The Lord wanted His people to trust in Him for their security, not in their material possessions. Had man permanently adopted these laws as his own, there would be very little poverty in the world today, and almost no war or oppression...
The folly of becoming obsessed with material gain is mentioned often in Scripture. In fact, the Levitical System included laws specifically designed to discourage it. Money was loaned without interest. (Exod. 22:25) Every seven years all debts were canceled (Deut. 15:1-2), and slaves were set free and given a stake to help them start over. (Deut. 15:12-14) Land that was lost due to foreclosure had to be redeemed by family members, (Lev. 25:25) and every 50 years all land that had been sold, or lost and not redeemed, was returned to its original owner. (Lev. 25:8-17)
There was simply no motivation for empire building in God's economy. The intent was clear. The Lord wanted His people to trust in Him for their security, not in their material possessions. Had man permanently adopted these laws as his own, there would be very little poverty in the world today, and almost no war or oppression. In fact, while giving the Israelites these instructions, the Lord concluded with:
"However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (Deut. 15:4-5)
Why was the preoccupation with acquiring wealth discouraged? Having created man with incredible talent and ability, didn't the Lord want him to use it to make his life better? Here's His answer:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:10-14, 17-18)
Obsession With Possessions
Notice that the Lord wasn't speaking against acquiring wealth as such. By the use of when instead of if in the passage above we know His intent was that they would all become prosperous as one way of demonstrating the benefits of being in a relationship with Him. But He wanted them to remember that it was a blessing from Him, so He warned them not to become proud of their prosperity, and not to start thinking they had earned it on their own. He knew that this kind of pride would foster feelings of self-determination, replacing their trust in Him with a trust in themselves. That, in turn, would lead to greed and dishonesty and finally an obsession with material possessions. He designed His laws to prevent this, and when they refused to obey, He took everything away from them to humble them and bring them back to Him. (2 Chron. 36:20-21 & Jere 25:8-11)
Who Are You Working For?
Psalm 39:6 is a good example of the folly we're talking about. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. It reminds me of the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. Having acquired too many goods to fit into his storage barns he decides to tear them down and build bigger ones that will hold everything, so he can relax and take life easy. But he had no sooner made that decision when he got a visit from the Lord.
"You fool," He admonished him, "This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" (Luke 16:20) After telling His disciples the parable, the Lord went on to teach them how to live. And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:29-31)
How far we've fallen from that advice! In America. For example, we've created such a materialistic society that it's taken on a life of its own. It's cheaper for the auto industry to give us rebates and low-interest loans, so we'll buy more of the cars they've already built than it is to shut down some of their assembly lines and make fewer cars. The system demands a certain level of production, whether people need new cars or not.
The advertising industry motivates, manipulates, and cajoles us to spend, spend, spend to keep our economy moving. As a nation, we're spending money we don't have to buy things we don't need. (note: as of 2016, US citizens owe 747 billion dollars in credit card debt.) Marriages fail, children are all but abandoned and bankruptcies are skyrocketing. The idea of trusting the Lord for our security vanished from our culture long ago, and our dependence on material possessions as a substitute has caused many of us to become two and three income families just to fund our debt-ridden lifestyles. We've become slaves to this system in every sense of the word, with no chance of ever getting free by ourselves. Where's the security in that?
Our only hope is to ask the Lord to help us begin downsizing right now, and that means terminating our illicit love affair with materialism and asking Him to forgive us for our unfaithfulness. This is not consigning ourselves to a life of poverty and deprivation, by the way. He has always promised prosperity in exchange for faithfulness, and you can read story after story about people who are happier, healthier, and leading richer, fuller lives after downsizing than they ever could have imagined before. But the history of God's people shows that if we don't choose to do this voluntarily, we'll eventually be required to do it forcibly.
Here Is Wisdom
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart, says Psalm 37:4.
If poverty or economic enslavement were meant to be the lot of believers on Earth, this verse is at best misleading and at worst downright cruel. So if that's what we're experiencing, maybe we've ignored the first part of the verse in our preoccupation with the second.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:9-10)
Giving Him the 10% that's His is a good way to show your delight in Him. It says, "Thanks for the other 90%." Do it, and He'll soon make your remaining 90% bigger than your old 100% ever was.
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38.
As we give so shall we receive. Are we skimping on His share? If so we're only hurting ourselves.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:8,10,11)
Rich in every way includes prosperity without debt.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
The lesson is clear. The Israelites failed to obey the Lord in these matters and wound up losing everything. The Lord is patient, but His patience is not inexhaustible. Eventually, He has to put a stop to such disobedience because if He doesn't we'll totally destroy ourselves and He loves us too much to let that happen.
Out With The Old, In With The New?
But most of that's Old Testament stuff, you say, ignoring Paul's teaching from Romans 15. Please remember that regardless of what you've been taught, the only consequence we, as New Testament believers, escape when breaking God's law is the loss of our salvation. His law was never revoked and carries no expiration date. Thieves and murderers still get caught and go to prison. Adulterers still destroy marriages and families. And excessive debt in our quest for material gain still brings untold stress and even loss of the very possessions we coveted. All this is irrespective of our beliefs.
But because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
No matter what happened yesterday, we will always have a future with Him, and because of the cross our past sins can be forgiven and forgotten. (1 John 1:9) The moment we decide to start over and return control of our life to the Lord our slate is wiped clean and it's as if we never sinned. Plus, we get the benefit of having the burden lifted off our shoulders as He takes over. He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt 11:28) Combining the Lord's guidance with our obedience in a guaranteed solution we can implement now to escape the economic oppression that has enslaved us. Remember, He came so that we could have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Selah