Riches and Prosperity in The OT

The Hebrew language supports a cultural interpretation of wealth as possessions, such as, land, crops, flocks and herds.  With a covenantal theocracy these were blessings promised by God congruent with Israel’s faithfulness to serve Him and Him only. …an agreement they broke.  Do we conclude that wealth is a blessing of the faithful?  Is this prosperity? Well, yes and no. Yes, prosperity is the result often of following God’s commands but not all prosperity translates as wealth.

Prosperity in the Old Testament is more correctly a success story or the result of a successful endeavor.  A prosperous journey accomplishes in the mind of the journeyman whatever he set out to accomplish—and little doubt in the way and timeframe he anticipated for it.  Such prosperity in the theocratic sense (Old Testament theology) is the result of honoring God’s counsel or wisdom.  Thus prospering is synonymous with listening to God.

Wealth until Solomon’s ruminations was not a common topic.  Solomon not only wrote about prosperity and riches because he was wise but because this was a responsible part of his life.  

The poor came on 2 levels: those who lived paycheck to paycheck and those who were unemployed.  In Old Testament terms, day laborers were the first class, the “needy” who found work; beggars were the second.

Does any thing here imply that being poor is a sign of sinfulness? 

Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” — Haggai 1:4-6

I cannot conclude this absolutely.  Some poverty was clearly the result of disobedience to God, but in a more general way God thought kindly toward the poor and wanted those of means to be His instruments of mercy toward them.

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. — Deuteronomy 15:11


Another question worth asking is: must a blessing always be understood in material terms as possessions?  In the Old Testament, sadly, this was the mindset of most of the ancients. There was a relationship, to be sure, between following God’s commandments  and all levels of well-being and health, financial as well as physical  and political, but always prosperity translated into an immediate and natural benefit.  

To prosper spiritually or think of this life as an investment in the next was not in the language. We can not confirm that the Israelites in Bible days ever thought in terms of spiritual riches.  The idea of laying up “treasures in heaven⁠1 was an idea introduced by the Savior.

One more thing: the purpose behind this brief study is not to challenge one’s faith in God’s provisions or God’s promise to provide, nor do we want to suggest that wealthy believers have no scriptural basis for calling their fortunes a divine blessing.  But do we go so far as to suggest that wealth is always a “good and perfect gift” from God?⁠2  I think not.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth⁠3 of many wicked; — Psalm 37:16

And what about spiritual prosperity?  It would be John who would express such a sentiment,⁠4Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

1 Matthew 6:20
2 James 1:17
3 an uncommon word for wealth, “abundance.” See also Ecclesiastes 5:9 and Isaiah 60:5.
4 3 John 1:2
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