Throughout the Scriptures the emphasis is placed, not on the possession of material riches, but on a good standing with Jehovah God, a standing that is maintained by a person’s continuing to do the divine will by faith. Christ Jesus encouraged others to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) and to store up “treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 6:20; Luke 12:33) An individual’s record of fine works would be like riches deposited with the Creator in heaven, assuring lasting blessings for the one concerned. Persons who became spirit-anointed followers of Jesus Christ could look forward to the “glorious riches” of a heavenly inheritance (Eph. 1:18) and, during their ‘alien residence’ on earth, they would be rich or abound in faith, love goodness and other Godlike qualities.—Compare Galatians 5:22, 23; James 2:5; 1 Peter 2:11, 12; 2 Peter 1:5-8.
THE WEALTHY PATRIARCHS
Faithful servants of Jehovah God, such as the patriarchs Abraham and Job, were not given the commission of assisting others to adopt true worship. For this reason their time appears to have been mainly filled with caring for the physical and spiritual needs of their respective households. Jehovah blessed the diligent efforts of these servants of his so that they came to have much livestock, many servants and gold and silver.—Gen. 12:16; 13:2; 14:14; 30:43; 32:10; Job 1:2, 3; 42:10-12.
Though wealthy, these men were not materialists. They appreciated that their material prosperity was due to Jehovah’s blessing upon them, and they were not greedy for riches. Abraham, after defeating four allied kings and recovering all the goods that they had seized from Sodom, could have greatly increased his wealth. But he turned down the offer of the king of Sodom to take the recovered goods, saying: “I do lift up my hand in an oath to Jehovah the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth, that, from a thread to a sandal lace, no, I shall take nothing from anything that is yours, in order that you may not say, ‘It was I who made Abram rich.’ Nothing for me!” (Gen. 14:22-24) When Job lost all his livestock and his children, he exclaimed: “Jehovah himself has given, and Jehovah himself has taken away. Let the name of Jehovah continue to be blessed.”—Job 1:21.
Abraham, Job and others showed that they could be trusted with riches. They were industrious and used their material possessions properly. Job, for example, was ever ready to help the poor and afflicted. (Job 29:12-16) In view of their right attitude, there was good reason for Jehovah God to protect his servants from being defrauded by selfish and greedy men.—Gen. 31:5-12; Job 1:10; Ps. 105:14.
ISRAEL, IF OBEDIENT, WAS TO BE A PROSPEROUS NATION
As in the case of the faithful patriarchs, the material prosperity of the Israelites depended upon their maintaining a proper relationship with Jehovah God. Moses strictly counseled them to remember that it was Jehovah their God who gave them power to make wealth. (Deut. 8:18) Yes, Jehovah was the One who gave an inheritance of land to that nation in covenant relationship with him. (Num. 34:2-12) He could also see to it that they received the rain in its season and did not experience loss through crop failures or invasions by enemy forces.—Lev. 26:4-7.
It was God’s purpose that Israel, if obedient, would be a prosperous nation. Said Moses: “Jehovah will open up to you his good storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain on your land in its season and to bless every deed of your hand; and you will certainly lend to many nations, while you yourself will not borrow. And Jehovah will indeed put you at the head and not at the tail; and you must come to be only on top, and you will not come to be on the bottom, because you keep obeying the commandments of Jehovah your God.” (Deut. 28:12, 13) The prosperity of the nation would have brought honor to Jehovah, constituting a powerful proof to surrounding nations that he was the “Enricher” (1 Sam. 2:7) of his people and that the Law he had given to them was beyond compare in securing the welfare of all concerned.
That Israel’s prosperity did move other peoples to glorify Jehovah is illustrated in the case of King Solomon. At the start of his kingship, he, when given the opportunity to request what he wanted from Jehovah, did not ask for great riches, but requested wisdom and knowledge to judge the nation. Jehovah granted Solomon his request and also gave him “wealth and riches and honor.” (2 Chron. 1:7-12; 9:22-27) As a result reports of Solomon’s wisdom and wealth came to be associated with the name of Jehovah. Having heard about Solomon in connection with Jehovah, the queen of Sheba, for instance, came from a distant land to see whether the reports about his wisdom and prosperity were true. (1 Ki. 10:1, 2) What she saw prompted her to acknowledge Jehovah’s love for Israel. She said: “True has the word proved to be that I heard in my own land about your matters and about your wisdom. And I did not put faith in the words until I had come that my own eyes might see; and, look! I had not been told the half. You have surpassed in wisdom and prosperity the things heard to which I listened. Happy are your men; happy are these servants of yours who are standing before you constantly, listening to your wisdom! May Jehovah your God come to be blessed, who has taken delight in you by putting you upon the throne of Israel; because Jehovah loves Israel to time indefinite, so that he appointed you as king to render judicial decision and righteousness.”—1 Ki. 10:6-9.
As a prosperous nation the Israelites were able to enjoy food and drink (1 Ki. 4:20; Eccl. 5:18, 19) and their riches served to protect them from the problems of poverty. (Prov. 10:15; Eccl. 7:12) However, although it was in harmony with Jehovah’s purpose that the Israelites enjoyed prosperity from their hard work (compare Proverbs 6:6-11; 20:13; 24:33, 34), he also saw to it that they were warned concerning the danger of forgetting him as the Source of their wealth and beginning to trust in their riches. (Deut. 8:7-17; Ps. 49:6-9; Prov. 11:4; 18:10, 11; Jer. 9:23, 24) They were reminded that riches were but temporary (Prov. 23:4, 5), could not be given to God as a ransom to deliver one from death (Ps. 49:6, 7) and were of no value to the dead. (Ps. 49:16, 17; Eccl. 5:15) They were shown that attaching undue importance to riches would lead to fraudulent practices and Jehovah’s disfavor. (Prov. 28:20; compare Jeremiah 5:26-28; 17:9-11.) They were also encouraged to “honor Jehovah with [their] valuable things.”—Prov. 3:9.
Of course, the prosperity of the nation did not mean that every individual was wealthy or that those who had little were necessarily under divine disapproval. Unforeseen occurrences might plunge individuals into poverty. (Eccl. 9:11, 12) Death could leave behind orphans and widows. Accidents and sickness could temporarily or permanently hinder a person from performing necessary work. Hence the Israelites were encouraged to be generous with their riches in giving aid to the poor and afflicted in their midst.—Lev. 25:35; Deut. 15:7, 8; Ps. 112:5, 9; Prov. 19:17; see GIFTS OF MERCY; POOR.
RICHES AMONG THE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST JESUS
Unlike the patriarchs and the nation of Israel, the followers of Jesus Christ had the commission to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19, 20) Fulfilling that commission required time and effort that might otherwise have been properly used in secular pursuits. Therefore, one who continued to cling to his wealth rather than unburdening himself in order to be able to use his time and resources to fulfill that commission could not be a disciple of Jesus, with the prospect of gaining life in the heavens. That is why the Son of God said: “How difficult a thing it will be for those having money to make their way into the kingdom of God! It is easier, in fact, for a camel to get through the eye of a sewing needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24, 25) These words were prompted by the reaction of a rich young ruler upon being told by Jesus: “Sell all the things you have and distribute to poor people, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come be my follower.” (Luke 18:22, 23) That rich young ruler was under obligation to help needy fellow Israelites. (Prov. 14:21; 28:27; Isa. 58:6, 7; Ezek. 18:7-9) But his unwillingness to use his wealth to assist others and thereby to free himself to be a follower of Jesus Christ blocked his gaining entrance into the kingdom of the heavens.
Christ’s followers, however, were not to reduce themselves to a state of poverty and then depend upon others for support. Rather, they were to work hard so as to be able to care for their families and also have “something to distribute to someone in need.” (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:10-12; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; 1 Tim. 5:8) They were to be content with sustenance and covering, not striving to become rich. Any who made material pursuits of prime concern were in danger of becoming involved in dishonest practices and losing their faith because of neglecting spiritual things. This did happen to some, as shown by Paul’s words to Timothy: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
Of course, what Jesus said to the rich young ruler does not mean that a Christian cannot have riches. In the first century C.E., for instance, wealthy Christians were associated with the congregation at Ephesus. The apostle Paul did not instruct Timothy to advise these rich brothers specifically to divest themselves of all material things, but wrote: “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19) Thus these wealthy Christians had to watch their attitude, keeping riches in their proper place and using them generously to aid others.
The original-language term ma·mo·nasʹ (or, its anglicized form “mammon”) is generally understood to denote money or riches. (Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:9, 11, 13; compare AS, AV, NW.) There is no evidence that the expression was ever the name of a specific deity. Jesus used the term when showing that a person cannot be a slave to God and to riches. (Matt. 6:24) He urged his hearers: “Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches, so that, when such fail, they may receive you into the everlasting dwelling places.” (Luke 16:9) Since the possession or desire for material riches can lead to lawless acts, they may for this reason have been designated as “unrighteous riches,” in contrast with the spiritual riches. Also, material riches, particularly money, actually belong to and are under the control of “Caesar,” who issues money and assigns a particular value to it. Such riches are transitory, being subject to economic conditions, and the possession of such is liable to loss due to circumstances. Hence, one having such riches should not put his trust in them, nor use them as the world in general does for selfish purposes, such as the amassing of still greater wealth. (1 Cor. 7:31) Rather, he should be alert and diligent to make friends of the possessors of the everlasting dwelling places.
The possessors of “the everlasting dwelling places” are Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus. (Compare John 6:37-40, 44.) Persons who do not use their “unrighteous riches” in a proper way (as in assisting those in need and in furthering the “good news” [Gal. 2:10; Phil. 4:15]) could never be friends of God and of his Son Christ Jesus. Their unfaithfulness in the use of unrighteous riches would show that they are unfit to be entrusted with spiritual riches. (Luke 16:10-12) Such persons could never be fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness, dispensing spiritual riches to others.—1 Pet. 4:10, 11.