“Why is wealth a danger?”
Moses looks back in Deuteronomy, reviewing everything the LORD has done to bring the people to the edge of the Promised Land. Then he looks forward to warn them about the dangers they will face in their new home. One of the biggest dangers is prosperity.
Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Deuteronomy 8:11-14
Moses describes a progression, a downhill slide, that begins with prosperity and ends with abandoning God. I found the following graphic written in the margin of my Bible, and I would credit it if I could.
Prosperity —> Pride –> Preoccupation –> Presumption –> Paganism
There’s nothing wrong with prosperity. God wanted to bless his people. The point of their journey was to bring them to a better place than they had known before, a land full of good things. The danger was that they would grow full of pride once they settled and enjoyed the bounty of the land. Difficulties tend to humble us and cause us to cry out for help. Good times make us become self-sufficient. We can even forget God because we are so preoccupied with maintaining our wealth or enjoying the leisure that comes with it. The next step is the error of presumption.
When the LORD your God drives them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD brought me in to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ Instead, the LORD will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness. Deuteronomy 9:4
The people would presume that God had driven out the Canaanites because of the righteousness of the Israelites. In reality it was the wickedness of the Canaanites that made a place for God’s people. The Israelites weren’t victorious because of their own strength but because of God’s strength. Their presumption would lead them further away from God until they reached the point of abandoning him altogether in favor of pagan idols.
Moses spoke prophetically. All that he cautioned came to pass. The progression from prosperity to paganism isn’t a theory; it was proven in the life of Israel. Since we can be forewarned by their mistake, let’s look at the progression and come up with an antidote. Our prosperity may need to be limited by living on less and giving away the excess. We can sidestep pride by remaining dependent on God, humbling ourselves, and adopting the old practice of mortifying the flesh (through self-denial, for example). Instead of preoccupying ourselves with worldly pursuits, we should simplify our lives so that we have time to devote to Bible study and serving God. Finally, rather than presuming our own goodness, we need to follow the example of Paul:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3
Whenever we see the word “Beware” in the Bible, we may be sure that there is something to beware of. The point here to note is, that our times of prosperity are times of danger. I remember that Mr. Whitefield once asked the prayers of the congregation “for a young gentleman in very dangerous circumstances,” for he had just come into a fortune of ₤5,000. Then is the time when prayer is needed even more than in seasons of depression and of loss. – Charles Spurgeon
When he entrusted you with a little, did he not entrust you with it that you might lay out all that little in doing good? And when he entrusted you with more, did he not entrust you with that additional money that you might do so much the more good, as you had more ability? Had you any more right to waste a pound, a shilling, or a penny, than you had before? You have, therefore, no more right to gratify the desire of the flesh, or the desire of the eyes, now than when you was a beggar. O no! do not make so poor a return to your beneficent Lord! Rather, the more he entrusts you with, be so much the more careful to employ every mite as he hath appointed. – John Wesley
Image by Mark Herpel on Flickr, CC by 2.0