Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prosperity: Worshiping the Means in Place of the Cause

[Scripture citations in this post will be from the Geneva Bible, to match the language used by the writers referenced below]

"Therefore they sacrifice unto their net and burn incense unto their yarn [i.e., used in weaving their nets], because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous."
- Habakkuk 1:16

In my personal studies, I have a couple of ongoing books, portions of which I read every day. I have referenced The Gospel Covenant, by Peter Bulkeley, several times. I have also referred to the works of Robert Rollock, a collection of sermons on the death and resurrection of Christ.

An astonishing conjunction occurred in my reading of both last night.

In his book, Bulkeley asks the question, Why does God allow hardship and want in the lives of believers? Afterall, he logically suggests, God is certainly capable of always providing prosperity and plenty to us all. However, in a passage which includes the Habakkuk reference above (cited in the margin), he explains, "Before, they were ready to ascribe some excellency to the meanes and instruments, sacrificing to their own nets: but when they [i.e., the means and instruments] come to nothing, and the Lord hath by himselfe fulfilled our desire, then we are lifted up to glorifie him; he alone is seen to be an al-sufficient God unto his people." That is to say, that God brings want into our lives to keep us from idolizing the gifts in place of their Giver, Himself. As he continues, Bulkeley shows this humbling effect, again from Habakkuk, 3:16-17: "For the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labor of the olive [grower?] shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat [i.e., food]: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls. But I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation." [Emphasis in the original.]

Then switching books, I immediately read the same point from Robert Rollock, in his commentary on the first seven verses of John 21: "...the Lord uses to disappoint the hope of His own for a season, because that serves more to the glory of God than if they got it the first time: for when men find a prosperous success in all their ways, and all things answering to their desire, scarcely do they consider and discern God's blessing; yea, many times it comes to pass, that in such cases men ascribe the praise of all to themselves, and sacrifice to their own net. But when they see themselves, notwithstanding of all their travails, disappointed of their hope, and thereafter find a blessing and good success, then they plainly discern that all things proceed from the blessing and favourable providence of God, and therefore give to the Lord the praise and glory of all." If I hadn't happened to read Rollock immediately after Bulkeley, I wouldn't have caught the Habakkuk reference, since he doesn't identify it (emphasis added).

The concept can also be seen in Hosea 13:5-6: "It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me."

Clearly the Lord has a lesson for me here. But so far, I haven't discerned the Spirit's application to me, which is why I waited a day to comment on it . However, the insight into "why bad things happen to good people" is certainly profitable, just in itself.

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