Abraham is often cited as an example of the “prosperity gospel” in action: someone whom God blessed both spiritually and materially. (Indeed, I had a vigorous, though good-natured, argument about this with a Pentecostal Christian some years ago, at law college.)
However, reading Genesis 12 and 13 this morning it struck me that the narrative is more ambivalent about Abraham’s wealth than it might at first appear.
While he seems to have been a man of substance from the start, he is only described as “very rich” in Genesis 13:2, where we are told that he was “very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold”.
Where did these riches come from? Well, from the time when (in the previous chapter) he fled to Egypt to escape the famine, and handed his wife over to Pharaoh. Sarah was “taken into Pharaoh’s house” (and I think it’s pretty clear what that means), and:
…for her sake [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female slaves, female donkeys, and camels.
So it seems that what lifted Abraham into the “super-rich” category was prostituting his wife to Pharaoh at a time when he had backslidden from faith in God’s promises. Now it is true that Abraham was not required to rid himself of his riches when he repented (Genesis 13:4), but I’m sure it is no accident that the whiff of “unrighteous mammon” lingers around the origins of his wealth.
In other words, it may have suited God’s purposes for Abraham to become rich, but Don’t Try This At Home, Kids.