The last half of Genesis 12 and all of Genesis 13 illustrate several important truths on how God views wealth and how we should too. In short, here is what happened.
Abraham goes to Egypt due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Because his wife, Sarah, is rather beautiful, he decides to lie to the Egyptians and tell them she is her sister rather than telling the truth that she is his wife. He fears they will kill him for his wife. So, in exchange for taking Sarah into the palace, they gave him all kinds of wealth – sheep, cattle and servants.
Once they found out via a dream from the Lord that she was his wife and not his sister, they were indignant with Abraham. So they sent him and his wife away along with his wealth. At the beginning of Chapter 13, we’re told that Abraham went to the Negev and that Lot was with him. It is assumed that Lot went through the Egyptian experience too.
Because both men had grown rather wealthy, they found that their “wealth”, which consistent of animals and servants, was not getting along. So, because of their wealth, they decided to part ways and live apart. Lot chose the plane toward Sodom and Abraham stayed in the land of Canaan.
Now, in these series of events, we can exegete several principles about wealth. First, in spite of our sin, God can bless us materially. This is precisely what happened when Abraham lied about Sarah. He received much wealth from the Egyptians in exchange for his wife. The material blessings that we receive are directly related to the generosity of God. The entire notion that if we live righteously, God will bless us materially is directly contradicted in this passage. God, in His sovereignty and wisdom, decides whom He will bless and not bless. The only promise in regards to wealth is that He has promised to supply enough material goods to meet our needs.
Secondly, Abraham sacrificed that which was second most important to him (Sarah) to save his own life, which one can reasonably discern was most important to him. In an ironic way, this fits with Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, which says that we’ll sacrifice nearly anything to meet our most basic needs, such as food, shelter and security. Note that security is the second level of need, only ahead of basic physical needs. Giving away your wife to preserve your own life is equal to acting in one’s own interests for level 1 and level 2 needs. I’ve met several people who have lost everything in business or through a medical situation that drained them financially. In every case, they were happy to give up their wealth in exchange for basic physical and safety needs. It’s not that they enjoyed losing their wealth – they didn’t. But when push came to shove, they were more than willing to forego their wealth in exchange for their basic needs being met.
We can sit here and criticize Abraham for his decision. I’m not going to excuse it because he did sin and he did lie. But he likely found himself in a difficult position of having to choose between several “evils”. He has left his home through no fault or decision of his own – he was forced to go to a land with food. That’s a level 1 need. He knows that by doing this, he’ll likely lose his wife, or so he believes. He thinks the Egyptians will kill him for his wife. Preserving his life is also a level 1 need. But losing his wife is also gut-wrenching. I doubt very much that he enjoyed watching them take his wife into the palace. I bet this worried him sick and caused him all sorts of emotional distress. While the Bible doesn’t tell us this, it is reasonable to assume. The fact that he got a lot of wealth in exchange for his “sister” likely didn’t mean much to him. Look at the movie Indecent Proposal and you’ll see what I mean.
Thirdly, those who are wealthy are usually those who take up more space than those who are not wealthy. It just stands to reason. One of my friends who has found new freedom in being poor has told me that he wants to get down to where he can live in 500sf. Note he’s not married nor does he have children. But still, 500sf in American is a rather tiny spot to call home. Chapter 13 is mostly about Abraham and Lot deciding which space they will take with Lot being given first dibbs. When people become wealthy, they accumulate more material goods and thus take up more space. Abraham and Lot part company because of their wealth.
Lastly, God’s generosity to Abraham is once again demonstrated at the end of Chapter 13. He tells Abraham to look up and look around. All that Abraham can will be given to him by God. Abraham did *nothing* to deserve it. Nothing. And yet God gave him a firm promise of future wealth for his future family. That which is most precious to us in life is given to us by God. That’s why Deuteronomy 8.18 can say that it is God “who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”. Our talents, abilities, connections, education and a host of other elements which contributes to our wealth creation is something that comes from God, not from us.
The most precious thing we can have is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing that our sins are forgiven and our future secured with God in heaven is more precious than even our level 1 needs. This is why people are willing to die for their faith – it is worth more than gold (says 1 Peter) and is worth more than the life of Jesus Christ. Why should Christians be generous? It’s not just because we are told in Matthew 5 to “give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you”, but it’s also because the most precious thing we have been given was just that: a gift to us totally undeserved and one that we could have never worked hard enough to earn. We give because God first gave to us.
Our generosity toward others should mirror or mimic the generosity of God. To whom much is given, much is required. If God is blessing you materially, then you have a sacred obligation to steward that money well and to manage it on behalf of God. It’s not your wealth – it’s God’s wealth. He gave it to you as an entrustment to be used for the accomplishment of His agenda on this earth.
For those who are very rich – go to God and ask Him how you are to steward the wealth He has given you. For those who are not rich, note that nothing in this passage indicates God is on the side of the poor vs. the rich. God isn’t on one side or another – He is His own side and both groups rich and poor, had better get on God’s side.