Jacques Ellul Money and Power Summary Pt. 2
Wealth in the Old Testament
Money and wealth are contradictions in the Bible. (Using money is one thing, being rich is another.) In the Old Testament wealth is a blessing, in the New Testament it is universally condemned. Jacques Ellul seeks meaning within these contradictions. What does wealth signify in the Old Testament? He looks at three wealthy men, (Abraham, Job, and Solomon) in the OT and explains that their righteousness gives meaning to their wealth.
Abraham first repudiated his wealth and God put himself between Abraham and his possessions. Abraham completed a detachment from his wealth. He renounces it in his decision to give Lot the best of the Land. In turn, wealth becomes God’s promise. Abraham refuses wealth from anyone but God. (pg. 37-39) Ellul sees in Abraham a sign of God’s lordship over wealth for humankind. Abraham’s concern for the effect of accepting money from the king of Sodom is a sign for the church, which Ellul says has no right to get wealth from pagan powers.
Job’s wealth is a cause for temptation. Satan’s accusation is that Job’s righteousness is a result of being blessed, but that if it were taken Job would curse God. Job proves that his wealth is from God and that, even without it, and even without the spiritual wealth of understanding his status , he will not turn against God.
Solomon asks for wisdom, not wealth first, and is given the Holy Spirit. Ellul reminds of Jesus’ words,
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and these things will be yours as well.” (Mt. 6:33) Provided, of course, we do not make God’s kingdom an object of shrewd calculation, for God does not like schemers, and he never gives them what they have banked on.”
Unlike Job and Abraham, Solomon’s wealth is not for himself but for his place as King. He answered God’s question “Whom do you love?” rightly at first. His wealth, as with his righteousness and justice is given as a prophecy of the future New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God’s Son Jesus Christ. We learn from this that God’s prophecy comes by human agency that can still be sinful. If any government had the chance to be godly, it was Solomon’s.
“The wealthy Solomon is a prophet of the glory of the kingdom, but not at all of the joy and freedom of God’s children. In fact, Solomon, by his very wealth, oppresses the children of Israel.” (pg. 42)
Ellul’s Ethic of Wealth (pg. 43-70)
Wealth belongs to God.
The righteousness of wealth cannot be tied to morality, but spirituality. Any starting point for an ethic of money must be that wealth belongs to God to dispose of as he wills. We don’t necessarily get it when we’re good and have it taken away when we’re bad.
All we’re called to do is accept God’s decision, and recognize God’s sovereignity over money and wealth. Eccl. 5:19 says that “it is the gift of God to accept our lot in life and find enjoyment in our toil.”
Wealth is not nuetral. Our inescapable dilemma is that we either recognize or refuse God’s action, but that our refusal submits this wealth “to the Baal of this world, to the power of Satan.” (pg. 44)
God’s sovereignity over wealth is not only the starting point, it is the boundary. Any supposedly moral use of money that does not recognize God’s sovereignity is hypocrisy. To observe God’s commands with wealth without recognizing the money as God’s is to cause them to function as the law that condemns us. (pg. 45)
Wealth is a temptation.
Because as humans we are under the fall, wealth is a temptation that shows our propensity to evil. We are urged to place our confidence in money rather than God. We humans prefer what we can see and touch rather than God’s promises and gifts.
It leads us to deny God. Within our exploding economic development even the poor develop the mindset of the rich. Who can compare with man? Our civilization argues that the good, respectable, hardworking person is righteous because of our action. The fruits of our labor are all around us, in our buildings, our parks, our memorials, our heroes. But where is God? (pg. 48)
Ethical Implications (pg. 68-69)
1. use wealth to announce that electionis free, grace abundant, a new creation is promised, and that God owns all things.
2. The Spiritual Reality is above all, when the sign is given the full reality, we are disobedient.
A true understanding of wealth leads us to abandon it, as if it were unimportant. Where God is, gold means nothing. It even loses its attraction as a human power.
Ellul tells us that the people of the old covenant (like us today) could not accept this conclusion. God as their wealth was not a sufficient guarantee, they didn’t want to treat wealth as a sign, but as the signified itself.
The Desacramentation of Wealth (pg. 70-72)
Jesus strips wealth of its sacramental character. He leaves no room for it. Wealth is opposed to the path of humility God adopts in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Wealth is reduced to the accumulation of money. Money doesn’t equal wealth but exchange. Jesus new work of redemption involves stripping money of power, and how could the rich help in doing that?
Reading this causes me to want to write prayers of thanks for Jesus. Praise for his “faultless synthesis of God’s action.” Jesus you are our wealth! You are the fulness of Grace Lord! I can just imagine a morning worship in church one Sunday dedicated to Jesus power over money! Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!!
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