I have been reading back through the Psalms, because, you know, it’s what the cool kids do. Anyway, I came upon a passage which I thought may have some relevance for the “Prosperity Gospel” teaching (check out this brief summary and critique of this movement):
“Many, LORD, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’
Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
When their grain and new wine abound.” Psalm 4:6-7 [7-8 in Hebrew Bible]
The text may not immediately seem to have anything to say about the notion that God will grant us ‘health, wealth, and prosperity.’ However, I think it actually does serve as a brief refutation of this alleged “gospel.” I’ll break it down.
Many, LORD, are asking “Who will bring us prosperity?”
There are those who call out to anyone, seeking prosperity rather than seeking after the LORD. Rather than asking the King of the Universe to let His will be done, they seek out prosperity from whatever place it may come. The modern teaching of the “prosperity gospel” is a form of this, but it smuggles in the notion that God is going to provide such wealth to those who ask.
Let the light of your face shine on us.
Rather than asking the LORD for prosperity, the Psalmist David seeks only to have God “shine” on him. Happiness comes from the presence of God.
Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.
Here is what I would consider the dramatic turnaround: the first quoted section speaks of how there are others who are seeking after wealth from wherever it may come. Now, David asks from God, the only true provider, to give joy to him even when those who seek such prosperity actually get it.
Thus, we have a very real contrast: those who seek wealth as opposed to those who realize that the rain falls even upon the wicked and so they should rejoice in the light of God’s presence. The difficulty is not purely that the “others” are seeking from others; rather it is that they are seeking prosperity (more literally “happiness”) from God rather than simply rejoicing in God’s presence and Word.
Am I on Track?
I decided to take the time to look up these verses in a commentary after writing the above to see if I may be on the right track. There’s something to be said for the notion that we shouldn’t be doing theology in a vacuum. Samuel Terrien, in his commentary on Psalms from the Eerdman’s Critical Commentary series, argues that Psalm 4 should be seen as an evening prayer, likely even sung in the bedroom/prayed as one was getting into bed. His comments on the relevant passage note that “the poet is… saddened by the discovery of a certain skepticism around [him]… Happiness… which is lacking around him, may be due to a satiety of a materialist kind… For the pious, however, happiness arises from a grateful acceptance of God’s presence” (98-99, cited below).
Again, we see that the problem is that we should be finding our joy in the presence of God rather than material blessings from wherever they may come. Those who seek “health, wealth, and prosperity” are in fact pursuing the latter rather than the former. Psalm 4 should serve as a corrective to the prosperity “gospel.”
Samuel Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003).
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