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.