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D'varim/Deuteronomy 8:13 ... and your cattle and your flock increase, and silver and gold increase for you and everything that is yours increases ...
Moshe is speaking here to a time when the Israelites have settled in the Land and have enjoyed its benefits and blessings. Moshe explains that "the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills" (D'varim 8:7, ESV) - the water supplies, so critical in the Middle East, will be outstanding; "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey" (v. 8, ESV) - the Land will be naturally fertile and bring forth a range of crops and fruit; "a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper" (v. 9, ESV) - not only will food not be lacking, but technology will be enabled by abundant mineral resources. This is altogether a good Land.
But, Moshe continues, "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and His rules and His statutes, which I command you today" (v. 11, ESV); there is an all too real concern that when the people have all this bounty, they will forget that it is G-d who has done all this and come to think that they themselves were responsible, as theSforno points out: "when you attribute your success to your own might and fail to bless Him for it".
The Hebrew verse has three verbs in it, one for each phrase of the text. The first, , is a Qal prefix 3mp form with a paragogic nun; the second and third, , are both Qal prefix 3ms forms. All three come from the same root, , to become great, many or numerous, to multiply or increase. What does this triumvirate say to us - why does this root verb repeat in this way?Hirsch translates the first phrase of the verse "and your herds and your flocks multiply themselves", adopting a reflexive voice that strictly exceeds the text, while the NJPS translation of the verse says "your flocks and herds have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered", choosing a different English growth verb for each use. Jeffrey Tigay comments that "although the increase of Israel's cattle and wealth, like the building of houses in the previous verse, will naturally require effort on its part, Moshe does not say 'and you have multiplied your herds and flocks', but rather 'your herds and flocks have multiplied'. In this way he avoids giving the impression that this increase will be due to Israel's own activity." It is the cattle and the flocks that do the multiplying; it is the silver and gold and "everything you own" that increases, almost as if the Israelites were passive bystanders, just watching it happen around them. The second and third verbs are singular, rather than plural, to emphasise that the increase happens to everything, all at once - nothing will escape or be overlooked.
Hirsch is concerned about why cattle and flocks, silver and gold, and possessions are grouped together in this way. In the Ancient Near East, flocks, herds, money in cash form and 'stuff' are the way in which wealth is measured. A land-holding and its potential for crops certainly have value, but you have to wait for the crops to grow each year and you are at the mercy of the weather and pests such as locusts, while silver and gold are instantly available money, possessions represent a surplus of disposable income and animals can be easily traded. Hirsch describes the risk this way: "While products of the soil bring the blessings of G-d to mind more than the work of Man's hands, it is buildings and moveable riches which, above all, give the self-satisfied feelings of one's own creative powers." If the Israelites have tangible and portable wealth, then they may be tempted to ascribe this to their own effort alone, rather then continuing to recognise that - just like the crops - everything comes from G-d.
Nechama Leibowitz says that the verses immediately prior to this and verses 12-18 represent two temptations to the Israelites. The Land verses (7-11, where the word occurs seven times) can "intoxicate them with the plenitude of its fruits, provoking its tillers to see in its fertility not the will of the Creator and His kindnesses but the orgies and of the gods of nature, the Ba'al and Ashtoreth." This temptation is countered by the command "you shall eat and be full and you shall bless the L-RD your G-d for the good land He has given you" (v. 10, ESV), bringing into every meal the opportunity to focus on G-d as the ultimate provider and creator. The second temptation, Leibowitz continues, is that "Man was liable to be thrown off his balance not by his intoxication with the natural wealth found in the Land but with the wealth artificially cultivated, the fruits of man's toil, his creativity, the success of the bodily and mental exertions invested by him in this labour - a temptation that substitutes the service of the Creator of all, not nature and the worship of the gods of nature, but man and his pride.
Yeshua told a parable about a man whose land was very productive: "He debated with himself, 'What should I do? I haven't enough room for all my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I'll store all my wheat and other goods there. Then I'll say to myself, "You're a lucky man! You have a big supply of goods laid up that will last many years. Start taking it easy! Eat! Drink! Enjoy yourself!"' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night you will die! And the things you prepared - whose will they be?'" (Luke 12:17-20, CJB). The question was about the people's attitude to wealth and riches; as Yeshua said, "Be careful to guard against all forms of greed, because even if someone is rich, his life does not consist in what he owns" (v. 15, CJB). It isn't the wealth itself that is the problem, but what both the person themselves and others do or think about it. Our lives and our relationships are not defined by what we own or how much wealth we have. On the contrary, what we do with what we have is to be defined by who we are and our relationship with G-d. Yeshua makes it clear that possessions - our "stuff" - will be taken away if our relationship with G-d is not right: "That's how it is with anyone who stores up wealth for himself without being rich toward G-d" (v. 21, CJB).
How then are we to respond? Does G-d want us all to be like the rich young ruler - "If you are serious about reaching the goal, go and sell your possessions, give to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow Me!" (Matthew 19:21, CJB) - and become itinerants on the road? No, otherwise there would be no wealth within the Body to fund the Body: no-one to give that those in need might receive; no-one to payroll the missions and outreach work; no investors to back believers in business; no sponsorship for artists, writers and musicians. Yeshua spoke a hard truth: "The poor you will always have with you" (26:11, CJB); even if every believer gave every penny that he possessed, the problem of poverty in the world would still exist. Those same words had already been said in the Torah. Moshe had been teaching about the release of debts in the sabbatical year and the risk that wealthy people would not be prepared to lend to the poor when the seventh year was coming up, lest they would have to write off their loans. "You must not withhold these funds", he insists, "Rather, you must give to him; and you are not to be grudging when you give to him. If you do this, ADONAI your G-d will bless you in all your work, in everything you undertake - for there will always be poor people in the land. That is why I am giving you this order, 'You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land'" (D'varim 15:10-11, CJB). This is why Rav Sha'ul writes, "Each should give according to what he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for G-d loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, G-d has the power to provide you with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way you will have all you need yourselves and be able to provide abundantly for every good cause" (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, CJB).
Our giving should be both deliberate and intentional so that we invest willingly into the kingdom of G-d, not being swayed by emotional but possibly unG-dly appeals, recognising that G-d Himself will provide through us the funds that others need and ensure that we have everything we need in our own lives. That is the way kingdom finances work: we see the increase not in what we keep but in what we are able to give away. In economic terms, our throughput or turnover increases, but our own personal profit remains steady.
Further Study: 1 Corinthians 4:6-7; Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; James 4:23-25
Application: Are you engaging with kingdom finances and seeing G-d's increase or are you trying to hang on to what you have now?
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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