Wealth and the Bible
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord... Wealth and riches shall be in his house... - Psalms 112:1-3
"The rich man's wealth is his strong city." - Proverbs 18:11
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. - Matthew 19:24

Are you in the money? Contrary to skeptical belief, Jesus is not "telling the wealthy to sell all that they have, for the rich can not go to heaven." It indicates --- using typical rabbinic exaggeration -- that it is difficult for the rich to enter heaven; and in context (the story of the rich young ruler) shows that this is because they find their wealth so alluring. On the other hand, even without noting the proverbial nature of the Psalm and Proverb, it is obvious that the person referred to is one who "fears the Lord" and thus would not have a problem with the wealth as a sort of lure.

The order of the Psalms verse indicates that someone who fears the Lord will thereafter...as a result...have riches in his house. What is this "fear of the Lord"? You can deduce a few things by checking the texts, but they might be summarized proverbially in Proverbs 8:13 -- "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate." Other passages indicate that "fear of the Lord" results in departure from evil (Prov. 16:6). The basic lesson: One who fears the Lord does not have proclivities to wickedness. A person who has this "fear", having proven their dedication to the Lord, has proven themselves able to "handle" wealth. It does/will not stand in their way of serving and fearing the Lord.

Flash forward a few millennia. The rich young ruler is clearly one who does not fear the Lord, as evidenced by his comical assertion that he has kept all the commandments since he was a child! "Oh, really!" would be a pretty good response -- unless the fellow was frozen in ice, I think we can be fairly sure he was a fallible human who broke at least one of those commands now and then! So fear isn't there, but owing to the limited social mobility of the time, we can be almost 100% sure that the wealth was around from the beginning. But when he shows that he's rather not give it up for the sake of following a prophet whose ministry he ostensibly believed to be founded of God, he showed himself to be a violator of the most important commands against idolatry! No suitable Ps. 112 person was he!

Let me just emphasize here the most important point of all -- that of the proverbial, non-absolute nature of the Psalmist/Proverbial literature, and even the Matthean teaching. Obviously not all who gain wealth, even with fear of the Lord prior to the fact, will remain steadfast in faith (Solomon is a good example); not all who feared the Lord ended up with a horde of riches (though there were very few who feared the Lord anyway, if OT history is any indication); not all rich people are so absorbed in their wealth that they would not throw it away if asked by God to serve stew at refugee shelters in the Sudan. Nor do any of these teachings indicate such things, for by the conventions of the genre, no "wisdom" teaching is an absolute, whether stated by Jesus, by Solomon, by Amenamope, or by Confucius, and we have elaborated on this point elsewhere. It is a key point, but it seems to be totally beyond skeptical understanding. I don't doubt that it will continue to be.

In addition, regarding Proverbs, lets not ignore the rest of the verse, which goes on to say: "they imagine it an unscalable wall." In other words, this verse completely agrees with the "camel" verse! It indicates that the rich man thinks that his wealth is his strong city, but he is merely fooling himself, as the second part of the verse makes clear.

-JPH