Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 8-10.
“You didn’t build that” was a phrase from a campaign speech that President Barack Obama gave on July 13, 2012. He was arguing that wealthy Americans should pay higher taxes, and to strengthen his case he pointed out that most of us have benefitted from the help of others, either in government or the private sector. Whether or not Obama meant to, many in America believed that he was attacking the notion of the self-made man, and many people took offense at his speech.
Where does wealth come from? For years our culture has promoted the idea that a rich man makes money “the old-fashioned way; he earns it.” The sweat of our own brow and the work of our own hands bring us prosperity. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who feel that society or the government owes them some basic level of support. As I read Deuteronomy today, I see that God’s ideas about wealth differ from both of these philosophies.
He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:16-18
The Israelites stand on the border of the promised land. Their days of hardship are ending. The dangers of the desert, drought and hunger and snakes, will be replaced by a new but greater hazard, ease and prosperity. God, with perfect foresight, fears for them. He knows that nothing tests a man like success. So he warns them and reminds them how he cared for them, providing for all their needs in the wilderness. He hopes they have learned, by experience:
- that they need humility in order to prosper
- that there are some things they cannot do by their own strength
- that God gives them the resources, talents, knowledge and opportunities that allow them to produce wealth
Our wealth is not our own. We are stewards of the resources God has placed in our hands. Like the stewards in the parable, God intends for us to take what he gives us and work with it to produce more. We partner with God and he blesses us through working together. To the rich and poor he says, “don’t put your trust in riches.” To all of us he says, “I am the source of all wealth. I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” As for me, today I humbly acknowledge that I would have nothing apart from God’s mercy, and I recommit myself to being a good steward of all he has given me.
Image by 401(k) 2013 on Flickr. CC by-sa 2.0