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A Rich Heritage of Financial Dysfunction

I often tell people that there are 2,350 verses in the Bible about money.  Many of them are commands or instructions to follow.  But there are also plenty of moments in God’s story that are perfect lessons of what not to do.  And not just from Pharisees and Philistines, but from the actual heroes and forefathers of our faith.

Take Jacob (later to be renamed “Israel”) for instance.  Before he was the father of the Israelites, he swindled his brother Esau out of his birthright, was convinced by his mother to deceive his father and steal Esau’s blessing as well, was hoodwinked by his father-in-law into marrying the wrong daughter, had his wives selling each other marital rights with mandrakes, and tried to increase his flocks by having the sheep mate while staring at partially peeled sticks.

That’s quite a laundry list of head-scratching acts for the head of the nation of God’s people.  When I think about what it was that Jacob was really after, it comes down to one thing – security.  He wanted to secure for himself his father’s blessing, an attractive wife, and a stable future through an increase in possessions.  And while I would like to think that I would have made better choices, the reality is that we all struggle with doing the right thing when our security is on the line.

I was faced directly with this last year.  I felt God’s leading to launch Shepherd last year, but it was hard to leave the security of a salary, benefits, colleagues, etc.  Would the God of Israel be enough in the midst of uncertainty?  What I’ve come to realize is that there wasn’t any actual security in the things I was leaving.  One of the biggest lies about money is that we will someday have enough to be truly secure.  It promises safety, comfort and happiness, but it just can’t deliver.  Proverbs 10:15 warns us that “the wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall.”  The key word there is imagine.  Wealth can’t ever permanently protect us because it is all temporary.  1 Timothy 6:17 encourages us not to put our hope in “wealth, which is so uncertain”.

The sooner we find that out, the better.  When we realize that more money can never offer us true security, we can recognize that our security can only come from God.  He is the one who provides not only our wealth but our lives as well.  Even better, He is sovereign over all, and “richly provides everything for our enjoyment.”

Jacob found this out eventually.  He was on his way to dreadfully meet his brother Esau, fearing his brother would seek vengeance.  Jacob sent numerous caravans of his riches ahead of him as a gift to his brother.  He sent all his servants and possessions, and then finally sent his family ahead of him.  Genesis 32:24 then says plainly “And Jacob was left alone.”  It’s at this point – the point that he finally separates himself from the family and possessions he worked so hard to acquire – that he famously wrestles with God until God cripples him and then blesses him.  It’s at this point that he receives not his father’s blessing, but his Father’s blessing.  It’s at this point that Jacob begins to be transformed into Israel.

But it took being alone.  Without security in people or possessions, he was finally able to encounter God and receive true security.  My hope and prayer is that we will be so bold as to “be left alone”.  Not that we choose to live alone or without possessions, but that we would let go of the hope we have in our possessions to ever be enough.  When we do, we can experience the same blessing from God, and an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.