A Raw Deal for the Ancient Rich?

Proverbs 10:

3 The LORD satisfies the appetite of the righteous,

but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

4 The one who is lazy becomes poor,

but the one who works diligently becomes wealthy.

22 The blessing from the LORD makes a person rich,

and he adds no sorrow to it.

(NET Bible®)

What do Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Job, and Daniel have in common?

They were rich – extremely rich by the standards of their day.

Abraham and Jacob were rich. Their animals were healthy and multiplied quickly. Joseph was governor of Egypt, a rather well-paying job. Daniel was one of the most powerful men in Babylon. Job was rich at first, and then had his riches restored after he was tested.

David was rich when he died [1 Chronicles 29:28]. Solomon was blessed with riches because he asked for wisdom to judge his people well [2 Chronicles 1:12]. He was the richest king on earth! [2 Chronicles 9:22] The other two kings of Judah who were described as rich were Jehoshaphat [2 Chronicles 17:5] and Hezekiah [2 Chronicles 32:27]. These were described as righteous kings, the ones who were the most faithful. (Actually, Solomon slacked off over time, and his heir paid the price.)

Given these examples, I find it hard to see why the Pharisees should be cursed for being rich, per se. The old teachings indicated that it was possible to be righteous and rich. Indeed, they often imply that riches are a consequence of righteousness!

Deuteronomy 28:

1 "If you indeed obey the LORD your God and are careful to observe all his commandments I am giving you today, the LORD your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth.

2 All these blessings will come to you in abundance if you obey the LORD your God:

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.

4 Your children will be blessed, as well as the produce of your soil, the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks.

5 Your basket and your mixing bowl will be blessed.

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

7 The LORD will cause your enemies who attack you to be struck down before you; they will attack you from one direction but flee from you in seven different directions.

12 The LORD will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.

13 The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always end up at the top and not at the bottom, if you obey his commandments which I am urging you today to be careful to do.

(NET Bible®)

This is especially true when it comes to the wealth of a nation as a whole. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses lists a great many blessings that were to be bestowed upon Israel if they adhered to the Law, and curses to be experienced if they did not. So, should a nation feel guilty if it is blessed? Are the anti-globalization activists and eco-puritans right when they curse the U.S. for its immense wealth? (Conversely, are our wealth and freedom due to the piety of the Puritans? Are we doomed to suffer the fate of later Israel because of our loss of piety?)

Perhaps there has been a change in the rules because of the New Covenant. Ancient Israel was blessed with wealth and power in the current life for obeying the Commandments; Christians are to be blessed in the next life for being righteous and putting up with injustice from the unrighteous. I think there is some truth to this, but it still doesn’t explain why the Pharisees were described as evil vipers, and why followers of Jesus have to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees in order to get into the Kingdom. It is hardly just to condemn someone for failing to meet new rules before they have been given.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time must have doing something wrong according to the standards explained by Moses. What were the sins of the Pharisees?

Here is a hint: even the Old Testament distinguishes between blessings to the righteous and ill-gotten gains:

Proverbs 11:

28 The one who trusts in his riches will fall,

but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.

Proverbs 14:

31 The one who oppresses the poor insults his Creator,

but whoever shows favor to the needy honors him.

(NET Bible®)