The Hebrews Learned to Plan for the Future

When God separated the Children of Israel from the rest of the world, he began mentoring them to think differently. God broke the Hebrews out of the cyclical, mystical thinking of the pagan world with the revelation and understanding of linear time and progress. If things in this world are advancing rather than cyclical, then people can plan, work, save and experience a better future. The Hebrews could now plan for the future with their family. It seems so simple to us now because it is assumed in the modern world, but planning for the future was not common in the ancient world and the primitive cyclical pattern of thought was quite crippling.

For an example of how God taught the Hebrews, we find this thinking early on in Joseph’s life. He had a dream of his brothers bowing down to worship him and he had a sense that this was in the future, partially because it didn’t seem likely in the present because his brothers despised him. Later, Joseph interpreted pharaoh’s dream correctly and knew from it that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of draught. To prepare for the seven years of draught, Joseph took the practical step of leading the Egyptians to store large quantities of food during the years of abundance. We read that Joseph had to store the food in the fields because there were no barns to store food. That is because up to this time people were fatalistic and just accepted that draughts came and when they did people would starve.

Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.                     Genesis 41:48-49

Joseph’s wise actions saved the lives of many Egyptians and elevated him to a place of authority in the Egyptian world where he would see his earlier dream concerning his brothers fulfilled. It also provided physical sustenance for the Hebrews during the draught. Because the Egyptians had stored up food when no one else did, they accumulated great wealth, which was later leveraged when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egypt.                      Exodus 12:35-36

God planned ahead so the Hebrews would have silver, gold and clothing when they left Egypt. They saw God planning for the future and realized he expected them to do the same. Thinking long term and planning ahead is crucial for the Christian to experience prosperity today.

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Linear Time and Progress…. The R.G. LeTourneau Story

As God was mentoring and teaching the Hebrews his economic system, he taught them to think differently than the fatalistic, cyclical thinking of the pagans around them. A concept he instilled in them is that time moves in a linear progressive fashion. In the ancient, mystical pagan world, this was a revolutionary idea that was unique to the Hebrews. The ancient peoples developed their cultures closely tied to nature and its rhythms. The sun rises and sets. The moon repeats its pattern each month. The seasons repeat over and over again. People are born, live and die. All things were thought of as trapped in endless uncontrollable cycles.

Harold Eberle notes how God intervened in this cyclical thinking, “Moses write a linear account of their history. Starting with creation he wrote about the first day, the second day, etc. The generations were recorded, fathers and sons and the accomplishments of both. At this time few others had such a sense of the linear unfolding of time. The Hebrews were the first to have a written record of their origins laid out in a chronological succession of events. Additionally…God gave the ideas of good things coming in their future: A promised Land they would own, a Messiah coming, a coming Kingdom that would continue to grow until if filled the whole earth (Dan. 2:35). All this pushed the Hebrews to think of the world as moving in a positive, God ordained direction.”

Now many years later, Christians take this concept for granted and advance as God leads them. One great example of this was R.G. LeTourneau. Having already achieved success in the earth-moving business, He explained to his pastor that he felt he could serve God better as a bona-fide pastor or missionary overseas. His pastor wisely responded, “God needs businessmen, too.”

Sensing the call to become “God’s businessman,” LeTourneau decided to use his God-given gift of innovation in the marketplace. He achieved 299 patents for his earth-moving and materials handling equipment. These inventions included the bulldozer, scrapers, portable cranes, rollers, dump wagons, bridge spans, logging equipment, mobile sea platforms for oil exploration, the electric wheel, and many others. Historians say approximately 70% of the earth-moving equipment used by the Allies to win World War II was manufactured by his company.

In addition to making disciples of Jesus through his business, using his spiritual gift of creativity, and adding tremendous value to the U.S. economy even in the midst of the Great Depression, LeTourneau habitually and cheerfully gave away 90 percent of his income toward the advancement of the gospel. He cared for his workers and the poor and needy…another aspect of the Biblical worldview we will examine in future blogs.

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Delayed Gratification

I was teaching on Biblical Prosperity in Kisumu, Kenya to a group of African pastors and leaders about some keys they could use to rise up out of poverty. At the break, Hesbone Odindo who is the apostolic leader of this region stood up and drew attention to this principle of delayed gratification as a practical key for Christian leaders in Africa to prosper in their finances. Delayed gratification is generally associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

It is hard for folks anywhere in the world who have been trained to expect things delivered to them instantly to choose to delay gratification. But this is the biblical way of self government and is one practical way to see prosperity in your finances. Sacrifice present pleasures for future gain. We see in Proverbs that God taught the Hebrews to be self governed:

A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. Proverbs 25:28 NLT

One way this self government manifests is delayed gratification. To plan for the future will make you more prosperous because it is thinking long range. The former smoker will pass on smoking cigarettes to avoid cancer and live a longer life. The African will pass on buying a new suit of clothes so in the future he can have more than one suit for him and his sons. Shoppers resist splurging at the mall so they can develop net worth by saving for a comfortable retirement.

Interestingly enough, modern research has connecting this principle of delay gratification with the ability to prosper:

More than 40 years ago, Walter Mischel, PhD, a psychologist now at Columbia University, explored self-control in children with a simple but effective test. He presented a preschooler with a plate of treats such as marshmallows. The child was then told that the researcher had to leave the room for a few minutes, but not before giving the child a simple choice: If the child waited until the researcher returned, they could have two marshmallows. If the child simply couldn’t wait, they could ring a bell and the researcher would come back immediately, but they would only be allowed one marshmallow. Preschoolers with good self-control sacrificed the immediate pleasure of a chewy marshmallow in order to indulge in two marshmallows at some later point.

When He revisited his marshmallow-test subjects as adolescents. He found that teenagers who had waited longer for the marshmallows as preschoolers were more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self- control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted. American Psychological Association

As stated in the last blog, the Biblical concepts of savings and frugality are core actions to accomplish delayed gratification that allow for the accumulation of net worth for an individual over time. Make a decision today to delay gratification. You can do it. You will prosper.

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A Good Man Leaves an Inheritance…

When God chose and separated the Hebrews from the rest of the existing world, He mentored them to think in different ways than the pagan peoples around them. One way this became real to the Hebrews was God’s action of establishing them in their own land with each tribe and family given a portion. God did this to mold their thinking…they were forced to think about what they would pass on to the next generations. He taught them…and they saw that it was important to leave an inheritance to the next generation. This became such a part of the Hebrew worldview that it was expected of every person living righteously.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. Prov. 13:22a

If there was to be an inheritance passed on, the Hebrews had to become aware of savings and frugality. Both of these concepts were foreign to the pagans that were the Hebrews peers at this time. The pagans survived hand to mouth because their thinking was only about themselves and their survival. There was no long range planning for the future since they saw everything as determined by fate. Frugality and savings were foolish to the pagan mind. Since they saw no reason to accumulate anything for the next generation, using what they presently have to gain more (what we call capitalism) did not make sense to them. But the Hebrews were taught voluntary saving and frugality.

Go to the ant, you sluggard…it has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. Proverbs 6:6-8

Savings and frugality are the bedrock for developing wealth, and the concept of net worth which is how the modern world measures wealth. Next week we will build on these concepts by discussing delayed gratification.

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The Diligent Get a Better Reward Than the Lazy

In the last blog we discussed the concept that some are wise and some are foolish and this this leads to different rewards. The book of Proverb points out another key distinction in human nature and character that makes a difference in the rewards received. Some are diligent (hardworking) and some are lazy. Without trying to sound too simplistic, from a Biblical perspective the diligent get a different and better reward than the lazy. Let’s read Proverbs:

Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. Proverbs 10:4

A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. Proverbs 13:4

Though today some find it difficult to admit this character difference in individuals, it is the truth. It seems silly to have to state what seems obvious but  many struggle to see this distinction. If a misguided, socialistic government tries to take the reward of the diligent and give it to the lazy in the name of fairness, then is short circuits God’s plan for the lazy to learn from the diligent and hard working. After farming for years and finding myself with 5 cows when my neighbor has 50…perhaps I should look at their work ethic and learn from them. The Biblical view is one of the lazy learning from the hard working….

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…Prov. 6:6

Early on God taught his children the value of diligent work. Thus a person has incentive to work harder if they can enjoy the fruit of their labor with their friends and family…and voluntarily help the poor and needy. Mankind was intended to be a producer before a consumer, yet most modern economic theory is built on the understanding that man is a consumer. No…it all started in the garden when God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply.

Proverbs 31 describes a woman worthy of praise who “works with eager or willing hands (v13)” and “sets about her work vigorously (v. 17)” and “does not eat the bread of idleness (v27). This is a virtuous woman who also “opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy (v.20)”. This hardworking woman has a heart for the poor…and also the means to help them.

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The Wise Get a Better Reward Than the Foolish

What? Yes…the Bible teaches that some are wise and some are foolish. We find the Old Testament full of all the economic principles important to the Jewish culture. But the book of Proverbs is especially clear on the fundamentals of Jewish thought. Wisdom is valued and makes a difference.

The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame. Proverbs 3:35

The Bible puts a high value on wisdom calling it more valuable than gold. Let me explain…so if my neighbor and I have each been farming for 5 years and at the end of that time I have 5 cows and my neighbor has 10 cows perhaps I should take a look at what my neighbor is doing differently from me and learn from him. Maybe they have more wisdom in the area of farming than I do? So instead of being filled with envy that my neighbor has more cows and plotting to get them I should be sitting at their feet to learn from them.

Misguided governments with socialist tendencies feed in to this envy. Such shortsighted governments take cows from the one who has 10 and give them to the one who has 5 in the name of “fairness” or “justice”. Not only does this feed the temptation to envy, but it short circuits God’s plan for the foolish to learn from the wise and sadly locks them in to a lifetime of foolishness and dependency. Of course we respect all humanity as created in the image of God, but the reality is some people are wise, some people are foolish and a lot are in between the two. God has a plan to make us wise. It is called learning and we find it in Proverbs.

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. Proverbs 1:5

Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.   Proverbs 9:9

When foolish people will not learn it is unjust to expect the wise to carry all the responsibility. This is why socialism does not work and bring people into prosperity. It is unjust in that it rewards the foolish man and punishes the wise man. Socialism does not recognize human nature. God’s plan for the Hebrews and for the Christian today is built on the truth of human nature. It recognizes people’s individuality and justly rewards those who have gained and learn to use wisdom.

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Expect the Benefit of Your Work

God taught his children to work hard and expect the benefit of the work. So when the 10th commandment tells us not to covet what our neighbor has (including his wife) it is encouraging us to enjoy the fruit of our labor. Coveting can lead to theft but more often it leads to a dissatisfied life. Sometimes people become obsessed with what they don’t posses and what others do. Coveting. Then they tend to conclude their life is unfair and they got a raw deal. This turns them in to victims (or slaves…remember Egypt?) rather than free individuals taking life by the reigns and improving their own life.

Whenever people waste their energy desiring other people’s possessions (or spouse) they have less energy left to take advantage of what is presently available to them. They miss the work, opportunities and blessings right in front of them. We find this Biblical perspective in Ecclesiastes:

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.   Ecclesiastes 2:24

The Bible teaches us to enjoy the fruit of our labor and its related prosperity. Don’t covet our neighbor’s stuff. If our neighbor has more possessions than we do perhaps we should go learn from them how they do things. Perhaps they have a wisdom or work ethic we do not. It might help our finances. You will have the greatest blessings when you enjoy what you have worked for with your family and friends.

Be the best person on your job…even if it is minimum wage. Be early and stay late. Talking excitedly about work creates passion for work. This is something practical you can do. Embarrassment about work causes shame and decreased passion and success. Be proud of and let people know what you do. Be proud of how you earn you living. Say how it helps other people in life. The early Hebrews proudly declared what they did. Many times their names reflected it. Wasserman brought water. People want to know how you help other people.

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