The Prosperity Of The Wicked

 

Psalms 73

 

The Bible promises to provide for the needs of the righteous. – Philippians 4:19

 

God never promises to make believers independently wealthy1. He promises to supply for the needs of the righteous man. But it is possible to live in fiscal poverty, and also to see God meet your needs. The prayer reads, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Let God worry about tomorrow.

 

Some verses appear to say otherwise:

 

-                      Psalm 1:3 – “In all that he does, he prospers.” Response: There is nothing financial in Psalm 1, except for the way we like to read verse 3 – with emphasis on “we like to.” The righteous man is solid and steady. The righteous man is sober and wise. You can count on a righteous man to tell you the same thing today that he told you yesterday. He will succeed at what endeavors he pursues. But this success may or may not convert to fiscal wealth2. Nehemiah 2:20 uses the same word in a clearly non-fiscal context.

 

-                      Malachi 3:10 – “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” Response: Somehow, we read this passage and we think Vegas slot machine. Put the tithe into the slot, and when the windows of heaven open, we will need wheelbarrows to carry out our winnings. And as long as you ignore verse 11, you can get a lot of people excited about tithing with Malachi 3:103.

 

One more thing about the Malachi passage – the promises to pour out the blessing is fulfilled when your need is satisfied – verse 10 says so. God may choose to keep pouring. But that would be an act of grace, and not an act of promise. Also overlooked is the means by which God promises to pour out the blessing. Malachi 3:11 clarifies that God will “rebuke the devourer.” In an agricultural society, this referred to God rebuking the devourer (the crop pest) such that you have crops to sell, and that your income will grow. Today, it applies more to the Expense side of the Cash Flow statement.

 

Your shoes may be good for two years – or three, or four if the devourer is rebuked. A 2-year pair of shoes lasting four years is like getting a free pair of shoes. Your blessing did not come in the form of a $50 windfall when God opened the windows of heaven. Your blessing came when God opened the windows of heaven and rebuked the devourer so that the shoes lasted four years instead of the normal two.

 

Before you complain that getting $1000 is more exciting than being spared $1000 of expense, consider: No amount of money God could provide is adequate to meet your need if nobody is rebuking the devourer.

 

I am persuaded that most of God’s blessings that are poured from the windows of heaven are unobservable. Your car breaks down, the repair bill is $500, and we bemoan God for allowing it to happen. But we have no way of knowing – none whatsoever – how long ago the defect occurred, or how long God has been holding the defect intact until you have both the time and money to deal with the damage. God may have been rebuking the devourer for months. And He may have repaired some of the damage Himself. At a red light, someone honks for you and alerts you to something requiring attention. Was it a kind word from a passer-by? Or was it an angel of God sent from the windows of heaven with the mission to rebuke the devourer? I submit you and I have no way to discern the answer to that question.

 

Regarding discretionary wealth, God really doesn’t tell us how He distributes it. An atheist wins the lottery that we Christians are counseled not even to play. Doesn’t God know that the tithe on the winnings could have financed whole missionary careers? You compete with a non-believer for a promotion and the other guy gets it. Doesn’t God know that a dozen non-believers could have been saved by hearing my testimony? You faithfully preach the word to 500 in attendance, and the church across the street attracts 1,000 to hear that God loves them. I get the message, God; from now on, “God loves you” it is4.

 

And David was beginning to wonder too. “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” – Psalm 73:3. Davids of today may wonder: If homosexuality is so wrong, why does God allow their incomes, as a whole, to be higher than incomes of heterosexuals? Zechariah 4:10 tells us not to despise the small numbers (“Things” is a supplied word. “Numbers” seems to fit better.), but rather keep your eye on the plumb line, the straight standard of God’s righteousness (See also Amos 7:75).

 

David had a long list of grievances regarding the prosperity of the wicked. It kept him busy through verse 15.

 

Verses 16 and 17 are better read from the King James. ESV tones it down too much:

 

When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

 

Psalm 73:17 reminds us not to judge God by the half-time score – which is why Zechariah tells us not to watch the scoreboard at all. Psalm 73:18 – “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin” continues with a single thought to verse 20. And in verses 21 and 22, David feels foolish for looking at the scoreboard rather than the plumb line. He had an excuse; Zechariah wasn’t written yet.

 

Psalm 73:27-28 summarizes the lessons David learned: “For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”

 

For those who insist on watching the scoreboard, I propose a poster to block your view: It reads, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” – Psalm 37:25. Now, that is a scoreboard we can watch.

 

1 Samuel 25-27

 

1 Samuel 25:22. David is speaking here with obvious satire. The normal oath is “May God do so to me and more also, if….6 But the Hebrew cites David as the speaker, and the oath reads “May God do so to the enemies of David, if….” What David is saying is: One way or another, all the male servants of Nabal will die – either David will do the job himself, or God will complete what he leaves behind. This sort of satire has a greater humor effect when you hear the oath repeated multiple times each day as a basic part of the spoken language. David’s satire attitude is reinforced by the way he says “male.” Look it up in King James; it’s worth an adolescent giggle.

 

Many not all of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, also called “LXX”) readings read “David said, ‘May God do so to David….’” [i.e., “the enemies of” is deleted], which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering David is speaking. This results in Holman and ESV publishing contradictory footnotes7. ESV INCLUDES “enemies” in the translation, with a footnote saying that the Septuagint deletes “enemies;” Holman EXCLUDES “enemies” from the text; converts “David” to “me” (which makes logical sense that David should say “me” rather than use his own name, notwithstanding there is no dispute that the original says “David.”); and footnotes that the Septuagint inserts “enemies8.” NIV deletes “enemies” with a footnote that is grammatical gibberish.

 

1 Samuel 25:25. Nabal (nuh-BAL) is the common Hebrew word for “fool.” Perhaps his parents could have used a name-the-baby book. But even in modern day, I am very careful when I pronounce the name of Bruce Willis’ ex-wife. Thankfully the occasions that I have to do that are almost never.

 

1 Samuel 25:43-44. As much as we can admire the reign and the ministry of David, we would do well not to imitate his actions as a husband or a father. Nor Saul’s actions as a father-in-law. David evidently did not honor Saul’s change of heart until 2 Samuel 3:13.

 

1 Samuel 26:6. This is a different Ahimelech than Ahimelech the Priest in 1 Samuel 21-22. (Ahimelech the Priest probably died in 1 Samuel 22:18.) Ahimelech means “My brother is the King;” whereas Abimelech means “My father is the King.” I suspect that Abimelech is also used as the title of Prince – and not as a man’s given name – in various passages in Genesis.

 

1 Samuel 26:11. This verse is also used in a modern context to put severe limits on a Christian about to criticize an ordained minister. I do not suggest they should be immune from criticism. But rather the critic should recognize the higher dimension of input and correction that the minister receives directly from God. Do not put yourself in the position of telling God that you can instruct and correct the Pastor more effectively than He can.

 

1 Samuel 28-31

 

1 Samuel 28:1-25. Saul had earlier expelled all mystics from the land, but it proved inconvenient when Saul actually wanted advice from one. When the mystic did summons Samuel, Saul blamed God for not having provided instruction. Now the truth is he never asked in the first place (1 Chronicles 10:14)9. However it is likely that after 1 Samuel 13:14, God wouldn’t have answered his requests, even had he so asked.

 

While Samuel was alive, Saul got into the habit of learning God’s will through Samuel. This is a real interesting situation: Having Godly advisors is a good thing. But you cannot place so high an importance on Godly advice that you have no need to seek God. Samuel was now dead – and therein arises the need for a mystic. Samuel was surely aware Saul was lying about seeking God. But he was able to respond to Saul as though Saul’s lie were a true statement.

 

If God is not responding to your requests, maybe there is some broader lesson that is more important.

 

1 Samuel 29:1-11. 1 Samuel 29 reminds me of 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Every option available to David contained an unfavorable outcome10.

 

David clearly didn’t have his heart into joining an Army that was preparing to battle Israel. But he owed a debt of gratitude to Achish, his long-time host while he was in hiding. He knew there was a real possibility he may wind up in the position to have to kill King Saul – an act he had already chosen against on two occasions.

Just as bad, David knew he was already ordained to be King of Israel when Saul dies. If Saul dies in a battle with an army David belongs to – even if David has nothing to do with the killing – then David ascends to King of Israel, some people simply assume that David engineered Saul’s death to become King, and there arises a civil war in Israel.

 

Or David could switch sides and join Israel’s army, only that would be disloyal to the vows he had made to Achish. Or David could sit this one out, and likely be branded a deserter – unfit in Israel’s eyes to become King, and unfit in the Philistine eye to continue using space in their land. David had no option that would lead to winning; he had no option that would lead to breaking even; and he had no way to get out of the game.

 

And just as 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises, God proves faithful. With the Sophie’s Choice temptation before David, God provided the way of escape. God directed the hearts of the Philistine commanders to disqualify David. David could sit this one out with no risk of being labeled a deserter. And as it turned out, Saul did die during the ensuing battle (1 Samuel 31). But David could not be associated with the death.

 

1 Samuel 30:6. “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” I’ll take this moment to remind you that the readings through Samuel and Kings (and on through Esther) are fairly easy, and very enjoyable. But if you read in novel mode, you will miss a lot of spiritual gems.

 

1 Samuel 30:21-25. There is a topical disconnect so-to-speak with 1 Samuel 30. The topic for several chapters up to chapter 29 and continuing in chapter 31 was Israel and the Philistines in battle. Chapter 30 is a side battle between David and the Amalekites. It isn’t even clear that the ordained government of Israel acknowledged this as a real foreign affairs issue.

 

But the real topic started in 1 Samuel 13:14, when God discontinued His relationship with Saul. The real topic was the life of David during the time he was ordained of God, and yet still living as a subject under King Saul – and how God worked during that time to train David spiritually. 1 Samuel 29 closes with David and the Philistine army parting company and going separate ways. 1 Samuel 30 and 31 seem to occur simultaneously11. Since chapter 30 declares a 3-day delay, it is likely that the first events of chapter 31 occurred before the first events of 1 Samuel 30.

 

This means there was a very good likelihood that Saul had died prior to 1 Samuel 30:21. Since Jonathan had died too, David knew that there was no other reasonable candidate for King12, and that he himself was ordained of God to become King. Without David knowing that Saul and Jonathan were dead, his action of writing a statute for Israel would have been seen as inappropriate.

 

1 Samuel 30:24. “They also serve who only stand and wait” is not in the Bible. The quote comes from a poem by John Milton.

 

1 Samuel 31:11-13/1 Chronicles 10:11-12. I haven’t thought this one through yet. But this one seems interesting. We are now at least 40 years later than the scene in Judges 21, where the population of the tribe of Benjamin was 600 men, and the remaining tribes kidnapped women from Jabesh-Gilead to be the wives of the Benjaminites. Saul was a Benjaminite, but since I can’t date Judges 21, I can’t tell whether I think Saul was one of the 600.

 

But at least 40 years later, Saul is dead, and his body is being disgraced. It is the people of Jabesh-Gilead that steal Saul’s body, and dispose of it with dignity.

 

1The concept of a believer being independent is contrary to God’s vision for a believer anyway.

 

2I like to think that my comment for today is prosperous. I have no goal or vision that this prosperity (or success) of the comment will ever convert to fiscal wealth.

 

3Sadly, some preachers do.

 

4I believe that Zechariah 4:10 counsels believers not to keep a numerical score on God. You will too frequently derive the wrong conclusion.

 

5Books such as Amos, Zechariah and Malachi get far too little attention. Did you know that David – in addition to being the great songwriter he is famous for – was also an INVENTOR of musical instruments? (Amos 6:5)

 

6Modern day, this oath would come out (even if irreverently), “I will [do something] or may lightning strike me dead.” David turns that around and says in effect, “I will kill all the male servants of Nabal, or may lightning strike dead the ones I miss.”

 

7It’s sickening to watch two versions intentionally contradict each other when at the very least they should be presenting a unified testimony regarding the authority of the word of God. Note to self: Am I doing the same thing when I discuss a passage I think is wrongly translated?

 

8A. I am saddened that the Holman footnote acknowledges that “enemies” appears in the Hebrew text, but chooses to delete it from their translation.

B. Holman footnote refers to the Hebrew as “MT.” MT means Masoretic Text (in other words, the Hebrew text) in the Old Testament, though the same shorthand means Majority Text in the New Testament.

 

9It is possible to comprehend 1 Chronicles 10:14 to mean that Saul did not seek guidance from the Lord regarding that single issue, and essentially to make no statement regarding whether Saul sought guidance on other issues. Either way, Saul was lying when he spoke to Samuel.

 

10Some of you have studied at one time the three laws of thermodynamics. Just in case the details have slipped your mind, here is how they summarize: Law 1 – You cannot win; Law 2 – You cannot break even; Law 3 – You cannot get out of the game. The words used by your textbook may vary slightly.

 

11All major versions (except Holman where the word is simply dropped) begin 1 Samuel 31:1 with “Now.” The word “now” appears in the Hebrew, and is important. It should be comprehended as “Now in the meantime….”

 

12Saul had a 40-year-old son Ish-Bosheth who was likely incompetent. For a brief period, Abner (a Saul loyalist) combined his own skill set with Ish-Bosheth’s lineage and established an alternate Kingship. But when Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of having an affair with Saul’s wife, Abner switched his loyalty to David.

 

The Bible is silent on who succeeded Ish-Bosheth. But there is a five-year gap from the time Ish-Bosheth died and the time David became King over all Israel. David’s 40-year reign as King include the seven when he was King of Judah alone.

 

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