Revelation 18 brings us to the destruction of Babylon. Again, I know that many people disagree over the nature of what Babylon is exactly in context, but when it does fall, notice who is upset.
Rev 18:15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
Rev 18:16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
Rev 18:17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
Rev 18:18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
Rev 18:19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
Rev 18:20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
It doesn’t necessarily surprise me. Particularly in modern society, it seems that greed is one of the biggest downfalls of those who are powerful. They might be well-off, but they always want a little bit more, and sometimes people will cut corners or hurt other people to get what they want. Financial sector scandals come to mind immediately, but even if we think about smaller things in our own lives, don’t we sometimes fall into this trap? We use other people as means to achieve a certain end, and often times we are motivated by greed on some level.
The thing about wealth is that it can go away so quickly. That is what we see here in Revelation. These merchants had become incredibly wealthy, but now the network had fallen, so business was going to die. They had nothing left without the business. That is the beauty of the Christian worldview incidentally. Certainly, it would not be easy for any of us to lose everything we have, and I don’t want to say this somewhat flippantly. I understand that would be incredibly difficult for any of us. However, I also know that because we are Christians, our two most valuable possessions are things that we did not buy. We have our lives which are gifts from God, and we have the gift of salvation. Even if we lose our money, we certainly have things to be thankful for.
Obviously then, this chapter makes me think about how God really wants to show the consequences of putting your faith in money. The money is not a sure foundation.
Timothy must have been a pastor of a rather wealthy church because in 1 Timothy 6, Paul gives some of the most famous advice concerning money ever given.
1Ti 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Money is not the root of all evil as we have heard a million times; the love of money is the root of all evil. The differentiation is rather clear. It is the attitude we take towards the money that is the problem. It is possible to be rich and follow Christ, but later in the chapter, Paul goes on to outline some things that the rich need to remain particularly careful about.
1Ti 6:17 Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
Those who were wealthy needed to be careful that they did not put their trust in their money. God has given us all things to enjoy, and that includes money naturally. I don’t think that God minds when we use the money that He has allowed us to have, but we need to make sure that it does not become what we put our trust in. The wealthy are particularly susceptible to this type of temptation because we do live in a world where money is a big deal. In a world dominated by talks about financial security, it is easy to become wrapped up in our bank accounts.
That’s where we need to be countercultural. I’m not saying that we need to take a vow of poverty. I am saying that we need to live lives that are about a lot more than money. There are many things that we can trust, and if we are not trusting God, then we are simply wrong. Money is no substitute.
It is interesting for us to talk about the older lady in Luke 21 who gave everything she had for an offering.
Luk 21:1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
Luk 21:2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
Luk 21:3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
Luk 21:4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
I think that the implications seem to be rather straightforward here. It is true that there were plenty of people who donated much more money to the Temple in Jerusalem, and the next few verses talk about splendor of that Temple. However, Jesus calls attention to the poor lady who was willing to give at a much greater sacrifice.
I want to broaden this topic a little bit. I was particularly thinking about time. How easy is it to give my time to what God would want me to do when I’m sitting at home doing nothing anyway? In those situations, it is not that difficult for me to pick up a Bible or some other Christian material. I have the abundance of time, so it is easy for me to give that away.
However, when we get really busy, it is hard to give time to God. It is hard to keep our focus on giving God whatever time we can. Obviously, our whole lives belong to God, and everything we do should reflect his glory. It is simultaneously true that Christians are not expected to do nothing but read their Bibles or go to church all the time. We are supposed to earn a living, care for our families and develop friendships and relationships.
Giving money to the Temple is certainly a good thing. Reading the Bible is a good thing. Spending our time in church is a good thing. However, there are other things as well that our money and time needs to be committed to, and those are also good things like caring for our families. Therefore, when I think about this passage, I think the bigger message involves our commitment. Everything we do and own belongs to God anyway, but what do we give to God?
In Luke 20, we find a plot to catch Jesus in some type of treason so that the Jewish leaders would have reason to get Him in trouble with the Roman authorities. As a result, they brought Him what would have been a controversial question at the time.
Luk 20:22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?
Luk 20:23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
Luk 20:24 Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar’s.
Luk 20:25 And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.
The question had to do with money, and Jesus addressed that. However, I imagine that the audience was left with another question. Doesn’t everything belong to God? I think that was the point.
That is true, and even Caesar himself belongs to God. As a result, it seems to me that Jesus is making a larger point than simply whether or not it is right to pay taxes.
By giving God what belongs to God, we are talking about total surrender. We are talking about our money of course in the context of the passage, but our ambitions, dreams, hopes, relationships and everything else go along with that. If we are giving to God what belongs to God, then it is a package deal.
I don’t know about you, but that is somewhat intimidating. I like to have some control. I like to call some of the shots, but Jesus seems to be making the point that if we are really going to follow Him, we need to give unto God that which belongs to God.
Where then do we go from here? What are the implications of this type of radical surrender?
In Ezekiel 7, God is explaining the judgment that is surely coming, and we come across the following verse as a large cause of why this is happening.
Eze 7:18 They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame shall be upon all faces, and baldness upon all their heads.
Eze 7:19 They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity.
All of the material possessions in the world would not satisfy their souls. That is a message that the world today needs to hear. With all the terrible things that happen all around the world, many people respond by simply buying more things. If I get a nicer car, I will definitely be happy then. All I need to do is to fill the American dream to be perfectly content for the rest of my life.
Interestingly, what they thought would bring their happiness was actually their biggest stumbling block. Why does that seem to happen in these situations?
I think a lot of it comes back to the idea that as we gain more money or wealth, it becomes easier and easier to not only attribute that wealth to our own efforts, but we also don’t think we need to trust in God because we can fall back on our wealth when tough times happen.
The problem with making money our security is that money comes and money goes. We have just come through one of the biggest recessions in economic history. A lot of people found out that the money was not nearly as secure as they thought it was, and tragically, there were many people who committed suicide as the results of losing what they trusted in.
Trusting in God is a different kind of thing. God will not fail, and He will not abandon us. It is a much better foundation to trust in.
I think that we can sometimes run into a dilemma on the concept of charity. On one hand, we know that we are supposed to help people. We talked yesterday about social justice. It is a good thing to help people who are in need. We can find plenty of Biblical justification for being a good neighbor and helping those in need. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. He didn’t think about his own inconvenience; he helped with whatever he had.
Ecclesiastes 5 might seem to run into a bit of a contradiction then.
Ecc 5:18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
Ecc 5:19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
I don’t know about you, but I have occasionally wondered how it is possible to do both. For example, I know that all of us here in America have been incredibly blessed. I don’t mean to make light of poverty, but when you compare poverty in America to poverty in other places in the world, there really isn’t very much of a comparison.
How then is it possible for me to justify keeping anything for myself? After all, even if I have one decent sized meal a day, I have more than so many people throughout the world. How can I possibly justify having another one? I should be more concerned about giving that away and using it to help those who have less than I do.
I think that Ecclesiastes 5 is able to help put this in perspective though. Whatever God has given to you, you should enjoy it. You should enjoy your portion. However, God defines that portion. That is what is vital to remember.
Let’s say I became a millionaire. I became incredibly good as an insurance underwriter and brought in quite a bit of money. I would certainly have the ability to buy a Ferrari. I could pick up a pen and write a check. That wouldn’t be a problem.
However, if I only looked after my own desires, that would be wrong. All of that money that I hypothetically made belongs to God and is available for His use. He decides what portion of it I should have. That is why we need to be very prayerful with our finances. God certainly wants us to use some of it because if we gave away everything, we would certainly die of starvation. Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will have to eat, but when that physical need is provided, we certainly do not need to give that gift from God away.
I know this is a difficult topic, but we need to work very hard to find a balance. We certainly have an obligation to be charitable. We have an obligation to help people. However, on the other hand, God has given us things that we are told to enjoy. The biggest thing to remember is that all of that really belongs to God. We cannot fall in love with our money. We follow God, and He directs how we use what we have.
I know that in a lot of the circles I run in, people are worried about the decline of Christian morality. A lot of people are quick to blame popular culture. In particular, they are quick to blame celebrities and other rich and famous people. They set a bad example, that is what is publicized by the paparazzi, and that certainly has an effect on the public perception of morality.
I know that that is a sweeping generalization, but I don’t think we can deny that these types of people really do help define our culture simply because their views and opinions are so highly publicized.
Proverbs 28 has something interesting to say about that. Money and fame really are not the most important things.
Pro 28:6 Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
This turns everything on its head. God values the content of the heart rather than fame and fortune. It is better to be poor and do the right thing then to be rich and make bad decisions. In our society today, we publicize people who are wealthy regardless of if they are right or wrong, and we barely ever hear about people who are poor for right or wrong.
I think that a practical example of this comes during presidential elections. It is amazing how much time on TV seems to be dedicated to talking about what celebrities will vote in what direction. This gives those celebrities a platform and quite a bit of influence whether or not they are right or wrong. We don’t really care about them because of the message, but we care about them because they are the rich and famous.
The wealth really shouldn’t matter. We should care more about the content of what is being said rather than who is saying it. Similarly, God cares more about whether or not people do the right thing rather than their wealth or any other social metric here on earth.
I have an incredible surprise. Job’s friend Zophar is still convinced that Job must have done something wrong to bring all of this punishment onto himself. Job 20 essentially describes a lot of what we have heard before. He outlines what a wicked man is and very strongly implies that Job is among that company.
Here is the conclusion that he came to at the end of the chapter.
Job 20:27 The heaven shall reveal his iniquity; and the earth shall rise up against him.
Job 20:28 The increase of his house shall depart, and his goods shall flow away in the day of his wrath.
Job 20:29 This is the portion of a wicked man from God, and the heritage appointed unto him by God.
I hope that this sounds somewhat familiar to you. Zophar was trying to use the evidence that Job lost everything he possessed to conclude that God must be mad at him because of his wickedness.
On the surface, you would think that this type of attitude would make sense. If we do well, you would think that we would receive blessings. It seems like cause and effect. You do good, and good happens to you.
However, that is an incredibly earthly attitude. First of all, “good” needs to be defined as the will of God. If we do what is in the will of God, then we will be blessed according to the will of God. It may not be materially as we are never promised that in the Bible, but we are told that if we do follow God, we will be rewarded eternally.
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Eternal life is an incredible reward. Following God provides that. Material condition on earth is in no way indicative of our sins. It is not as if poor people have been extra bad and rich people have been especially good. We all have an obligation to follow God wherever He leads us regardless of circumstances. Zophar did not understand that, but I hope that we all do.
I know that I have written multiple times about the seriousness of making a promise to God, and in Nehemiah 10, the people are making a promise that they would essentially be in the world but not of the world.
Neh 10:29 They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
Neh 10:30 And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons:
Neh 10:31 And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.
I pulled out these two verses along with the one referring to the curse, which in Hebrew simply means an oath according to Strong’s numbers, because they highlight a few important things that went along with this promise.
For one thing, they weren’t going to intermarry with the people of the land. This is not because of nationality or race whatsoever, but it is most likely a matter of religion. You can see a similar message in the New Testament encouraging Christians to marry Christians.
2Co 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
The other main point was that they were not going to violate their belief system in order to do business. They weren’t going to buy from these other people on Sunday. For them, following God was more important than doing business.
I pull out these two points because I think that human love and money are two of the most common idols in the world today. We assume that love transcends all. We assume that it is some kind of emotion that ought to be our ultimate pursuit in life. This even can be a discussion that goes beyond just marriage. We idolize the love and acceptance of others in our social circles more than we desire the love of God at times. It can definitely become a hindrance.
Money hardly needs discussion. We see people who are willing to cut ethical corners to make a little bit more money. They don’t realize that it is more important to do business the way that God would want us to. When money becomes a top priority, many bad things can follow.
The people of Jerusalem behind the leadership of Nehemiah very interestingly but I think appropriately named these problems first as things that they were going to avoid.
Some people would argue that the Bible is outdated or is not relevant to today, but as I have been going through it, I have seen that people then had a sin nature just like people now. Human love and money are still idols that need to be put in the right place. They are both great things, but they are definitely not God.
Nehemiah was a good leader. In Nehemiah 5, we see the poor people coming to him because times are tough. We find out there is a shortage of corn, and naturally the people are not too happy about that.
As governor of the area, Nehemiah certainly had the power to make life even worse on all of these people by imposing a heavy tax. Then he would be able to live comfortably, and the world would say that that is a good thing. After all, taking care of yourself is taking care of number one.
However, here is what Nehemiah said.
Neh 5:15 But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.
He is basically saying that because he feared God, he did not want to put a heavy burden on the people. He wanted to be fair and generous. He wanted to care about the poor. He didn’t put his own priorities first. He worried about others because he knew that was what God would want and feared Him.
These traits are still desirable today.
I think that we all want to be financially comfortable, but I think that we need to remember that there are things that are more important. If the only way we can make money is by directly depriving someone else, we have a problem.
We need to remember that the love of money is the root of all evil. The money itself is not necessarily evil; it is just an inanimate object, but it is incredibly easy to turn money into an idol. However, Nehemiah is a good example of what we need to be doing. There are things that are more important than money, and we need to make sure that we are living like we believe that.