Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Challenge of Money in the Old Testament: Abraham

[Yahweh] said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you” (Genesis 12:1, Good News Translation).
According to the Old Testament, Yahweh created the heavens and the earth around 4000 BC. He created them to serve as the perfect context for his relationship of freedom and love with Adam and Eve (Genesis 1). Conversely, this relationship of freedom and love between Yahweh and humankind, and theirs with Yahweh, one another, and the rest of creation, was the purpose of creation (Genesis 2).
Sadly, this creation, fraught with meaning, did not last long. Adam and Eve foolishly chose to question Yahweh’s judgment about both creation and their relationship to him, one another, and the rest of creation. By doing so, they were overwhelmed and enslaved by powers of evil that Yahweh had rejected on their behalf (Genesis 3).
Beginning with this rupture in their relationship with Yahweh, we have the first age of human history: the Age of Olympianity. Now human beings no longer had the Christian personality they were created with. We no longer spontaneously worshiped Yahweh. Instead, with Olympian personalities strengthened by a very unholy spirit, we unwittingly devoted ourselves to the six now conventional but always destructive gods of Olympus. We unwittingly worshiped and unavoidably served them.
In response, Yahweh decided he would set apart a certain group of people and school them in his ways. Then they, and the nations around them, would know that there was another, true, god who was quite unlike the six false Olympian gods.
In 1921 BC, Yahweh decided to set apart this group of people beginning with Abraham. Abraham, along with his wife Sarah and his extended family, lived in the Mesopotamian city of Haran. Abraham was 75 years old when Yahweh invited him on the unexpected adventure of walking with him. Abraham had lived a long time in Mesopotamia but Yahweh decided he wasn’t going to die there. Yahweh’s call freed Abraham from the only country he had ever known, his extended family, and the ancestral home of the clan. Yahweh’s liberating words freed Abraham for walking with an invisible god, to an unknown destination, with only that god’s verbal assurance that all would go well. So Abraham left Haran with his wife Sarah and nephew Lot (Genesis 12).
In Canaan, Abraham and Lot both owned sheep, goats, and cattle. Soon their animals grew too numerous for the two men to stay together. Yahweh’s call to Abraham had freed him from the possessiveness that Pluto would have insisted on. Abraham offered his nephew Lot the choice of the well-watered land of the Jordan River valley or the dry hill country. Lot chose the better, well-watered, land for all his animals and settled near the city of Sodom. By doing so, Lot demonstrated his devotion to Pluto but Abraham let him go in peace (Genesis 13).
It was at that moment that Yahweh chose to promise Abraham that all the land which he could see would be given to him and his descendants forever (Genesis 13:5). This was quite a promise since Abraham was a nomad and his wife, now 65, had never been able to have children. At that moment, then, Yahweh promised that he would make Abraham wealthy and Abraham looked to Yahweh alone for wealth.
Abraham’s exclusive reliance on Yahweh alone was soon tested. A hostile alliance of local kings soon took his nephew Lot prisoner along with the king of Sodom. When word of this reached Abraham, he led his men against those kings, defeated them, and freed their prisoners including Lot.
The king of Sodom offered to make Abraham rich by allowing him to keep the goods stolen by the alliance from Sodom and other cities. Abraham refused to take anything. He explained that he did not want the king of Sodom to claim that he was the one who made Abraham rich (Genesis 14:22-24). Abraham wanted to save that distinction for Yahweh alone.
In Money and Power (trans. LaVonne Neff, 1984), Jacques Ellul makes two comments about Abraham’s decision toward the king of Sodom. One: “To receive wealth from someone else is to deny God’s lordship. To try to make money by whatever means possible, to give it first place in one’s affections, to extract it from work or from war, is not to recognize this lordship, which cannot be simply a comforting word but must be an attested reality” (38). In other words, by refusing the loot, Abraham rightly affirmed his devotion to Yahweh and rejected Pluto as his god.
Two, committed to live as a witness to Yahweh, the only true god who had first committed himself to Abraham, Abraham wants everyone to know that all he has—he got from Yahweh. In no way does Abraham want to give Pluto any grounds for saying that it was he who made Abraham rich through his minion the king of Sodom. Abraham wants no one to think that only Pluto can make people rich.
Jacques believes that this action by Abraham has important implications for us as Christians and churches. It demonstrates that we have “no right to receive wealth from pagan powers, especially gifts from non-Christian millionaires, charitable though they may be. This also applies to state subsidies. When the [38] church accepts this money, even for good causes, it gives the powers of this world an unimaginable hold over it” (38-9). Plus it enables these minions of the gods to claim that they are good, and that the existence of Christ’s Church depends not on Jesus but on them, because they made the Church rich.
There is a small Christian school in Canada. Like many Christian schools there, it too receives tax dollars from the government. Its classrooms are without any pictures on the walls except one. In each classroom, there is an identical photograph of Queen Elizabeth 2nd. To what purpose? Because it receives money from the government, the government restricts the people it may employ as teachers. How else is its witness to Jesus subordinated to the Olympian gods and the demands of their minions? Those gods and their minions may rightly claim, “I am the one who keeps church schools open.”

Copyright © 2016 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.