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D'varim/Deuteronomy 8:18 And you shall remember the L-rd your G-d, because He is the one who gave you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant
This week's text is addressed to the Israelites who will have been enjoying the good things that are to be found in the Land of Israel, the Promised Land. Moshe warns them that "when you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered" (D'varim 8:12-13, NJPS), there is a significant risk that the people will attribute the wealth and comfort in which they are taking so much pleasure to their own effort and work in and on that land. His words sound loud and clear in the people's ears: "Beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the L-RD your G-d ... and you say to yourselves, 'My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me'" (vv. 14,17, NJPS). The remedy? To remember whatHaShem had done in the past - which created their present - and was still doing: enabling and empowering their life each day. Jeffrey Tigay confirms, "if Israel forgets all that G-d did for it in the past, it is liable to think that all its prosperity is due to its own power. Moshe reminds it that the very power which leads to prosperity is a gift of G-d.
Our text contains two Hebrew nouns with overlapping ranges of meaning. The first is , which is used 125 times in Tanakh, from an unused root . David Clines lists meanings such as strength, ability, power (of a king or YHVH, produce of the ground and wealth.1 The second is - used 267 times in Tanakh, from the root , to dance, bear, tremble, be strong, wait (Davidson) - for which Clines' list reads: power, strength, might, property, wealth.2 Others also suggest integrity or honour. Older translations favour the word 'valour'. Perhaps the most familiar usage of this word is , the Woman of Valour described in Proverbs 31:10-31. Clines notes that the verb/noun combination , literally, to make or do weaalth, is used for the process of acquiring riches or becoming wealthy.
Moshe makes a statement that today would seem rather controversial: that HaShem gives His people the strength or power to generate wealth. Much of the church world - based, perhaps on Yeshua's comment that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24, ESV), or His warning about laying up "treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" (6:19, ESV) - is very negative about wealth, teaching that poverty is more appropriate for believers. Those who follow what is known as the "prosperity gospel" - that G-d intends all believers to be both healthy and wealthy if they will just believe it and claim it - are looked upon with grave suspicion (or hostility) by the vast majority for whom that is simply not true, fueled of course by the stories and reports of opulent lifestyles of a few who have abused their positions and gifts to enrich themselves at the expense of others.
In fact, as our text shows, Moshe goes further: not only has HaShem given His people the strength or power to generate wealth, but He has done so in order to establish His covenant as He promised the patriarchs He would. "G-d grants power and ability to his people for a special purpose", Peter Craigie insists: "it is in order to establish His covenant."3 This implies that wealth is a sign or proof of the covenant, or at least a key part of it. What are we to make of this? RabbiHirsch attempts to ground these blessings in dependence on God: "Strength, everything, all that makes your creative personality and your capacity to earn, the intelligence, the skill, the considering foresight, the physical and mental health, every factor of your existence, of what you wish for, and are able to accomplish, is not the result of the food you eat but as given to you directly from G-d. And so also the combination of external circumstances which bring about the possibility and the success of your work and endeavours, is dependent on Him and Him alone. He gives you the strength, the power to 'make' your fortune." Christopher Wright makes the same point: "The fact is that all human strength, gifts, abilities and life itself, along with the material resources out of which the wealth has been created, are the gift of G-d. We are as little the makers of our own strength as we are the makers of the earth."4
Patrick Miller sees this text as "the clear and difficult word to a later generation of prosperity that has long experienced the blessing of G-d. Have you forgotten that the L-rd is the one who gives you power to get wealth? If so, it is necessary to go back to the wilderness and the boundary to learn the lesson afresh."5 It is that memory of G-d, of His actions in the past that holds everything together. And it is "in the very reiteration of that memory, however, the speaker knows that memory is in jeopardy," Walter Brueggemann cannily observes. "Gifts without givers become property and occasions for self-enhancement. Thus it is anticipated that the very Israel who has been incapable of doing anything to sustain itself will soon imagine that its own power - and not the limitless power of YHVH - has given this circumstance of satiation."6 The mere fact of having to instruct the people to remind themselves about this shows Moshe how easily they will (and did) forget.
The early Sages turn the blessing of wealth into one of the challenges or tests of discipleship. According to this paradigm, wealth is provided as a means of testing, to see how people will respond. "Happy the man who can withstand the test, for there is none whom G-d does not prove. He tries the rich man to see if his hand will be opened unto the poor, and the poor man He tries in order to see whether he will accept chastisement without repining" (Shemot Rabbah 31:30). We can see the same thoughts at work in the book of James (which probably predates the Midrash by several hundred years): "How blessed is the man who perseveres through temptation! For after he has passed the test, he will receive as his crown the Life which God has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12, CJB).
Now we come back to Yeshua's words again: "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 G-d and money" (Matthew 6:24, CJB). It isn't wealth in and of itself that is wrong. A certain level of wealth is necessary for society to function. What matters is the attitude towards money, the relationship that people have with it. Is money simply a tool, a medium of exchange that allows people to earn a living and meet their necessary expenses, or is money something to be gathered and hoarded, something of which you must always have more but never seem to have enough? Here's the question: does money serve you, or do you serve money?
Rav Sha'ul warned Timothy that, "the love of money is a root of all the evils; because of this craving, some people have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves to the heart with many pains" (1 Timothy 6:10, CJB). We must correctly hear what he says and what he doesn't say. He doesn't say that money is evil, that people shouldn't earn or have money, that they shouldn't make reasonable retirement plans to ensure that they don't become destitute when they retire, that they shouldn't carry life insurance to provide for their dependents in the event of unexpected death. These are all sensible things, meeting Sha'ul's admonition just a little earlier in the same letter that "anyone who does not provide for his own people, especially for his family, has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (5:8, CJB). He does say that the love of money is the root of evil: putting it first, always talking about it, can't get enough it it, envious of what other people have - all of which can lead to dishonesty, corruption and worse. As the writer to the Hebrews put is, "Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for G-d Himself has said, 'I will never fail you or abandon you'" (Hebrews 13:5, CJB).
We must remember that it is G-d who give us the strength and life to earn money as a means of providing for our needs, of fulfilling His covenant and enabling us, in turn, to give and provide for others including those who do not have the strength or power to provide for themselves. That is the way the kingdom works. G-d's generosity and, in turn, our generosity are together a sign of the covenant and, under G-d's hand, establish the covenant in our lives for His people.
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 174.
2. - Ibid., page 115.
3. - P. C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), page 189.
4. - Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), page 128.
5. - Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 117.
6. - Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), page 110.
Further Study: Psalm 127:1-2; Galatians 6:9-10; Revelation 3:10-12
Application: How can you exercise the strength that G-d has given you to generate wealth, goodwill, social capital or integrity and so work with Him to establish His covenant in your life and the lives He has placed around you? Why not ask the Boss for His ideas? You may be surprised and blessed at the same time.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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