There are 2 primary Hebrew words for the word “covet.”
First, there is the Hebrew word avah and it means “to desire something earnestly.” It includes desiring things not proper. It can even express a discontentment with what God has already provided.
Second, there is the Hebrew word chamad and it means “to take delight in or to desire something strongly.” It is a self-interest driven word. The same word is used in Genesis 3:6 – “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired (chamad) to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
Both these words refer to strong desires that are hard to simply push aside.
Coveting is the desire to have something which one does not have, or which one does not think he or she has enough of. In brief, coveting is a wanting more. Coveting is the lack of contentment. As Habakkuk put it, “His greed is as wide as Sheol, like death, he has never enough” (Hab. 2:5). Someone who covets is never satisfied and always wants more. Coveting wants not only what one does not have, but what one cannot have. It wants what is forbidden, that which belongs to another and which cannot be obtained.
The emphasis is upon desiring something greatly that doesn’t belong to you or that God didn’t intend for you to possess – whether it is someone’s mate or his home or the things he owns or his servants or his animals or anything that belongs to someone else.
Coveting is internal. It is an internal attitude. It is a consuming desire. It is an evil attitude, which will likely lead to an evil act. Coveting is a kind of conspiracy in one’s soul to commit evil. James 1:14-15 unpacks how this desire manifests itself:
“But each person is tempted when he is lured (Greek word means “to be lured like animal by bait”) and enticed by his own desire. (or a desire to fulfill the flesh) Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Coveting is selfish. This means the one who covets is willing to gain at the expense of others. The covetousness which is condemned in Scripture is that which wants what one’s neighbor has. So this kind of covetousness is clearly self-centered. Someone who covets will ultimately do whatever is necessary to acquire what they sinfully desire.
Covetousness is synonymous with idolatry. The Ten Commandments began with a prohibition of idolatry, and they end with a prohibition of covetousness, which is another form of idolatry. The reason for this is that if you lack contentment and what God has given, you are also saying God is not enough. So you are putting another god before Him. Ephesians 5:3-6 says,
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:3-6).
A covetous man is an idolater.
So, to summarize, covering it desiring something improper for us to possess, because God has given us everything He wants us to have.