One of the most controversial doctrines which has been taught over the last 30 years or so is that of divine prosperity, the concept that it is not God’s will for Christian believers to live in poverty, but to actually have more financial resources than barely-enough-to-survive. I’d estimate that it’s the 3rd most controversial doctrine out there, the #1 spot being held by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues and the second one being divine healing, both of which I have already addressed in depth here at Miscellaneous Ramblings.
Many assume poverty and financial lack (as well as physical sickness) are part of the sufferings we endure for the cause of Christ. If financial poverty is the result of persecution for righteousness sake because a person has been dispossessed due to his or her public stand for Christ, then yes, that is indeed true. Even as I write, this is precisely what Syrian and Iraqi believers are suffering at the hands of ISIS and what North Korean and Chinese believers are experiencing, not to mention those in a host of other Muslim and Communist countries around the world.
However, in the absence of persecution, this concept is totally unscriptural. Since I’ve already explored what defines suffering for Jesus’ sake in a previous article, I will not rehash that topic here.
There are a host of other religious misconceptions within Christendom (the organized and institutional expression of Christianity) about money, God’s view of it, and how we as believers should relate to it. In this series of articles, we will use both testaments of the Scriptures to explore precisely what the Word specifically says on the matter of money.
We will approach this topic with a total disregard for church/denominational traditions and the writings of long-dead theologians. Echoing the Protestant reformers, sola scriptura! (only Scripture!) will be our rallying cry for the duration of our time here and we will allow the Scriptures alone to interpret themselves, using the original languages as necessary.
Then when we’re done, you can then decide for yourself on the matter.
The Origins of Poverty
As with all explorations of Christian doctrine, it is crucial we ascertain God’s original intent and plan for mankind before Adam and Eve messed things up for the rest of us. I won’t go into each and every specific applicable verse leading up to The Rebellion (aka The Fall of Man), but there isn’t an honest Christian theologian on the planet who would disagree with the assumption that all of Adam and Eve’s needs were met in abundance during their time in Eden, specifically:
- They had access to every herb and the fruit of every tree in the garden other than the one God had forbidden. Their diet had variety and good flavor.
- It seems that there were no seasons or weather events as we know them prior to the Rebellion, so Adam and Eve had no need of shelter and/or clothing for warmth. Whatever climate existed in Eden was neither hostile to Adam and Eve personally nor did it cause weather-related disasters, such as drought, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and the like. Wildfires were also unknown, because everything was watered properly.
- None of the animals, birds, insects, and plant life in Eden were hostile to them or their food supply, so they had nothing attacking them physically or trying to consume their foodstuffs (e.g., plagues of locusts devouring crops in their fields, vermin eating the grain, weeds consuming soil nutrients, etc.), leaving Adam and Eve hungry.
- There were no diseases or parasites to attack the farmers themselves, their crops, or their livestock.
In other words, life was GOOD! They had nothing within Eden that would steal, kill, or destroy any aspect of their lives.
Then they rebelled and everything went down the toilet.
When Adam and Eve rebelled, God spoke specific curses on all parties involved, starting with the Tempter himself. The verses relevant to our topic here are His words to Adam:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:17-19
Here is a summary of the curse:
- The ground would be uncooperative in Adam’s efforts to till it.
- Weeds, a hitherto unknown plant form, would now compete with Adam’s crops for the nutrients in the soil
Implied — because we’ve seen them in action across the earth throughout history — but not specifically listed are these:
- Insects and vermin would eat the crops in the field and the harvest in the storehouse.
- Plant and animal diseases and parasites as well as weather phenomena would destroy crops and livestock.
- Armies would steal the harvested grains and livestock to feed themselves or outright destroy them and the farmland itself (e.g., “sowing the fields with salt”) and contaminate water wells to deny those resources to the nations they were invading.
- Thieves would steal the produce and rustle farm animals for their own profit.
- Birds and herbivores would eat the crops and predators would kill and eat the livestock.
- Kings, chieftains, and petty tyrants would tax and confiscate their subjects’ crops and livestock, lining their own coffers to finance wars, profligate lifestyles, and grandiose building projects.
- The priests of idolatrous religions would demand portions of people’s crops and livestock — in some cases, even their children — as offerings to be sacrificed to their false gods.
- Diseases and plagues would afflict heads of households, often killing them outright, or they either volunteered for or were conscripted into their nations’ military forces and would die in battle. In both cases, their deaths left their widows and orphaned children destitute.
- Heads of households who became adulterers, drunkards, drug addicts, and criminals would in many cases abandon their families, thus also leaving their wives and children destitute.
The bottom line is that there has been a veritable host of “thieves” who would “steal, kill, and destroy” from those trying to subsist by the sweat of their brows from the moment Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden up until the present day. Prior to that watershed moment in history, those thieves did not exist, and were, therefore, not a part of God’s original plan for mankind.
The first patriarch in the Bible we will deal with, at least chronologically speaking, is Job. Job’s experience and the theological implications of his account are the basis for some of the complete nonsense masquerading as Christian theology nowadays. I’ve delved into his story in-depth elsewhere at Miscellaneous Ramblings, so I will confine my discussion here to Job’s situation before and after his trials:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East… Job 1:1-3
…And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before…Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.Job 42:10,12
We can safely conclude from the opening verses that Job was a kind of patriarchal Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, fabulously wealthy, yet, in his specific case, righteous in God’s sight. Please note that God didn’t say here that “Job was righteous, except for the fact he was rich.”
Please also note that after it was all said and done, though Satan had stolen, killed, and destroyed everything in Job’s life other than his wife, God did not leave him in that state, but restored everything to him that he had lost twice over. So we can also safely conclude that, had riches been a sin problem for people in general, God would not have restored those riches to him because as the Apostle James put it:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. —James 1:13
God will never, never, EVER establish us in wrongdoing or reward us for sin. So if prosperity was inherently wrong or sinful, we can safely conclude that God would not have restored Job’s wealth.
Abraham is crucial to our discussion here because he is the very first person in history — at least that is recorded in the Scriptures — with whom God Almighty established a blood covenant, a covenant which became the very basis for Jesus incarnation and atonement for our sins. Again, I’ve already dealt with the ramifications of that covenant elsewhere here at Miscellaneous Ramblings here and here.
So let’s take a look at some verses dealing with Abraham and wealth:
Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. Genesis 13:1
Lot also, who went with Abram, had flocks and herds and tents. Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. Genesis 13:5 (emphasis mine)
Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. Genesis 14:14-16 (emphasis mine)
Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Genesis 15:13-14 (emphasis mine)
Then Abimelech took sheep, oxen, and male and female servants, and gave them to Abraham; and he restored Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelech said, “See, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you.” Then to Sarah he said, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; indeed this vindicates you before all who are with you and before everybody.” Genesis 20:14-16 (emphasis mine)
So he said, I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. Genesis 24:34-35 (emphasis mine)
I just want to point out that when Abraham went out to rescue Lot and company, he led a private militia of 318 trained warriors who handily defeated a much larger force. These skilled warriors existed for the sole purpose of protecting Abraham, Inc. and were above and beyond the huge staff required to maintain the rest of Abraham’s commercial operations.
That in and of itself is impressive, but to folks who have engaged in and/or studied the military arts, that implies much, much more than just over 300 warriors. It also means that Abraham possessed the logistical capability to train and support that many men — and their families — with food, shelter, clothing, armaments, and the support services of specialized artisans such as armorers, bowyers, fletchers, swordsmiths, spear-makers, cobblers, and those who would supply the raw materials needed for those artisans to ply their respective crafts.
I think it’s safe to say that Abraham was pretty well off financially, far richer than any of us could dream of being, apparently even richer than Job. It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Genesis account does God rebuke Abraham for his wealth, command Abraham to divest himself of that wealth, or otherwise consider Abraham’s financial abundance to be a negative spiritual influence.
Actually, the exact opposite is stated: everywhere Abraham went and everything that Abraham did were blessed by the Almighty in abundance!
King David was the original Horatio Alger story: a young shepherd boy who rose from total obscurity to the throne of Israel. Under David’s 40-year rule, Israel entered its Golden Age and, through his conquest of neighboring pagan nations, its territory ultimately stretched from the Red Sea to the Euphrates River, encompassing all of modern-day Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, as well as most of Syria and Iraq, roughly 50,000 square miles in area.
After David’s death, this vast nation was ruled over by David’s son, Solomon, for another 40 years, the second half of Israel’s Golden Age. Solomon’s initial encounter with the Lord Almighty after ascending to the throne of Israel is recorded in 1 Kings:
At Gibeon, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
And Solomon said: “You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.
And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days. So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” 1 Kings 2:5-14
To summarize this encounter, Solomon humbled himself before the Lord and sought His wisdom to rule well. God, pleased with Solomon’s humility and selflessness, rewarded him not only with what he had requested, but also with wealth and honor.
And, boy, did Solomon get blessed with wealth! There came a point where silver became so commonplace that it ceased to be a precious metal and was relegated to a similar status as bronze, copper, and tin. Estimates put Israel’s annual income at around $100,000,000 dollars, both from trade and from tribute paid by neighboring nations to keep Solomon from conquering them.
While many would like to think that money was the reason for Solomon’s backsliding into idolatry, actually the problem was that he violated one of God’s earliest commandments to the nation of Israel: make no alliances with pagan nations. You see, alliances between monarchies throughout history have almost always been cemented by intermarriage between the respective countries’ royal families. So to clinch all those alliances he wasn’t supposed to be making, Solomon had to marry a princess from the opposite kingdom. And it would not look well to bring the allied king’s baby girl to Israel and then make her give up her pagan gods — her displeasure would have gotten back to daddy and war would surely have been the result! — which is the very reason why God forbade alliances in the first place.
But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites — from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel: “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. And he had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. 1 Kings 11:1-4
It also seems like Solomon had some sort of sexual addiction compounding the alliance issue (“Solomon clung to these in love”), especially in light of the 300 concubines (or as one Sunday School toddler once stated, “300 porcupines” 🙂 ) he had in his harem.
It is from this man that we have received as Scripture the one book in the Bible that stands tall above the others in terms of the number of verses referring to the topic of finances: Proverbs. And that is where we are going next!
Thanks for reading!
Thanks Steve for another thought provoking, well thought out blog. looking forward to part 2