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Chapter 2 - Who is rich?
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. - Matthew 6:21
In Western society today the average welfare recipient lives a life of greater prosperity than most emperors and kings in history. Air conditioning and central heating, hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, 24 hour entertainment, and health care more effective than leeches or blood letting.
It is difficult to talk about riches because most people think it is a subject that only applies to others. There are people with millions of dollars that think the word rich does not apply to them. In a way, the subject of 'riches' has two hurdles to overcome. The first is that it applies to all of us and the second is that it is an internal condition rather than an external circumstance. It can be instructive to consider what happened to an entire nation that was deceived by riches.
Moses gave a warning to the nation of Israel when they were about to move into the land of Canaan. They were to inherit houses that did not need to be built, land that did not need to be cleared, vineyards, that did not need to be planted, and wells that did not need to be dug. Having been through forty years of hardship, they found it difficult to consider that their most difficult challenge lay before them, that of prosperity.
And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. - Deuteronomy 6:10-12
Here an entire population would be faced with sudden relative prosperity and ease (especially considering the privations of the previous 40 years in the wilderness). What happened to the nation of Israel can be instructive for us. First they got conned because they trusted in their own understanding even though God had given them several ways to know his will.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. - Joshua 9:14-15
Even after this blunder, they did not seek the counsel of the Lord, but wanted to use their own plans to 'solve' the problem.
And the princes said unto them, Let them live; but let them be hewers of wood and drawers of water unto all the congregation; as the princes had promised them. And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God. - Joshua 9:21-23
Slavery can look very attractive to the one who benefits from the labor of others. In a way, the labor of others can be seen as a type of riches. However, it is deceitful because apparent initial ease inclines us to not consider the long term corruptive effects.
And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves. - Judges 3:5-7
One way to measure 'riches" can be obesity. In most of history obesity was limited to the wealthy as those who were poor had little time or resources to allocate to gluttony. The obesity epidemic of today is indicative of the relative widespread distribution of 'riches'. Like the nation of Israel, we have used prosperity to indulge ourselves, forget to seek of the Lord, lean on our own understanding, and become seduced by false gods.
Further hindering our ability to see ourselves as vulnerable to the deceitfulness of riches is our being bombarded by political demagogs who incite hatred of 'the rich' (meaning some other people). We can come to reflexively think that 'rich" only applies to others. In all fairness many rich people acquired their wealth by less than noble means. However, listening to these almost constant exhortations can create in us discontent and even hatred and division besides blinding us to understanding that the dangers to the 'rich' also include us.
To get a better idea of how the word 'rich" might apply to us we should consider a group of people considered the opposite of 'rich' in the bible.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:3
At first glance the 'blessedness' of being 'poor in spirit' might seem elusive. The word used for 'poor' is ptochos which means absolute poverty. The sound the word makes in Greek is the sound of someone spitting (it may have been customary in ancient Greece to spit on beggars). It implied someone who had absolutely nothing and no hope of ever having anything. It came to mean someone whose trust in the Lord was not in any way obstructed by pride, possessions, or possibilities.
The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends. - Proverbs 14:20
In contrast, those who might be considered 'rich' would be anyone who had anything. If we cannot see ourselves as having 'riches' we are unlikely to get any benefit from warnings regarding how these riches can harm us.
To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it. - Jeremiah 6:10
For an example of how riches can cause harm when people are deceived, we can consider the post WWII generation. Almost en-mass they populated suburbia and raised their children with every possible indulgence and material prosperity that well meaning parents could provide. This produced a crop of self-indulgence manifest in the drug and sex revolutions as well as almost unprecedented self-righteousness and ingratitude.
The damage caused by prosperity at the societal level is plain to see. What is less clear is at the individual level,
He who has an evil and covetous eye hastens to be rich and knows not that want will come upon him. - Proverbs 28:22
Here we see that just the desire for wealth can result in a loss of discernment or blindness such that a man can become vulnerable to disadvantageous circumstances.
He who is of a greedy spirit stirs up strife, but he who puts his trust in the Lord shall be enriched and blessed. - Proverbs 28:25
Here we have described a consequence of greed, strife (or contention). It might be expected that one who eagerly seeks that which others also grasp after will find that he is entangled in disputes.
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; But he that hateth bribes shall live. - Proverbs 15:27
Here is an intriguing statement that greed can cause trouble within a household. One might surmise that an elevated interest in gain might be accompanied by a proportional deemphasis on the importance of familial relationships. If people within a family feel that they are valued less than the things the family owns, they might become resentful.
And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not. - 2 Peter 2:3
Greed can lead people to deceive with words and use others as if they were disposable commodities. There are many other negative effects that cause riches to be deceitful. What is important is that we are aware that these influences can damage a life regardless of if the person has one million dollars, or just one.
The righteousness of the upright [their rectitude in every area and relation] shall deliver them, but the treacherous shall be taken in their own iniquity and greedy desire. - Proverbs 11:6 AMP
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