I do not know about you, but one of the scariest things for me is to sit through a Sunday school class where an Old Testament narrative is being studied. It is not because I do not esteem biblical narrative as I do the rest of the Scriptures or that I do not believe that its lessons are any less applicable to Christians today, but it is because there seem to be few teachers who understand how to read and how to teach biblical narrative. For instead of reading the text and searching for the intent of a particular author, many who teach biblical narrative treat them as nice little stories about a particular aspect of morality and apply Western moral concepts to its application.
For this reason, we have erected unbiblical conclusions and teachings about biblical stories and characters. Thus we teach that Abraham wavered in faith when he took Hagar as his wife and through her bore a son, though Moses does not make that judgment of him, and though Paul writes later of Abraham, “No distrust made him waver concerning the Promise of God, but he grew strong in faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rm. 4:20,21), and though Paul teaches that the birth of Ishmael happened to demonstrate God’s sovereign choice in election (cf. Rm. 9:7-13). From the misinterpretation of biblical narrative we also have created other false teachings as “listening to small, still voice of God” from the narrative of Elijah in the storm (cf. 1Kngs. 19:12), and have falsely judged other characters such as Rahab and the Hebrew midwives who, out of fear of God, told untruths to save the lives of God’s people, who were then not condemned but commended by God for their actions (cf. Josh. 2; Ex. 1:15-22).
Therefore, when we come to the matter of the wealth of American Christians, it is little surprise that some Christians run to certain Old Testament characters for justification of their use of it. For they look upon their own wealth and their heart’s desire for it, and then, instead of seeking for clear, biblical teaching on the matter, grasp for anything that they might use for justification of their materially licentious lifestyles. Thus, whenever one brings forth the charge of the Gospel not to love the world (cf. 1Jn. 2:15-17), not to store up for one’s self treasures on earth (cf. Mt. 6:19), to sell one’s possessions for the sake of the needy (cf. Lk. 12:32-34), and to love one’s neighbor as he loves himself (Mt. 22:39), defenses are raised behind certain Old Testament saints that in their minds thwart the demands of Christ. However, rather than dismissing such an act altogether (which I believe is an adequate response), let us look at some of these saints whom we use to justify our love of wealth.
The Wealth of King David and Solomon
King David–the man after God’s own heart. The one whom God chose from the last of Jesse’s sons to leave the life of humble shepherding to be the king of Israel. The one whom God chose to be a foreshadowing of his King who would reign forever over his people in truth and righteousness. If such a man possessed such great wealth and treasures, how can we not be justified in our own wealth if we too are a people after God’s own heart?
The first thing that is erroneous with such a question is a misunderstanding of our position when compared to David’s. First, David was the king of Israel. And being the king of a country, he by nature of the position was endowed with a certain wealth with which we who are not kings are not endowed. Wealth is part and parcel with earthly kingship, and we, no matter how highly we esteem ourselves, are not kings. Secondly, David’s kingship was a foreshadowing of the Kingship of King Jesus. David’s elevation to king by the choice of God was not for the purpose of making David materially wealthy, but it was to act as a picture of the future splendor in which the promised Messiah King would reign for all of eternity. And as such, it was a testimony to Israel and to the Nations that God would one Day raise up such a King who would rule the world in Majesty and Splendor. Therefore, the kingship and wealth of David existed not for David’s personal gain, but as a demonstration of God’s blessing upon his King–such a blessing we who are not kingly pictures of the Reigning Christ cannot claim.
Secondly, the comparison of our wealth to David’s is erroneous because it esteems David as infallible. For though David was indeed a picture of Christ in his kingship, he was still a man and still sinned against God. Therefore to conclude that David’s use of wealth was always honoring to God would be just as false as concluding that it is honoring to God to sleep with a man’s wife and then to send him to the frontlines of war to be killed so that he would not discover that the king had impregnated his wife. We cannot be so inconsistent with our hermeneutic so as to use it justify certain aspects our own failings by a man’s life and then use it to condemn that same man’s failings elsewhere. To do so would be dishonest to our own method of interpretation, and thus we would prove ourselves to be liars by it.
Likewise, the same can be said of King Solomon. Yes, Solomon was a king after David and was by nature of the position wealthy beyond comprehension, yet Solomon was a sinner as much as anyone of us is. To conclude that Solomon’s use of his wealth was always just and glorifying to God would demand one to conclude that it is just and glorifying to God to have a thousand wives and concubines and by them to have one’s heart turned away to foreign gods (cf. 1Kngs. 11:1-8). We cannot be so wicked as to pick and choose which sins we love, on the one hand, and justify those sins by the lives of others and then, on the other hand, use the same rule to condemn the sins of those same people because we do not love those sins.
The Wealth of Job
The story of Job and his wealth is indeed different from that of David and Solomon, for Job was not the king of Israel and, as such, he did not serve as a foreshadow of the coming King Jesus. As such, it would be easy for some to conclude that God blessed Job with great wealth just for the mere sake of his pleasure and that we therefore are free to follow the example of Job and to be wealthy ourselves.
And though such a conclusion can and has been reached by some, to conclude that the narrative of Job exists to justify the possession of great wealth would be to miss the point of the narrative altogether. For, first, the narrative exists to demonstrate the righteousness of Job and the true Love of his heart amid great loss and adversity. For how much power would the narrative lose if Job began the story a poverty-stricken man in poor health? If God were instead to have an impoverished Job lose what little he had and to have an deathly-ill Job taken a day closer to death, what impact would the words, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken way; blessed be the name of the Lord” have upon reader? (Job 1:21). However, as it is, the testimony of Job is strengthened greatly by his great wealth and its loss.
Secondly, the loss of Job’s great wealth and good health is a testimony to the riches that are in God. For while Job might have lost all that the world counts as valuable, Job was able to endure because his hope was not in that which the world hopes for. For while his wife looked upon his plight and advised him to “curse God and die,” Job was able to respond, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from god, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Therefore, Job demonstrated by his loss and willingness to suffer that God is greater treasure than anything the world can offer.
The Wealth of Abraham
The strangest of all Old Testament justifications for Christian wealth is that of Abraham. For while it is indeed true that Abraham was a wealthy man and was made so by God, Abraham did not lavish his wealth upon himself. Contrarily, the apostle to the Hebrews declares that Abraham, though wealthy, lived as a foreigner in the promised land and thus lived in a tent, because he was waiting for the City whose builder is God (cf. Heb. 11:10). He did not erect for himself a palace to dwell in or fill his life with worldly treasures (though he had the means to do so), but he counted his wealth as fleeting and as trite compared to the bounty that is in God and his heavenly city. Thus, he used his wealth as a demonstration of the greatness of his Inheritance in God by living meagerly by faith in a passing world.
The apostle to the Hebrews tells us that Moses did likewise, writing:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Heb. 11:24-26).
Therefore, Moses, like Abraham, who spoke with God face to face, understood the greatness of the riches of glory of God, and as such, the treasures of Egypt (the same treasures by which many of us would be ensnared), became tasteless and worthless to him. Therefore, he forsook the life of a king and chose to live and to suffer with the people of God, because he knew of the greatness of the Reward.
It is in light of these examples that the author of Hebrews encourages us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1,2).
In essence, the apostle exhorts us that though we have many examples that bear witness to the greatness of our Inheritance in Christ, there is only One example to whom we are to look to run the race of our lives, and that example is Jesus Christ. We should be likewise encouraged, that, though there are these who by their lives testified to the greatness of Christ, our focus should be Singular and our Example should be One. For though David, Solomon, Job, Abraham, and Moses did live unto God, they are not worthy to be followed. Only Christ is worthy to be followed, and he, when he lived upon this world, did not store up for himself treasures upon this earth, but he gave up all and became poor for the sake of those whom he loves. Therefore the apostle Paul exhorts us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
Therefore, those of you who seek for justification for the way in which you live your lives, do you look for it in Christ alone or do you look for it in others? For there is only one Man to whom the Sprit conforms men, and that man is Jesus Christ. Do you then seek to live like Jesus Christ? Do you seek to become poor as he was poor so that you might minister to those to whom he ministered? Do you sacrifice as he sacrificed so that you might by his grace win some? Do you treasure what he treasured so that you might testify by your life that Christ is infinitely more valuable than anything that this world has to offer? I challenge you to think upon these things and not to seek conformity to anyone save Jesus Christ our Lord.