The tenth commandment excludes covetousness—of anything. In this portion of Deuteronomy, we see many different ways in which covetousness will work its way out if the command is not heeded. The eighth commandment prohibited stealing. The ninth commandment prohibited “legalized” stealing through false witness. The tenth commandment prohibits “legalized” stealing through false motives. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn . . .” (Dt. 25:4-19).
The animal which treads out the grain is to be treated as one of your workmen (v. 4). Turning from this we have regulations concerning the practice of levirate marriage (vv. 5-10). The first part concerns the fulfillment of this duty (vv. 5-6), and the second concerns what is to be done if the brother-in-law refuses to do his duty (vv. 7-10). If a woman seeks to help her husband in a fight by seizing his opponents private parts, then she is to have her hand chopped off, with no pity shown (vv. 11-12). God demands a system of equal weights and measures (vv. 13-16). And Israel is then commanded to remember the cruelty done to them by Amalek (vv. 17-19).
Let’s start with oxen. The sheaves of grain would be placed on the threshing floor, and oxen would be used to drag a heavy sledge over the grain. As he worked, an ox was not to be denied enjoyment of the fruit he was helping to produce. This is a law of life. Paul reasons from this law in two different places. In 1 Corinthians 9:8-12, he reasons a fortiori, “how much more.” The principle found here applies to all of life, to all who work. In 1 Timothy 5:17-18, he applies the law to provision for elders who rule well.
Then we come to levirate marriage. The phrase for this practice comes from the Latin word levir, meaning brother-in-law, and not from the tribe of Levi. If there are two brothers, living together, and one of them dies, the surviving brother is to marry his sister-in-law, and the first born son from this union is then reckoned as the son of the deceased brother. This is a law about inheritance, property, and covenant succession. This is seen in the reason a man might have for being derelict in this. Consider Onan (Gen. 38:1-10), or the unnamed relative of Ruth’s deceased husband (Ruth 4:6f). A man could legally refuse to do this, but he suffered social reproach if he did so. If he stood by his refusal in front of the elders, then his sister-in-law took off his shoe, and spit in his face. It is interesting to note (in connection with the next law), that the foot in Hebrew was a euphemism for the private parts. From that time on, this reproach was attached to his lineage.
Then there is the law about a woman intervening to stop a fight. It is unlikely that the problem described here is one of immodesty. Rather, the woman is attacking her husband’s assailant in a way that could affect his ability to conceive an heir. The response is to be a strict application of lex talionis.
God insisted on equal weights and measures. One of the reasons why God would shorten their days in the land was His hatred of shorting the customer. A man with his thumb on the scales is an abomination to God. All such sharp dealing God hates. This exposition comes under the tenth commandment, but it also (obviously) a violation of the eighth as well.
While there is a charge to remember Amalek’s cruelty to the weak and defenseless, and God’s response to it, the reason this is placed here is so that Israel will not become like Amalek in her business and legal dealings. Businessmen who prey on society’s stragglers have to answer to God. There are countless examples of this in modern life.
The tenth commandment prohibits heart-lusting after the possessions of others. Whenever this sin reigns, the covetousness will come out in some way. It is never unexpressed. But as the exposition of this command and the previous one have shown, God does not have variable weights and measures. He sees what you have your eye on. And he also sees all the legal means you might come up with to obtain what you want. But legal is not synonymous with right.