A Biblical Secret to Building Wealth that Lasts

Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:5)

Abram (this was before God renamed him “Abraham”) was a very wealthy man when God first called him to leave his home in Haran. He had a wife, livestock, lots of stuff and even slaves, and as time went on he only got richer.

His herds continued to grow after he left Haran. When he was in Egypt because of the famine in Canaan, Pharaoh gave him many more possessions and slaves, and his herds continued to expand after he returned to Canaan again. Whatever happened, whatever Abram did, he only got richer.

It doesn’t appear that Abram set out to grow his wealth. He was generous with what he had, didn’t demand anything from anybody, and refused to accept gifts from unsavory characters. Yet at the end of his life, he had a large family and immense wealth.

Lot was a wealthy man too. We don’t know that he had anything at all when he left Haran with Abram, but we know that they both had large herds and servants sometime after leaving Egypt. So much so that Abram decided they needed to put some space between their households in order to reduce friction and competition for resources.

After they separated, Lot moved his tents close to the city of Sodom, eventually buying property within the city walls and even becoming a respected city leader. His herds and holdings in the countryside probably continued to grow during that time.

Unfortunately, Lot didn’t end life nearly so well as Abram did. Most of his family had died and what was left was extremely disfuctional. His herds and servants were all dead or scattered. His home and social life were destroyed in Sodom.

These two men came from the same family, had the same traditions, and spent many years traveling, living, and working together. They were both righteous men, so how did they end so differently?

I think there were two major differences between Lot and Abram:

  • Initiative
  • Faith

Initiative

Abram was active, while Lot was passive. An interesting factoid that might be intended to allude to this quality of their respective characters is in the way their children are described. Only male children of Abraham are listed in Scripture, although he almost certainly had daughters as well, while Lot is only said to have daughters.

When their two herds became too great to live comfortably together, Abram saw the problem and offered a solution. He built a godly community from scratch, while Lot joined a community that was already well established. When Abram saw the angelic visitors he ran to meet them, but when Lot saw them, he merely stood to greet them. Finally, when Abram learned of God’s plan to destroy the city, he tried to save the people, but when the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house, he only tried to get them to commit a lesser sin.

There were times when Abram allowed himself to be swayed by men (in Egypt and in the matter of Hagar, for example), but usually Abram followed God alone, while Lot usually followed other men. As long as he stayed with Abram, he did well, but his real problems began when the he exchanged Abram’s company for Sodom’s.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Faith

Abram didn’t set out to grow his wealth, but it grew regardless because he trusted in God who blessed him for it. On the other hand, despite Lot’s long relationship with Abram, he hadn’t learned that real wealth comes from a relationship with the Creator, not from how much of the creation he could control. By all the wisdom of men, better pastures and better markets ought to equal greater wealth, but there are different kinds of wealth of more or less permanence.

When Abram gave Lot first pick of grazing land, he chose a land rich in the physical but extremely poor in the spiritual. Abram moved his herds to the relatively barren hills, away from the corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but closer to God. He grew steadily in both material and spiritual possessions, content to accept what God would give him in exchange for faithfulness and good stewardship. Abram’s material wealth evaporated upon his physical death, divided among his sons, but his spiritual wealth has continued to grow exponentially over the millennia.

Lot’s wealth, on the other hand, didn’t even last his own lifetime. One morning when he woke up hungover in a cave overlooking a once-lush valley, now smoking and ruined, he surely understood the meaning of Paul’s words to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:6-9)

Surround yourself with people of faith and godliness. Their influence will elevate you. However, don’t be content with their mere company. Consciously work to emulate them so that when they are gone, you can stand alone with God and help to elevate someone else.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

The End of the Wicked

Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail!

David begins Psalm 9 with an outline:

  • I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
  • I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
  • I will be glad and exult in you;
  • I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

He proceeds to describe the victories and favoritism God has granted (and will grant) him, then to invite the people of Zion to join him in singing God’s praises, and finally to make several observations about the relationship of God to men that reveals the characters of both.

In the final segment, David focuses on the futile nature of mere men thumbing their noses at an omnipotent Creator.

Psalms 9:15-20 ESV
The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
     in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
The LORD has made himself known;
     he has executed judgment;
The wicked are snared
     in the work of their own hands.

Meditation. Selah.

The wicked shall return to Sheol, 
     all the nations that forget God.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
     and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; 
     let the nations be judged before you!
Put them in fear, O LORD! 
     Let the nations know that they are but men!

Selah.

Scheming for relative advantage is one of the favorite activities of the wicked, and they are often very good at hiding both their actions and their motives. They set traps for the unsuspecting, hoping to tear people down to make themselves look higher, or to take advantage of someone else’s fall in order to promote their own interests.

If you are ever unsure about the character of someone, watch how he treats people who are less capable or less “sophisticated.” Does he hide the flaws of a product in order to pass the expense of future repairs on to a future owner? Does he make loud promises of gains for everyone, but somehow only ever enriches himself?

No matter what a person says or appears to do, pay attention to the end result of his personal and business dealings. If people who trust him regularly lose, while he keeps going along as if the fault is always someone else’s, watch out. Eventually he’ll fall into a trap of his own making and take with him anyone who is standing too closely. (Remember Korah!)

Death is a great magnet, pulling on men’s souls. Like iron, the evil that infects us and drives us to work toward the destruction of others inevitably pulls us back to its point of origin. David says that the wicked “shall return to Sheol,” and how can they return to something from which they haven’t already come?

Don’t, however, confuse entrapment with giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. It’s one thing to set traps for the unsuspecting. It’s another thing altogether to stand back and let someone destroy themselves by their own blundering or scheming.

The difference between these two competitive strategies draws a clear line between the character of God and the character of mere men. God doesn’t set out to destroy us, but He knows our faults, and has designed the Universe in such a way that those who seek to destroy others will eventually be destroyed by the very weapons they use against others. He knows the End from the Beginning and can never lose a game that He designed for His own purposes.

He will never abandon his faithful who are oppressed by the wicked. He is a God of Life and He will not allow those who put their trust in Him to be swallowed up by Death.

Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!

The Sword of Salvation

Through Abraham, Salvation is available to the whole world in the person of Yeshua/Jesus.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 10:31-39 ESV)

God’s standard of righteousness requires making a distinction between things, separating the clean from the unclean, and much of Creation involved separating one thing from another: light from darkness, water from dry land, woman from man, etc. We should not be surprised that the creation of a new man necessarily involves more separation and loss.

Abraham experienced his share of division resulting from God’s call on his life.

  • He left his childhood home of Ur for Haran.
  • He left his family in Haran for a new, promised land.
  • He left the Promised Land for Egypt.
  • Sarah was taken from him twice.
  • He was separated from his nephew, Lot.
  • He kept apart from the people he lived among.
  • He sent away his second wife, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael.
  • He was resigned to losing his son, Isaac.
  • Sarah died long before he did.

He didn’t seek any of this out. Every loss was born of necessity. He didn’t set out to break up his family or to put walls between himself and the people around him. (Although it was at times a result of his own poor judgment.) Separation, especially from family and community, is difficult and painful, but Abraham’s faith in God and in God’s promises kept him moving in a direction that required division.

God knows what is best for us. He knows what we need and, just as importantly, what we don’t need. If we trust in God, we will obey Him, and this requires a deliberate separation of our old lives from our new. Obedience to God’s commands means that we will look and behave differently from the people around us, and this will, sooner or later, cause us pain. If you are faithful to God, you will experience loss. You won’t have to seek it out–and most of the time you shouldn’t! It will find you all on its own.

Just remember this: despite all of Abraham’s losses, just like Job, in the end he gained much more than he lost. He left Egypt with great wealth. He remarried after Sarah died and had many more children. He didn’t even realize his greatest gains in his lifetime, though he surely knew of them because of his special relationship with God. He became the father of many nations, not just by Isaac, but by Ishmael and all the sons of Keturah. Greatest of all, through Abraham, salvation has been made available to the whole world.

Be faithful. Be obedient. Let God worry about life’s profit and loss.

God Sees Ishmael

Ishmael & Hagar in the wilderness, kept alive to be a thorn in the side of the whole world.
Ishmael & Hagar in the wilderness, kept alive to be a thorn in the side of the whole world.

Genesis 16:7-15 And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. (8) And he said: ‘Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?’ And she said: ‘I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.’ (9) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.’ (10) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. (11) And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. (12) And he shall be a wild ass of a man: his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the face of all his brethren.’ (13) And she called the name of the LORD that spoke unto her, Thou art a God of seeing; for she said: ‘Have I even here seen Him that seeth Me?’  (14) Wherefore the well was called ‘Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. (15) And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.

God sees you. He knows who you are, who you will be. But he sees much deeper than that. He sees your children and your descendants. He knows who they will be 3500 years later.

God knew from the beginning that Ishmael would be at war throughout his generations, and by including this otherwise private interaction in the Torah, he has given the world fair warning.

There can be no peace with Ishmael.

In the collective sense, Ishmael neither understands nor desires peace. He will not be satisfied with democracy, land, prosperity, or the violent death of every Jew in the world. The sooner we believe what God has plainly told us, the sooner we can forget about ridiculous ideas of nation building and exchanging land for peace and focus on strong borders and containment.

 

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