV (often: simply guessing from context).
    It’s almost always better to choose a word that is in common use, to avoid the circularity and stodginess of an out-of-date, even if poetically prized, word like “covet,” even if people are fond of the KJV cadence. Again, my vote is for “lust after” because it has the right connotations (e.g. “lusting after the neighbor’s wife” seems a perfect replacement for “covet…”, though “lusting after a Lamborghini” [standing in for other things that belong to the neighbor] might be in the wrong register?).

    Comment by Pinchas Emanuel Marcano | May 3, 2017

  51. Since the other commandments are essentially enforceable by law (even “honoring” parents, which can manifest itself as actions of honor or dishonor), chamad is most likely something beyond a psychological desire. However, that doesn’t mean that epithumeseis is an entirely incorrect translation any more than eleos is as a translation of chesed. As in that case, it may be inadequate rather than inaccurate. Especially in light of other words that share its root, chamad may at least imply desire along with the action it describes, especially if that action is scheming. If the Israelite community were to uncover a plot to steal someone/something, that’s something they could prosecute. At that point, it’s more than a desire-based thoughtcrime; it’s the initial step in attempted theft.

    Comment by criticmamoreno | January 4, 2019

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