Introduction: The relevance of Deuteronomy to prosperity in our day
Why study Deuteronomy?
The reason we are diving into portions of Deuteronomy over the next few weeks is that you simply can't have a series on the Christian and prosperity and ignore this important book. It is just plumb full of passages giving insight. Now we aren't going to deal with all of them. I just want to give some highlights. I think most of you have read Deuteronomy 28 and the promises given there. And I hope to teach on Deuteronomy 28. But hardly a section of Deuteronomy can be found that doesn't have both blessings and cursings described. This book starts with the wish of Moses: May the LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times more numerous than you are, and bless you as He has promised you! (Deut. 1:11) Now I just can't help but go down a rabbit trail. That verse says that having the population a thousand times more numerous would be a tremendous blessing, not a cursing. Now think about that. If they had a population of three million people, what's a thousand times of that? That's three billion Israelites. That's exactly half of the total population of the world right now!! What some people consider a curse, Moses considered a blessing! Now that statement all by itself has profound implications on economics. The Austrian School of economics admits this, but so many people view people simply as consumers of resources and fail to see that with a right economic system, any number of people could prosper. I don't want to get too far down this rabbit trail, but we have been in debates with mainland Chinese people on whether they have overpopulation. And my response is that given socialistic economics, they will always be overpopulated. And they respond that they don't have many resources. And my response is that Hong Kong has far more people per square mile and far less resources, and yet has prospered incredibly. I think it is a 400 square mile country with over three million people. They have to import 90% of everything they consume. Only one seventh of the land is arable. Yet they prosper. Don't buy into the myth of overpopulation. Read Rushdoony's book and you will see what a propaganda lie that is.
But my point is that Deuteronomy is chock full of principles on what conditions make for prosperity in your life as an individual or as a country. The next chapter says, For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hand. (Deut 2:7). And throughout the book we have God's provisions prospering the people, blessing them, multiplying them, multiplying what they have, giving them increase, etc.
Now frankly, some people look at such passages with skepticism and treat those promises as being totally irrelevant to us today. And I think there is a good reason for that. I think that there is a tendency for some people to let their experience dictate the interpretation of the bible. When they don't find their own lives measuring up to the description here, rather than investigating Deuteronomy to see what's wrong with them and with their family and with their culture, their first impulse is to deny that Deuteronomy applies. Well, in effect that is saying that their experience tells them that Deuteronomy is wrong. So before we even start looking at issues in Deuteronomy over the next few Sundays, I want to begin by demonstrating that this Scripture was written for us. This will be kind of an introductory sermon and then I will give the first two points of my outline for this chapter.
First, Christ quoted verse 3 as an imperative for Kingdom living in Matthew 4:4. That by itself ought to settle the question for us. Christ treats this chapter as relevant.
But second, Christ quoted from Deuteronomy more frequently than from any other book. It was really the foundation of His Gospel of the Kingdom.
But thirdly, that shouldn't surprise us, since 1 Coirnthians 10:11 says that the Old Testament was written for our admonition. Romans 15:4 says " whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Whatever was written means everything that was written in the Old Testament.
Fourth, Deuteronomy is directly quoted in the New Testament 79 times and with over two hundred allusions. That's a lot! And those quotations touch upon nearly every facet of doctrine and life. God quotes not just doctrines, but also the cursings and blessings of prosperity that we will be looking at today. I think it is important to realize that many Christians not only reject Old Testament law, but they reject Old Testament curses and blessings. They say it is just for Israel. Study the New Testament quotes some time and you will see that Christ and the apostles didn't believe that. For example, Ephesians 6:1 quotes Deuteronomy 5 which promises that everything will go well and secondly, God's people will live longer when they honor their fathers and their mothers. Long life is one form of prosperity that I have heard Christians say absolutely does not apply today. But they are contradicting Paul. Paul highlights the promise and says that one reason why they should honor their parents is because this is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you [OK there, is the general blessings God pours into our lives and secondly] and you may live long on the earth. Not just long in heaven, but long on the earth. Paul doesn't give the slightest indication that such promises only apply to Israel. He says they apply to the Gentile church. In fact, this past week I just counted the number of blessings and curses that are listed in Deuteronomy 27 through the end of the book [OK? That's the curses and the blessings section] and I came up with seven curses that the New Testament applies for today (27:26; 29:4,18; 32:21,35,36,43) and four of the blessings (30:13-14; 31:6; 32:43), and among those blessings and curses quoted there's a general reference that covers all blessings and all cursings. And if you look through the rest of the book of Deuteronomy you will see other promises of prosperity that the New Testament applies to us. Now it may seem like I'm engaging in overkill here. "OK Kayser, you're preaching to the choir. We already believe that. You're beating a dead horse." But let me assure you that the horse is not dead. The horse of skepticism needs to be beaten back because it is alive in the church: people routinely ignore and/or deny the promises and cursings of the Old Testament. And I'm telling you that you have to deny the New Testament's authority to escape from these Old Testament sanctions. The inescapable conclusion is that this is a book for the church.
There are many other reasons that we could give, but let me read the reason given by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:46-47. And he said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe- all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life [notice that it is not just something for the periphery. It is your life. It's not optional; it's your life. It is not just something symbolic. It is your life. He continues], and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess. There is a positive sanction. One of the reasons why Christians see only some of the blessings coming into their lives is that they are only living by some of the blueprints given in Scripture. Moses says the key is patterning your life after all the words of Deuteronomy.
I. The relationship of ethics to prosperity (v. 1,3,6,7,10,11)
And if you would turn to Deuteronomy 8, that's where I would like to start. Point number 1 says that there is a close relationship between ethics and prosperity. Verse 1: Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. Notice the relationship there. Observe every commandment… that you may live and multiply, etc. Notice the word "that" there. Ethics enabled them to prosper. And we see the same thing mentioned in verses 3,4,6,7,10 and 11.
This is a crucial issue that is repeated over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy, probably because we tend to forget it. Actually, it's probably more than just forgetting. Rodney was joking at the Dominion Business Discussion Group at how small the chapter on ethics was in the book, The Ten Day MBA. And in a way that's symbolic of what goes on in the minds of most people. They admit that certain ethical issues need to be in place or there wouldn't be any trust in the market place. But many explanations of economics go out of their way to make economics a morally neutral zone. And the point of this verse is that there is a cause and effect relationship between ethics and prosperity, whether you are talking about prospering in your physical health, in your social relationships, in your money, your time management or something else.
Miraculous blessings and cursings
And there are three ways that the consequences of ethics are manifested in prosperity or lack of prosperity. First, there are miracles God does to bless His people. This is the supernatural. Verse 2 says, And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years… God's leading, whether it is by a fiery cloud in their case, or by subjective leading goes beyond providence. And that's a wonderful blessing that God gives to those who seek His face. Verse 3 mentions the miracle of manna. Verse 4 says, Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. And we should not be surprised when God gives miracles to His people as they honor Him. That's not His normal way or we wouldn't call them miracles.
God's Ordinary Ways of Working: the Laws of Harvest
A second form of blessing that is connected to ethics are the natural consequences of our actions. Verse 9 mentions the labor that they will have to put in to be able to prosper in mining. No digging? No copper ore extracted and sold. Land has to be planted and fertilized before it will prosper. And I speak of these natural consequences as the Laws of Harvest or God's ordinary means of giving order to life. Even many pagans understand this form of blessing and cursing. I didn't take the time to double check, but I think it was George Gilder's book that showed a strong statistical relationship between faithful monogamous marriage and increased health, increased life span, increased retention of jobs, responsibility and income, and the reverse for fornicators. And on health, he wasn't just talking about STDs. He was talking about health and age span in general. Insurance companies recognizes this. And things like that make sense because you can explain the cause and effect relationship. With miracles (point A) its hard. With the next point (Point C) its hard. But not with these cause and effects. It doesn't matter if you are a believer or an unbeliever, if you jump off a cliff and you get hurt. You mess with someone who has STD's and you get STDs. For example, even secular books have been written explaining why Israel's laws prevented diseases that were epidemic in other countries and continued to plague the West until modern medicine began implementing practices that Israelites took for granted. Look at chapter 7.
Chapter 7 mentions that if God's laws are kept, it will affect our health positively. Let's begin reading at verse 12.
Deuteronomy 7:12 “ Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.
Deuteronomy 7:13 “And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.
Deuteronomy 7:14 “You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.
Deuteronomy 7:15 “And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you.
Now I think those four verses deal with all three ways that God makes a cause and effect relationship between ethics and prosperity. But as to the promise in verse 15 that God would take away all the diseases that afflicted Egypt, the Laws of Harvest alone make their increased health logical. I have a book on my shelf that shows how the hygiene laws, sickness quarantine, diet and other laws positively impacted the health of people. And it is a fascinating study. More recently I read a discussion of the birth control methods used in ancient Egypt, and how they used donkey dung compresses for wounds, which would almost guarantee tetanus infection. It's a wonder that more people didn't die from these methods, and the Scriptures stood opposed to them. With modern medicine we can understand the cause and effect relationship between ethics and health.
The same would be true of violating economic laws given in the bible, or violating contract law. Without contract law you don't have a free market. The Free Market depends upon the stability of contract law to be able to function efficiently. So it is no stretch to say that if you violate economic laws you will reap in the same area of economics poorly; you violate Biblical health laws and it will affect your health, etc.
The relationship of Providence (blessing and curse) to prosperity (vv 1-20)
So there is a connection between ethics and miracles; between ethics and natural consequences. But thirdly under point I, there is a relationship between ethics and all God's providential dealings. God causes all of life to work together for the good of those who love Him, but everything works against our prosperity when we are rebelling; when we fail to love Him.
Verse 2 says that God brought providential difficulties into the lives of the Israelites to humble them for their unethical behavior and to test them for the future. Verse 3 continues that thought: So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna [OK, he throws in a miracle there] which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It's not just a cause and effect relationship between eating healthy bread and gaining nutrition, but that cause and effect relationship which is ordered by God is to teach us that everything that happens to us happens consistently with whether or not we keep God's Words.
You might think that the increase of typhoons in a certain country is totally unrelated to the godliness or ungodliness of that nation. People again tend to be skeptical of the historical judgments or blessings of God. But when we get to Deuteronomy 28 we will probably spend more time demonstrating that even on areas where we can't discern a cause and effect relationship, it is in reality God who brings the pressures to pass as discipline - or, on the other hand, God who enables the business to take off and to prosper. That's why this chapter warns us in verse 8: then you say in your heart, "My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth. It's easy to come to that conclusion if we forget the three ways in which God has ordained a cause and effect relationship between ethics and prosperity. Have you noticed how inefficient your whole day can be when you ignore the Lord in devotions and you fail to depend upon Him? I have many times. Have you noticed how God comes through time and time again to help you through financial difficulties when you are cast upon Him? I have. I have seen Him bless with a direct increase of harvest. I have seen Him bless miraculously. And I have looked back on events and realized that God had been blessing providentially in other ways as well. We must have as part of our faith that we can bank on a cause and effect relationship between ethics and prosperity.
II. The relationship of maturity to prosperity (vv. 2-5)
God Tests us to Mature Us (vv. 2-3)
But point number II - there is a relationship between maturity and prosperity. God only gives to us blessings that we are able to handle at that stage of our maturity. And that makes sense. Why would God bless us with enormous wealth if the wealth would make us forget Him, or if the wealth would tempt us to sin or if we wouldn't use it properly? That would be a curse, not a blessing. We wouldn't give our two year old child a hundred dollar bill because the child would not know how to use it properly. He might throw it in the garbage. Now God does sometimes give us sufficient blessing that it becomes a test - an integrity check as it were to give us opportunity to fail (and take the test all over again) or to grow. And when we pass our integrity checks, He blesses us with more. Verse 2 talks about those tests or those integrity checks. And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
You know, when I did my journaling time line two years ago that covered my life from birth to the present it was like the lights went on. For the first time in my life I saw God's providential working in bringing me to maturity I saw many, many tests and integrity checks that God brought into my life that I failed. I didn't recognize them as tests at the time. I just thought God was being mean. I couldn't understand why I had to go through so much misery and why God wasn't answering my prayers. Now God provided during those times, but it was like I was a slow learner. In fact, I have one chunk in my life from age 18-25 where almost everything that was happening to me was teaching me one lesson that I was failing to learn. And the theme of that whole period of time was God's providential ways of forcing me out of my shell and forcing me to grow up. Verse 5 says, You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you. And that was a miserable time in my life where I was pushed beyond my comfort zone. And I now see that that period was essential to my maturity, and if I had submitted my neck to these tests, I may not have had to repeat some of those tests so many times. So don't see the times God takes things away from you as a sign that He doesn't care about your prosperity. He does. But He doesn't want to pour it on when you're not ready. He is testing you. He is more concerned about your maturity. And what this chapter shows is that while God wonderfully provided for Israel during their immature phase (verses 2-5), He really poured out the blessings as they matured (verses 6-10).
Immaturity & Welfarism (vv. 2-5)
But I really want to focus on the next two points. First, immaturity and welfarism go hand in hand. The younger a child is, the more he needs to be cared for and the less responsibility he has. In a sense, the young child is in a welfare society (not a welfare state, but in a welfare society) where everything is provided for him or her irrespective of his responsibility. But as the child grows older, he or she should be given more responsibilities and more risks that come with freedoms. But true prosperity, whether it is economic growth or growth in other areas cannot happen with the immature. The first generation of Israelites had rejected the risks and the dangers that come from freedom and the responsibilities of maturity (they refused to go in and conquer Canaan as men), and so verse 5 indicates that God had to treat them as children. This constant provision for them was not a sign of honor, but of humbling. Notice that verse 2 says that this was designed to humble them. Verse 3 repeats that: So He humbled you… In other words, the wilderness wandering mentioned in verses 2-5 was not to be the ideal. It's true that there was no lack of clothes, but there was no way for them to develop a textile industry. It's true that they didn't lack food, but there was no way they could prosper in marketing food either. God forced them to be totally dependent as babies. God told them that if they tried to save the manna, it would rot. They couldn't dig wells, plant crops, labor in diverse industries or for the most part to do any of the things that could enable them to prosper when they actually got into the land of Canaan.
Let me just give a quote from Gary North's books. I thought that he stated this well. He said,
The wilderness economy was a welfare economy. The Israelites were supplied with basic necessities even though the people did not work. But they lacked variety. People without the ability to feed themselves were fed by God: same old diet. People without the ability to clothe themselves were clothed by God: same old fashions. Israel wandered aimlessly because the nation had refused to march into war. They were not willing to lead, and so they had to follow. They were welfare clients; they had no authority over the conditions of their existence. They took what was handed out to them. And like welfare clients generally, they constantly complained that their life style just wasn’t good enough (Num. 11). They had been unwilling to pay the price of freedom: conquest (Num. 14). God therefore cursed them to endure four decades of welfare economics. The only good thing about the wilderness welfare program was that it did not use the State as the agency of positive blessings.
So even though there is something tempting about a lifestyle where God automatically pours manna into your lap, there is a downside to such dependence. And God made sure that the downsides were there so that the Israelites could see that the prosperity in Canaan was worth the risks involved, and the lack of opportunities for growth in the wilderness made it worth growing up and creatively looking for their own food and clothing. In Joshua 5, after Israel covenants with God and pursues a life of dominion in Canaan, God cuts off the symbols of their welfare dependence. Joshua 5:12 says, Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year. There were no more miracles of clothing that didn't wear out. God took the security blanket out of their hands and made them learn to manage the risks of freedom and promised to prosper them in all that they did - if they would act maturely and keep His covenant.
Maturity & Productivity (vv. 6-10)
So I think we can say that God is gracious to the immature, but He prospers those who are mature in His grace. Verse 6:
“Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. [That is a sign of maturity. And what comes with maturity? Verses 7-10)
Deuteronomy 8:7 “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills;
Deuteronomy 8:8 “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey;
Deuteronomy 8:9 “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.
Deuteronomy 8:10 “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.
Can you see the total contrast between wilderness generation and conquest generation? Don't long for the security of the manna. Instead, long with Caleb for the opportunity to say, "Lord, give me this mountain." Long for God's kingdom growth so that you can pray with Jabez, Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain. Notice Jabez's desire was to lead an ethical life, to be a mature Christian with a goal for dominion. And it's in that context that God answered his prayer and He prospered him. The next verse says, So the Lord granted him what he requested. That Scripture is saying that there is a relationship between Jabez's ethics, his maturity and His prosperity.
And God will have His way in maturing you, one way or another. He will ensure that you learn your lessons, even if it means repeating them over and over again. Though we will pick up at verse 7 next week, I want to end with God's purposes of maturing us in verses 15-16: who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end. Notice that last phrase: "to do you good in the end." God is more concerned about the outcome of what He blesses you with than He is in the blessings themselves. Whether He withholds prosperity from you or whether He gives it, it is with the goal that it work together for your good. And Romans 8:29 defines that good as to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. It's not for your good if it doesn't conform you to the image of His Son. So in light of the two points on ethics and maturity that we have looked at so far, my admonition to you is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matt 6:33). Amen