Does the Bible teach the prosperity gospel?

Hi friends,

Today, I was reading Deuteronomy 11:1-17, one of the liturgical readings for today, and I was struck by how emphatically God talks about blessing and curses. For instance, in verses 13-15,

“If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the LORD your God and worship him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land in the proper time, the autumn and spring rains, and you will harvest your grain, new wine, and fresh oil. I will provide grass in your fields for your livestock. You will eat and be satisfied (CSB).

As I looked through Deuteronomy, these promises are even more emphatic in chapter 28:1-14:

Now if you faithfully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all his commands I am giving you today, the LORD your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth.

All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the LORD your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
Your offspring will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks.
Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The LORD will cause the enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you. They will march out against you from one direction but flee from you in seven directions.

The LORD will grant you a blessing on your barns and on everything you do; he will bless you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he swore to you, if you obey the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you bear the LORD’s name, and they will stand in awe of you.

The LORD will make you prosper abundantly with offspring, the offspring of your livestock, and your land’s produce in the land the LORD swore to your ancestors to give you.

The LORD will open for you his abundant storehouse, the sky, to give your land rain in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow.

The LORD will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward if you listen to the LORD your God’s commands I am giving you today and are careful to follow them.

Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not follow other gods to worship them.

In a first read through the text, it seems quite clear: if I obey God, he will pour out material blessings on my life.

However, I do want to understand what God is saying - and not interpret the text to mean what I want it to mean.

The Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright notes, in the UTB commentary,

We can handle the law rightly only when we understand its role in relation to the identity and mission of Israel, historically (in their own experience of God’s saving action) and eschatologically (as the vehicle of God’s saving purpose for all nations). Distortion of the law, whether toward legalism or toward antinomianism, usually creeps in when God’s people forget either the grace of God on which alone they stand or the glory of God for which alone they exist.

As I reflected on this insight, it made me question the heart attitude that I bring to God’s word.

If I am seeking material prosperity, then, of course, when I read the Bible, I will be seeking to find out how God will give me the prosperity I want.

But is that heart attitude how God wants me to approach his word?

Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount that this was misguided! As he said,

No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24).

There it is. That’s the fundamental question:

Am I reading the Bible to serve God, or am I reading the Bible so God will serve me?

Jesus goes on to say:

Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?

Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying?

And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—you of little faith?

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It’s an interesting parallel:

God knew that his people needed children, crops, animals, and safety. He knew they depended upon God’s provision of springs of water from below and abundant rain from above.

Likewise, Jesus knew that his disciples needed food and clothing.

In both cases, the message is similar: Trust God. Obey God. Honor God.

As for your circumstances? These matters are outside of our control. So, again, count on God for your daily needs.

It’s an easy verse for me to skip over, but we need to meditate on Deuteronomy 28:9-10:

The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he swore to you, if you obey the commands of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you bear the LORD’s name, and they will stand in awe of you.

Doesn’t this sound like Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16?

You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Yet how often have “God’s people” abandoned God because their hearts actually wanted money, power, and fame?

Further, as Eugene Merrill explains in the New American Commentary,

The heathen of Canaan depended upon their ability to palliate and manipulate Baal, Asherah, and the other deities of fertility to grant them rain, richness of soil, and all the other forces of nature that made survival on the land possible.

When they saw that the Lord, God of Israel, was Creator and Sovereign over all things, including climate and cultivation, and that he could not be coerced or tricked into sharing his life-giving potency, but, to the contrary, bestowed it out of sheer grace and love of his people, they would be awestruck.

If we view our obedience to God as a means of manipulating God, then we are treating him like an idol! It’s the same impulse that governed the fear and anxiety of Baal worship (or how we serve “The Man” at work).

But if we view all of our lives as a response to God’s grace, including the gift of living with purpose as God’s obedient children, and we receive God’s gifts as further evidence of his kindness, then we are living as beloved children.

Even if we think about it from a purely selfish point of view, don’t we arrive at a similar conclusion?

What is the greatest gift that God can give us?

An overflowing bank account? Or the joy of knowing God as our Father?

I went into some deep waters, but I hope this gets a conversation going! Let me know what you think.

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