4 July 2013Deuteronomy 8:11-20
“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth’. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (vv. 17-18)
How many people would have called themselves wealthy at the time when the book of Deuteronomy was first made known (2 Kings 22:8)? Probably rather few. A century or so earlier, the prophet Amos paints a picture of a society divided between the rich few, who could live in houses of ivory (Amos 3:15), and the poor majority, cheated even when buying their food by false measures (Amos 8:5).
But for those who were comfortably off, there was an acute temptation to think that their financial security was due to their own hard work - the 'self-made man' (or, possibly, woman) of the time. Deuteronomy does not criticise those who are wealthy just because they are rich. In a world where many faced absolute poverty, the book makes no bones about the benefits of having enough to live well. That socio-economic climate shaped a different set of questions to those faced in the affluent West, where so many need to hear Christian Aid's challenge to "live simply, so that others may simply live".
The criticisms of this passage are directed rather at those who forget that they would have nothing if God had not given it to them. It hints that it really matters to focus on God's generous grace, because of its impact on the people's covenant relationship with God. Their level of material comfort is a sign of the reality of God's covenant, and of God's good intentions towards the people. God recognises that it matters that people don't have to face absolute poverty, and this is part of God's commitment to us. But if people forget that God is the source of their wealth, then they are likely to lose sight of the reality that God is the only true God. In a world where folk believed in many deities, it was always hard for Israel to maintain its exclusive relationship with God - but the consequences of not doing so were catastrophic.
God gives generously to the people in the desert, feeding them with manna (Exodus 16), giving them water from nowhere (Exodus 17:1-7), guiding them in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22) and protecting them from all its dangers. So this passage also carries the suggestion that those who have resources of their own need to share in the generosity of God, from whom all these good things come.
- Where does you think the balance come between having enough money and having too much?
- How can you show in your life your understanding that your resources come from God and not from your own efforts?