Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prosperity in The Atonement:The Blessing of Abraham?


 **Warning: This is another long post...**

 The last post on "The Curse of Poverty?" was a little harder to stay focused on because of its complexity. The reasoning behind deliverance from poverty almost automatically brings with it the notion that one is delivered for blessing or prosperity as well.  I look at this topic as having two sides like a coin. Redemption from the curse of poverty would be one side of the coin that is often preached by those who believed Jesus died to give it, and the other side of the same coin is the guaranteed unlimited material and financial blessings that one can have through the atonement because of the same redemption.In the last post I tried to narrow down my objections to just showing that the curse of poverty was a misinterpretation of the scriptures, but I wasn't really able to talk about the other side of the coin like I wanted to because of longevity of the post. This post will focus on that side of the coin. The teachings we often hear about financial and material blessing being ours through Christ don't usually come from fanatics who do not believe the scriptures, rather they come from well-intentioned, seemingly genuine preachers who have a plethora of verses from the Bible to back up what they're  saying. If a direct passage or verse doesn't back up the said position of the preacher, a concept from scripture is often used to proclaim the message that Jesus dies so that you and I can be financially and materially taken care of. One of those concepts is "The Blessing of Abraham",and that will be the focus in this post.

What is the Blessing of Abraham?
What is the blessing of Abraham? Where did it originate? Why is it used to prove that Jesus died to give those who trust in Him material wealth, health, and financial blessings? When we hear the term "The Blessing of Abraham" we often hear it used to explain that God will bless those who trust in Him on the basis of God's covenant with Abraham. The actual term comes from the book of Galatians 3:14 which says "so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles..." Abraham is viewed as the first or primary example of what it means to believe God and experience not only justification but material and financial prosperity because of faith and those who are Abraham's "seed" or children, by faith, can experience the same. Many believe that God established a "faith covenant" with Abraham that essentially said "Abraham, because you believe in my (God) promise to you , I am going to bless you, not only by declaring you righteous, but by blessing you with great wealth." According to many teachers today, the blessing of Abraham is the basis of salvation, prosperity, and success for the Christian. Because of God's covenant with Abraham, all who believe in Jesus have the right to be saved and successful because they are heirs of the  promise God made to Abraham.  The verses that are often referenced to prove this are the following scriptures:
Genesis 12:1-3
"Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

 Genesis 13:1-7
 So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.
 Genesis 15:4-6 
 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 17:1-8
    When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
 Galatians 3:7-9 
    Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Galatians 3:29
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

From these scriptures, it is concluded that
1) God made a promise to Abraham to bless him and multiply him.
2) Abraham received the blessing by believing God
3) Abraham received a promised son and great wealth (livestock, silver, gold, land) because of the covenant he made with God
4) If we believe on Christ, we are Abraham's legal offspring and we receive the same wealth and blessing he received. Therefore being "very rich in livestock, silver, gold" applies to us as well.

Does scripture support this logic? It seems to on the surface ,especially since multiple scriptures are used to arrive at this conclusion; but how are these scriptures used? Are they taken out of their proper context? Does the proposed teaching that uses these scriptures flow with the rest of the Bible's teaching? These are important questions to ask if we want to gain the proper meaning from what the Bible is saying.

Genesis
What is ultimately not in question in this post is the fact that Abraham was rich. Yes, Abraham was very rich and he was rich prior to being called by God and even more so after being called by God. The fact that God blessed Abraham with great wealth is supported by Genesis 24:34-35 which records the words of Abraham's servant to Laban,  "So he said, “I am Abraham's servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. Abraham had Pharaohs and kings dealing well with him (Gen 12:16; 20:14) , the King of Sodom wanting to make him rich (Gen. 14:21-23), and so many possessions that he and his nephew had to split land in order to have enough space for all they had (Gen 13:6). God was the source of Abraham's blessings and there is no denying that Abraham was wealthy. But is "blessing" in God's covenant with Abraham defined by material wealth? Is material and financial prosperity guaranteed to all who are Abraham's seed? To these questions I believe the answer is no. No, because nowhere in Genesis, where the Lord appears to Abraham and makes His covenant, are riches and material wealth promised to Abraham or his offspring on the basis of God's covenant with him. To Abraham, nations are promised (12:2; 17:4-6; 18:18; 22:18), offspring is promised (13:16; 15:4-6; 17:8, 15; 22:17-18), and land is promised (12:7; 13:14-17; 15:18; 17:8). I believe riches were providentially and graciously given to Abraham and even to his descendants by God, but to say that these riches are normative or guaranteed to all of Abraham's offspring is a stretch. All of Abraham's offspring are "blessed" according to the scriptures and for those who trust in Jesus the blessing of Abraham has come upon them.

"The Blessing "
The question to be answered now is "What is the blessing in "The Blessing of Abraham?" Is it money? Is it wealth? Is it healing? Is it prosperity of all kinds? Is it all of these? Is it more? It appears at first sight that Abraham's covenant with God brings wealth to its beneficiaries as we see in the life of Abraham's first three descendants. It is often said that "the blessing" promised to Abraham included financial wealth because Isaac, Jacob, and even Joseph were given great wealth or prosperity by God. Isaac was blessed by God and given great wealth (Gen 26:12). Jacob was extremely wealthy (Gen 30:43). Joseph was successful and prosperous while he was a slave in the house of Potiphar (Gen 39:4-6). It appears that the basis of this wealth in the patriarch's lives is because of Abraham's sake, and therefore it is concluded that all who are in Christ will be blessed in this same way being Abraham's offspring; but based on the lives of those who lived after Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph we can see how God's blessing upon Abraham's descendants was of pure grace and not obligation. In Genesis 15, Abraham, in making a covenant with the Lord, was promised that his descendants would be "sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years."(Gen 15:13-14). If this covenant made wealth obligatory on God's part or guaranteed that all who were Abraham's descendants would be financially and materially successful, then it means God failed on the behalf of four hundred years of people who were enslaved. In addition to those who were enslaved in Egypt, wealthy living is so scattered in the Old Testament, that it couldn't possibly be something that was obligated to the people of God. When God's covenant with Abraham is mentioned again in the Old Testament, it always speaks of the Lord being Israel's God, Abraham's offspring, and the land the Lord promised to give to Abraham's descendants (Ex. 6:8, 32:13, 33:1; Lev. 26;42; Num. 32:11; Deut 1:8, 6:10, 9:5, 34:4; Ps. 105:9-11). As for the Bible's position on being rich and poor, it can be summarized in Hannah's prayer to the Lord  in 1 Samuel 2:6-7. The sovereignty of God is exalted in God choosing to make one rich and another poor. Neither poverty nor wealth is something obligated or guaranteed to any man, it is always a gift sovereignly and freely given.

Why Was Abraham Rich?
So why was Abraham rich? Why did God choose to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wealth and cattle, and silver and gold? Believers and unbelievers both experience wealth but why does God give wealth to some believers? Why does he choose to give any believer monetary or material wealth when He does? To say something about Himself. Ultimately wealth and possessions are a gift to show that He is good and that He is the greater wealth (Eccl. 5:19). The feeling of sufficiency and enjoyment that comes from wealth isn't meant to be an end, but a means to an end, namely, to point to the ultimate riches and sufficiency in Christ, and to spread that feeling to others who have not experienced it - not so that they can be materially wealthy, but experience the spiritual wealth and true blessing that comes from God. The pursuit of wealth and riches as an end is deadly (1 Timothy 6:9-10) and often "The Blessing of Abraham" is disguised and preached as a way to meet this end. God does care about the welfare of His people, and He is more than able to bless a man with the greatest of wealth which will have no sorrow with it (Proverbs 10:22), but the blessing of the Lord isn't limited to or defined by material things or money. When Hebrews 11:8-9 speaks of Abraham's promise and inheritance, it isn't speaking of his wealth and possessions. It speaks rather of "the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God". For this reason Abraham lived as a stranger and as an exile on this earth having seen what was promised from afar and sought a heavenly country. (Heb 10:9-10, 13-16 paraphrase mine). This is the true blessing of Abraham, looking forward to and experiencing that eternal and heavenly country which was promised to Abraham and his offspring who would outnumber the stars and the sand of the sea and would be from every nation. Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9-10 speak of the fulfillment of this blessing when it says:
 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)

 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  
(Rev 7:9-10)

Romans
The true blessing of Abraham is how you and I, those who aren't the blood related descendants of Abraham, can be part of this eternally joyful, innumerable, and ransomed multitude who will be in this heavenly country .The book of Romans and Galatians give Paul's teachings on how Jesus, the promised Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16), justifies those who believe and trust in His substitutionary death on the cross. Romans 4:13 states " For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith."; and Romans 4:3 states "For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”. In Romans 4, Paul is speaking to a Jewish and Gentile audience in Rome and the Jews within the Roman church are questioning the nature of the Gentile's salvation because they did not observe the law or become circumcised in order to be saved. The Jews prided themselves in their law observance and their circumcision in order to be justified and declared righteous before God and Paul, in the first three chapters of Romans, destroys their confidence in these works by proclaiming that all men, both Jews and Gentiles are under sin and all have fallen short of glorifying God. Once Paul has flattened their pride in their works, he then proceeds in Romans 4 to show that law observance and circumcision never justified any one in the first place. Faith in God is what makes one justified before God's sight. Paul uses Abraham, the great forefather of the Jews (4:1) to prove his point. Its important to note that the Jews and Gentiles who were reading Paul's letter and came across Abraham weren't at all thinking about Abraham's wealth when they read this. Paul directed their minds towards Abraham's faith, and God's freely acquitting and forgiving Abraham's sins because of his faith. Therefore Abraham's blessing, namely, "the promise...that he would be heir of the world..." was not about riches or wealth, but rather about right-standing with God and an eternal dwelling with Him along with Abraham's many promised offspring.

Galatians
In the Galatian church, Paul was dealing with a similar situation as he was in Rome, only this time, he would address the Gentile's side of the issue rather than addressing the Jews. The Galatians were Gentile Christians who had begun to believe a false teaching that had crept into their gathering which stated that in order to be justified or declared righteous before God, one needed to observe the commandments of the law along with its rituals such as circumcision. Paul writes passionately to the Galatian believers pleading with them to remember the clear gospel presentation of the crucified Christ that was portrayed before their eyes (Gal 3:1). In his sharp rebuke to them in the beginning of chapter 3, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions contrasting the "works of the law" and the "hearing by faith". Paul asks the Galatians these questions in order to show them that the Holy Spirit and the miracles that had been done among them were not because of their observance of the law and circumcision, but because of their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ that came through the preaching of the gospel (v2-5). Before he proceeds into elaborating on their justification by faith, Paul parallels their "hearing with faith" with Abraham's example, proving that justification has always been by faith in God. The Galatians were declared righteous, receiving the Spirit of God, "just as Abraham 'believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.'" (v 6). Paul concludes in the next sentence that because Abraham was justified by faith, then all who believe in the person and work of Christ through the hearing with faith, are justified by faith and are sons of Abraham (v7). He continues by explaining that the Scriptures, knowing that "God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying "In you shall all the nations be blessed."( v 8). Here we see what it means for God to bless the nations through Abraham, as was seen in Genesis 12:3, namely, that God would justify ALL who believe in Jesus - both Jew and Gentile (Gal 3:28-29). Therefore, the blessing that all who have faith experience is the blessing of justification - undeservedly being declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. This is why Paul writes in verse 9, "So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." Justification is not the end in the blessing of Abraham, it is only a means to an end. Abraham, you, me, and all who believe in the person and work of Jesus are declared righteous before God for something greater, for God. Because a sinful Abraham was declared righteous before God by faith, God could be his God, his shield, and his exceedingly great reward (Gen 15:1). Abraham could look forward to heavenly country whose builder and maker is God (Heb 10:10,16). This is always the case with us; our justification is not so that we might enjoy a guilt free, forgiven life that is healthy, wealthy, and successful. Our justification is so that we might enjoy something much greater, eternal life with an infinitely joyful, sovereign, good, and gracious God.This is the true blessing of Abraham that has come upon those who believe in Jesus! 

Before I proceed to the last passage, notice that Paul never mentions anything about Abraham's wealth, health, or success in this passage that deals explicitly with the blessing of Abraham. To be blessed, according to Paul is to be justified, forgiven, and loved by God. This is why in Romans 4:6-7, just after explaining Abraham's justification in verse 2 and 3, Paul quotes Psalm 32 where David talks about the "blessing of the one to whom God counts righteous apart from works."
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Curse of the Law?
As Paul moves forward in Galatians 3:10, he talks about the curse that comes on those who seek to be justified by the law.  According to the scriptures, the curse comes to "everyone who does not abide by ALL things written in the Book of the Law, and do them."(v10 emphasis mine). Paul continues on by re-iterating the evidence from Abraham that proves that justification was never by the law because "The righteous shall live by faith." Seeking to obey the law in order to be justified and accepted before God is not faith but works and ultimately, because no one can keep the law's demands perfectly because of sin, all who try to be justified by the law will find themselves under a curse. Just to be clear, this "curse" that Paul speaks of is not the curse found in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 that brings horrible earthly afflictions upon the disobedient. It is often preached by those who misinterpret the blessing of Abraham that this curse that Paul speaks of is the same curse Adam received upon being kicked out of the garden, and the same curse that came to those who were disobedient to God's laws in the wilderness.They will often preach that you can experience the blessing of Abraham when obeying God's word and will experience the "curse" when you disobey. According to the context of Deuteronomy 28, this curse was for disobedient Israel based on the implications it had on their society. The most that can be taken away from the "curse" passage in Deuteronomy 28 is that it is a type and a symbol of what it means to be under the infinite and eternal wrath of God for our sin and disobedience apart from Jesus, which is far worse than anything listed in Deuteronomy. Our attempts to be justified by the law will only bring  this curse of God's just condemnation upon us. But there is a solution. Paul sates in Galatians 3:13 that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... - so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." Jesus dies in our place for our sins, becoming a curse and bearing the curse for us that we deserved, not so that we might be rich in this life and not so that we might have the best and most successful lives possible on this earth; Jesus dies so that we can receive the blessing of being declared righteous in God's sight, not on the basis of anything we have done or haven't done, but on the basis of Jesus. This declaration is so that we might receive God's promised Holy Spirit, who will seal us until the day when Jesus comes to bring us to Himself so that we might enjoy and experience His love forever. 

Conclusion
In conclusion, the blessing of Abraham was never about riches and success in this life. It is about God  bringing nations of people to Himself to experience eternal life with Him. When we define the blessing of Abraham to mean that we can experience physical health and material blessings, we misinterpret and limit its extent and minimize what Jesus actually came to give us. Jesus dies to give His bride so much more than 70 or 80 years of health and financial security. That's nothing. He dies to give people all over the world (rich,poor, healthy, sick,) an eternal and rock solid hope that they will spend not 70 years but 70 billion ages of years experiencing unending joy and love before the throne of God. Its time this term "the blessing of Abraham" be used in its proper meaning. If we believe in Jesus and His work on the cross for us, then the blessing of Abraham has come upon us and we are heirs according to the promise God made Abraham. We are justified, forgiven, and we have access to the unlimited riches of the grace of God and therefore we can rejoice in this present life in any favorable or unfavorable circumstances, knowing that God will bring us to Himself and is working all things for His glory and our conformity to Jesus.
  
 














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