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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blessings on the righteous in the Old Testament: musings

Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17:5-8 say about the same thing, namely that those who trust in God will flourish like a tree planted by a stream, while those who don't are cursed. Here's the passage from Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength, [1]
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (All scripture quotation and links are ESV, which allows such use, if properly credited. Emphasis added for reasons explained below.)

I confess that I have trouble with one aspect of this, namely that it sounds a little like the prosperity gospel, a popular, but, I believe, sadly misguided belief (perhaps even heresy is appropriate) that Christians are supposed to be well off financially and health-wise.

Why don't I (and many smarter people) think that Christians are promised good finances and good health? Well, for one thing, Christ, the founder of Christianity, is said to have had few material possessions, nor to have sought them. In Matthew 8:20, he said that he had no building that He could claim as His house. When He sent out the Twelve, he told them not to take anything but the bare necessities with them. It is possible that the soldiers, beneath the cross, gambled for the only clothing He had.

Another reason that I don't believe this is that almost all Christians born before the Twentieth Century have died, and many of them must have died of sicknesses of various kinds.

The Bible, in Hebrews 11, describes those Old Testament characters who were our examples in faith. Here's what verses 35-38 say:
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

That doesn't sound like prosperity, in the usual sense, to me.

I think that perhaps what Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 are talking about is relationship with God, not prosperity. I have emphasized six words which speak of water for the blessed, and lack of water for the cursed. In John 4, Jesus promised the Samaritan woman living water. In John 7, He said:
37b “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John here explains "living water," and he explains it as an indwelling presence. I believe that the prosperity, the health, that God promises His followers is that we have a relationship with the God of the Universe, which ought to be enough prosperity for anyone.

Thanks for reading.

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I mistakenly let this one get published before I meant to, so I deleted it and re-published for this date. superrustyfly commented on it, for which I thank him. That comment is reproduced below, as part of the post, not as a comment:

superrustyfly ( has left a new comment on your post "Blessings on the righteous in the Old Testament: m...":

I noticed this and recounted in my mind that the Psalms and Proverbs and other wisdom books tend to speak in generalities what it comes to what people should and should not do, and the blessings and curses that may befall them. As far as prosperity gospel, they need to exegete their scriptures better and at least recognize that Christianity is match with carrying a cross.

Just a little two cents to add.


FancyHorse said...

These are good thoughts. I agree whole-heartedly!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, FancyHorse.

Anders said...

Martin LaBar,

I think that the website will be of interest to you and your readers. It contains research about Ribi Yehoshua (the Messiah) from Nazareth and what he taught (including what Ribi Yehoshua taught about prosperity).

Have a nice day!
Anders Branderud

Martin LaBar said...

I don't think so, Anders. If that web site is correct, then I (and all other Christians) are totally deluded. (Which is possible, I guess.)