Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel and Joshua

One of the scriptures that our Nigerian friend suggested was proof to God’s desire to make us rich is in the beginning of the book of Joshua. Here is what it says:

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

Joshua 1:8

Specifically, of course, he was focusing on the idea that God tells Joshua that he, or they, would be prosperous and successful.

OK, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at the context of what is happening here in the first part of this book of Joshua.

We need to start back with the blessing of Abraham. God sent Abraham from the land of Ur – roughly just inland from Basrah, Iraq today – to the west, ultimately to the land of Canaan. God promises this land to Abraham, but we see that there are several steps that the people will go through before they will fully, as a nation, come to rest in the land of Canaan.

Abraham will be the father of Isaac. And Isaac will be the father of Jacob. God gives Jacob the name Israel and through an amazing series of events with his son Joseph, Israel and all of his sons end up in Egypt, fleeing from famine.

Over time, the Israelites grow in numbers while they are still there in Egypt and the Egyptians become afraid of these people. As a result, the Pharaoh of Egypt enslaves the Israelites and they remain there for 400 years, just as God had told Abraham would happen at the end of Genesis chapter 15.

God then calls Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, which he does. In this process, Pharaoh is also destroyed as he chases the Israelites into the Red Sea as they are leaving and God releases the water of the Red Sea, wiping out the Egyptians and his armies.

God is now ready to take the Israelites directly into the promised land of Canaan, but as he leads them up to the border, the Israelites hesitate. They are afraid and aren’t sure that this is the right move. They think that they might be killed by the “giants” that are in the land, the people that are inhabiting the land at this point. Moses hesitates and doesn’t enter the land as God told him to do, so this leads to God sending them back into the wilderness for 40 years until Moses and an entire generation dies.

And so with this background, we now come to the time of Joshua. The book of Joshua begins by saying that Moses has now died and God begins to speak to Joshua telling him to be strong and courageous and prepare to enter the land of Canaan, to finally carry out the commandment that God gave long ago but Moses hadn’t fulfilled. And what’s more, to finally fulfill the promise that God had given to Abraham centuries ago.

But they wouldn’t just be walking into the land, having obeyed God by crossing the river. There was still a lot of work to do. And when we say “work”, we’re actually talking about war. Joshua would lead the Israelites into battle against one city or group of people after another. For years, they would be at war, taking the land and destroying the various groups of people that are in the land.

With this context, let’s now think about Joshua 1:8 and its promise of success and prosperity in a better light:

The Long Journey

First, we can see that this is no easy path to riches. The people cannot simply say, “Yes, I believe in God” or “Yes, I am reading his word” and expect to be rich, as many seem to think after they read this verse. Instead, we see a significant process that lasted centuries that even led them through slavery and punishment that brought them to this place, again on the precipice of entering the land.

After that, the Israelites must go to war to be able to take the land. They are going to lose their men, their brothers, their loved ones. It will be bloody and hard-fought, and it will take years.

So, do you think that God is setting you up for an easy life of riches and success? Hmm… tell that to all of the ancestors that went before you in slavery and war! God has been promising blessing for centuries from the time he first spoke to Abraham. He will fulfill his promise, but he hasn’t ever been talking about just making them rich, and he definitely didn’t leave this verse in the scripture so that we can “claim” it and believe that, by doing so, we would become rich ourselves.

Success and Prosperity

From the time that I write this, we have been in Sicily for about five years. We certainly have more money than some, but also quite a lot less money than others. But I don’t think that is really the point as we talk about the words success and prosperity.

I would look instead to my family as an example. When we initially moved to Sicily, we all found that living here was very difficult. We were consistently frustrated because we didn’t know the language or the culture. We had a hard time finding someone to help us with things that are very simple.

But over time, we learned. Our kids went to school and learned the language. They began to learn how to interpret gestures and ways of saying things. Some things that previously offended us, we began to have an appreciation for as we understood more of the background and the reason why the Sicilians were doing what they did.

Now, if you look at my family, my hope is that you would say that they are “prospering”. Not in the sense that they are becoming increasingly wealthy but instead in the sense that they have made a life in Sicily. They know how to live here, how to communicate, how to interact. They can move within the society and within the communities that they flow in and out of. We have friends amongst the Sicilians. We have friends amongst the Africans and other nations. In that sense, I believe that my children and my family as a whole is prospering and is successful.

Is it possible, then, that this is another way to consider and define the word “prosper” as it is used in Joshua 1:8? Given the context of what it is saying, I would suggest that my way of defining prosperity is much closer to the intent of that passage. God tells Joshua to keep the Book of the Law on his lips – or among those in the Israelite community, I think we could say – and meditate and do what it says. And then, if they do that, then they will have success and will prosper.

What are we talking about when we talk about the Book of the Law? We’re talking about the laws that God gave to Moses. This is not a book of commerce. It is not a book about investments. These commandments in this book of the law is about loving God and loving other people. If God’s intent was that they should be rich, I would imagine that he would, instead, give them a book that talks about how to get into business and make a lot of money. That’s not what he speaks to them about…because that is not God’s intent when he says that you will have “success” and will “prosper”.

Meditation and Obedience

There is one more thing that I think is worth mentioning about this scripture. It is extremely important in the context of being quoted as a “recipe” for success and prosperity. God tells Joshua that he must speak about, meditate upon, and obey the Book of the Law. The commandments that God gave to Moses, the people must teach and do. Knowing the commandments, or knowing that they exist, or even just reading them…these are not the things that God says that Joshua must do.

Instead, God wants his word to become an integral part of the community. These things should define who the people are. God tells Joshua that, if they want to prosper and succeed, then obedience to his word is essential. Only through this meditation and obedience can the Israelite community love God and love one another, creating a community that will truly prosper.

Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel and Jesus

At the end of our previous meeting, our friend who believed that the Bible promises us riches if we become a Christian said that blessings in the Old Testament and the New Testament must be different. Surely we are intended to be rich based on the promises of the New Testament because he said that he believes that the scriptures teach this.

I suggested that we take a look at what Jesus taught his disciples about being and giving a blessing to others, so in our next meeting, we read Matthew 10. The idea behind this was to see what Jesus taught his disciples about what they could expect when he sent them out to speak about the kingdom of God and extend a blessing to the homes and villages where they would stay.

In a very similar way that God chose Abraham, blessed him with his presence, and then also told him that he would be a blessing to others, Jesus now chooses his 12 disciples and sends them out to be a blessing to others in the villages in nearby villages.

So, what can we learn from what Jesus instructed his disciples? Here are a few thoughts:

First, Jesus told his disciples not to take any money. They were going to be dependent upon God and the people that they would stay with for any provisions that they would have.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.

Matthew 10:9-10

Next, they should expect to be beaten for their association with Jesus.

Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.

Matthew 10:17

It is also possible that they may be killed.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.

Matthew 10:21

They will be hated and will even be called the devil (Beelzebul). Not just for a brief period, but until Jesus returns!

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

Matthew 10:22-25

And finally, Jesus’s disciples should expect to lose their life if they want to truly follow him.

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10:38-39

So what can we learn? I think that it is clear that riches, power, and even good health are not necessarily part of the equation. As we obey with Jesus tells us to do, we can expect that many challenges will come. Not money. Not fame. No, Jesus calls us to serve him by being ambassadors to others for him, and as we do this, the rewards are not the things of this world. Instead, our reward is Jesus and our life with God.

Unfortunately, our Nigerian friend still has many doubts and still believes that blessing others means to be rich. We will continue to study and try to help him see what he can expect as God blesses him and calls him to bless others!

Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel and Abraham

We meet a lot of Nigerians as they have migrated to Europe and enter here into Sicily. Those who believe in Jesus and follow him often have a peculiar take on the scriptures in that they believe that they should follow God so that they can become rich.

So in these cases, we have a situation where many of our Nigerian friends have come to Europe because they have lived in poverty and believe that they can find riches in Europe. I have even heard some of our African friends (not necessarily Nigerians) say, “We thought we could pick money up off of the streets in Europe!”

But of course, they arrive here and find that it is not the case. They don’t find that they have riches. Instead, it is sometimes worse for them living here than it was back in Africa. Instead of handing them jobs, the Europeans may not want them to be there. Or if they do give them a job, it is the worst job and they will pay them the least that they possibly can, often illegally without a job contract, knowing that if this person quits, there are 100 more just like him behind him looking for a job.

So you can imagine the disillusionment that someone who believes that, by believing in Jesus, they should be rich, healthy, and possibly even powerful. How is it possible that someone who has been baptized and reading scripture and trying to follow Jesus isn’t getting rich? Or is sick? Or is sitting in a low position within the society?

The Blessing of Abraham

As we started to think this through with one of our Nigerian friends, we decided to read the blessing of God to Abraham and how his relationship with Abraham began. So we read Genesis 12:1-5 and then all of Genesis 15 and we asked these questions:

What do we learn about God from these passages?

For this question, we saw that God had a plan to bless all of the nations, but he decided to bless them through Abraham.

We also saw that God didn’t complete his plan immediately. Abraham, in fact, even began to get anxious because he knew that God had blessed him but he had no one to be his heir. If he died, he would leave all of his possessions to one of his servants, not to someone from his family line who would be able to continue what he had started. But God promised Abraham that he would fulfill his word just as he had promised from the beginning.

However, as God reveals his covenant with Abraham, we see that he is going to put Abraham’s descendants into slavery and that they would serve others before they would become a nation. This slavery would last a LONG time – 400 years! We can imagine that Abraham might be incredulous at this idea. He might wonder, “what kind of blessing and covenant is this?” But we can understand that God’s blessing does not necessarily mean that they will be rich and powerful. Instead, it likely means that there will trials and trouble, just as we see God prophecy toward the end of Genesis 15.

What do we learn about people through the example of Abraham?

We discussed that people are not necessarily patient, at least in the way that we understand God to be patient. Instead, if we want to see God’s plans come to fruition, we need to be patient and let God do what he will do.

In addition, we said that God decides to use people to work out his plan. We see this in Abraham, but we also see this in his descendants as well as the country where his descendants will be enslaved, and then finally also in the Amorites and the other -ites that Abraham’s descendants will conquer in the future. In each of these, God is working out his plan through these people.

What do we learn about the idea of blessing?

For this question, we centered on the idea that “blessing” is a relationship with God. God blessed Abraham, so Abraham was now in relationship with God. But this blessing would not only be for him. He would also give the blessing to others, and in fact all of the nations on the earth would be blessed through Abraham. We discussed that this was related to the blessing of having Jesus come to the earth through the Israelite people. The Israelites were formed from Abraham having his son Isaac whose son was Jacob whose name God changed to Israel. Through these people, Jesus would come, offering himself as a sacrifice for the sin of all people, making relationship with God possible for everyone! What a great blessing!

Alas, our Nigerian friend explained in the end that this was the Old Testament and he felt like the blessing of the Old Testament and the blessing of the New Testament were different. So we decided to meet again to move forward in the scripture to see Jesus’s perspective and what he told his disciples to expect as they went to bless others. Hang tight and we’ll pick up on that discussion in the next post…