DON’T CONFUSE MATERIAL PROSPERITY WITH THE BLESSING OF THE LORD
I Timothy 6:3-10 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. 6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.
Our study of Judges 18 this morning will expose the roots of a gospel perversion which has swept across American evangelicalism in the past century. You have heard it criticized under the label of the Prosperity Gospel — Essentially the philosophy that equates material gain with the blessing of the Lord. Other names you may recognize: the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel [I personally like that one!], the “health and wealth” gospel [usually some emphasis on faith healing and physical health is associated with the movement], the “word of faith” movement, the “gospel of success,” and “positive confession theology.”
The central tenet of this perversion is quite simple: God intends for every Christian to experience material prosperity in this life. A sidebar that is often correlated to this mindset is the ministry philosophy: Since we are God’s children, we should always go first class, we should have the biggest and the best. Only this brings glory to God! Look at the TV sets of the famous tele-evangelists and proponents of this movement. Look at their Crystal Cathedrals and large, majestic halls of worship that seat so many thousand worshippers. Look at all the glitz of the religious trappings to say nothing of their personal wealth and lavish lifestyles and fancy suits and jewelry. Outwardly they present an impressive appearance.
Just look at the titles of the books the proponents of this philosophy produce and you will immediately see how far off they are from the message of the cross – a message that includes a call to share the sufferings of Christ; a message that exalts faithfulness to being a disciple of Christ over a selfish desire for comfort and prosperity:
Norman Vincent Peale: List of books he authored:
• The Power of Positive Thinking
• The Art of Living
• A Guide to Confident Living
• The Tough-Minded Optimist
• Inspiring Messages for Daily Living
Robert Schuller: famous Crystal Cathedral – “If you can dream it you can do it”
List of books he authored:
• Way To The Good Life (1963)
• Move Ahead With Possibility Thinking (1967)
• Self-Love (1975)
• You Can Be The Person You Want To Be (1976)
• Toughminded Faith for Tenderhearted People (1979), Thomas Nelson
• Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (1982)
• Tough Times Never Last but Tough People Do (1983)
• The Power of Being Debt Free (1985); Thomas Nelson Publishing
• Living Positively One Day At A Time (1986)
• Success Is Never Ending, Failure Is Never Final (1990)
• Life’s Not Fair, But God Is Good (1991)
• Prayer: My Soul’s Adventure with God (1995)
• My Journey: From An Iowa Farm To A Cathedral Of Dreams (2001)
• Hours of Power (2004)
• Don’t Throw Away Tomorrow (2005)
Joel Osteen: Lakewood Church — books he has authored:
• Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential (2004)
• Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day (2007)
Millions of people are impacted by this watered-down, self-help babble that has stripped the gospel of its genuine spiritual power and reduced God to some type of genie that you rub like a rabbit’s foot to try to extract personal blessings. This stuff should make you sick. Hate evil!
Structure of Chapter 18: Two trips recorded in this chapter:
(:1-10) The mission of the five spies sent to check out the land – very parallel to the mission of the 12 spies sent out by Moses – where only Joshua and Caleb had a vision of faith – people were unwilling to trust the Lord to take the Promised Land – contrast between a divine mission which the people rejected and a mission of human initiative which the people enthusiastically embraced
(:11-31) The military mission of the 600 troops to seize and destroy Laish and then repopulate and possess it
In both cases there was a significant stop at the house of Micah.
Remember last week’s message about the 7 red flags of counterfeit, man-made spirituality
– Wrong Foundation
– Hypocritical Dedication
– Expediency and Self Promotion
– Anarchy and Moral Relativism
– Selfish Ambition
– Materialistic Greed
– Personal Prosperity
FOUR DECEPTIONS OF THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL
I. (18:1-6) ITS ATTRACTIVENESS — THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL FAILS IN ITS DIAGNOSIS OF WHAT PATH HAS THE LORD’S APPROVAL –
FIVE DANITE SPIES SOLICIT THE LORD’S BLESSING FROM MICAH’S PRIEST
A. (:1a) Moral Relativism Undermines Biblical Conviction
“In those days there was no king of Israel;” shortened version of same refrain
Who is there to lay down the law regarding the path of righteousness?
Wiersbe: society filled with competition and confusion
Everybody doing what is right in their own eyes – and yet wanting to affirm that their conduct has God’s stamp of approval; they are not rejecting the faith from their perspective; they are silencing their conscience, ignoring biblical convictions and convincing themselves that God supports their path of comfort and prosperity
B. (:1b-2) Opportunism Advances Selfish Agendas
“and in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking an inheritance for themselves to live in, for until that day an inheritance had not been allotted to them as a possession among the tribes of Israel. So the sons of Dan sent from their family five men out of their whole number, valiant men from Zorah and Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to search it; and they said to them, “Go, search the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. ” (parallel to Josh. 2:1)
Tribe of Dan seeking out an opportunity to improve their situation; not content to trust the Lord for the territory He had called them to conquer
Not out to advance the kingdom of God; out to secure an inheritance for themselves; to feather their own nest; they preferred a life of ease and comfort to fighting the battles that the Lord had called them to fight; to ease their conscience in choosing this path of attractiveness, they began worshipping idols
Zorah and Eshtaol = two cities near the western border of Benjamin; up in the hilly country; too small of an area and not affording them the agricultural opportunity of the lowlands
Wiersbe: Though not a large tribe (Num. 1:39), it was given choice territory when the tribal boundaries were assigned (Josh. 19:40-48). The Danites, however, weren’t able to defeat and dispossess the enemy (Judg. 1:34), thus they decided to go north and relocate. . . the Danites coveted somebody else’s land instead and took it in a violent manner.
James 4:1-4 “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God?”
MacArthur: The tribal allotment was a narrow, roughly U-shaped strip just N of Judah’s claim and S of Ephraim’s. The Mediterranean coast lay on the western arm of the “U.” Joppa was on the coast near the N end.
Brensinger: extreme pressure from both the Amorites (1:34) and the Philistines (Judg. 13-16)
Inrig: We are not to understand from that statement that Dan had been omitted when Joshua divided up the land. Joshua 19 makes it clear that their assigned portion was between Ephraim and Judah, stretching out to the Mediterranean. Dan had refused to trust God by driving out the Amorites. As a result, Judges 1:34 indicates that Dan was forced into the hills and reduced to living in two towns.
Dan was left with two choices. As a tribe, they could repent of their unbelief and trust God to keep His Word as they entered into battle against their enemies. That was God’s will. Or they could look for a new area, a comfortable place where the natives were unprepared, undefended, and vulnerable to a sneak attack. . .
In the book of 1 Chronicles, when the list of the tribes and families in Israel is given, Dan is the only tribe which is totally ignored. They had vanished into obscurity, probably because of intermarriage with the Philistines. Dan did not take what God had given to them, and they took what God had not given them. In the process, they lost all that they had.
Block: The narrator’s point here is simply that the land allotted as the grant of the tribe of Dan in Josh 19:40-48 had not come into their possession. According to 1:34-36 the Danite efforts at taking the land had been ineffective because the Amorites had repulsed them and sent them into the hills.
C. (:3-4) Worldly Success Masquerades as Spiritual Authority
“When they were near the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young man, the Levite; and they turned aside there, and said to him, ‘Who brought you here? And what are you doing in this place? And what do you have here?’ And he said to them, ‘Thus and so has Micah done to me, and he has hired me, and I have become his priest.’”
Shocking to find a Levite ministering in this context! They were on a mission of expediency, hoping to justify their actions by some spiritual authority and here they find a like-minded soul.
Look at my fancy clothes … look at my comfortable lodging … look at the opportunity I have to minister as I please … what a deal
This Levite has found the secret to professional success and personal prosperity; and he did not have to reject his religious façade – perfect.
They seize upon some marketing strategy that seems to have been successful and take it to an entirely new level; we will become our own spiritual authority so that we can control and manipulate our religious practice.
Of course the fact that he has already been compromised by being hired by Micah sets the stage for him being bribed with a higher wage to switch his loyalties to the tribe of Dan.
2 Cor. 2:17 “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”
Satan has his agents masquerading as agents of light
2 Cor. 11:12-15 “But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.”
D. (:5-6) Personal Preference Trumps the Will of God
“And they said to him, ‘Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether our way on which we are going will be prosperous.’ And the priest said to them, ‘Go in peace; your way in which you are going has the LORD’s approval.’”
The Prosperity Gospel tells people what they want to hear
Didn’t take the Levite much time to inquire of God … just going through the motions – using his ephod probably; not much different from tarot card reading; has degenerated into superstition and wishful thinking
These large mega-churches of our day point to their numbers as proof that they have the Lord’s approval; look at all they are accomplishing; note that they do not point to a life of holiness on the part of their constituents – Only the Holy Spirit can produce the genuine fruit of the Spirit – but phony love, peace and joy can be trumped up via emotionalism and the mantra of positive thinking
Block: Like Micah in 7:10-13, the Danites immediately recognize their good fortune in this surprise encounter. Just as Micah’s cult had lacked credibility and authority until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from deity.
II. (18:7-10) ITS MISSION — THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL ORIENTS ITS MISSION AROUND THE WRONG OBJECTIVES –
IF IT SEEMS GOOD TO YOU, GO FOR IT!
A. (:7) Exploiting People Who are Vulnerable
“Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were in it living in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything in the land, and they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone.”
Laish is probably included in the territory allotted to the tribe of Naphtali
You see the desire of the tribe of Dan – to find a geographic pocket where they could live a life of ease, safe and secure from the pressure of surrounding enemies; not engaged in God’s kingdom purposes but enjoying tranquility and comfort – sounds attractive, doesn’t it … compared to “Onward Christian Soldiers …” compared to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” … compared to being challenged to fulfill the Great Commission — “Go into all the world and make disciples” – who wants to be challenged when we can be coddled?
Brensinger: a peaceful way of life that emphasizes commerce over combat. Sidon was a Phoenician settlement on the Mediterranean coast known primarily for trade and commerce rather than war. Second, Laish is relatively isolated, both geographically and politically … have no allies who can readily offer assistance
Block: With its pleasant climate and watered by copious springs that feed into the Jordan River, this site at the foot of Mount Herman was the most productive region of the country.
B. (:8-10) Coveting Power and Possessions
“When they came back to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, ‘What do you report?’ And they said, ‘Arise, and let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you sit still? Do not delay to go, to enter, to possess the land. When you enter, you shall come to a secure people with a spacious land; for God has given it into your hand, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.’”
Brings us back to the memory of the 12 spies reporting back to Moses and the people about taking possession of the Promised Land
They pass off their personal coveting as the will of God – “God has given it into your hand” – how can they be confident of this? They have the assurance of a compromised Levite who told them what they wanted to hear
III. (18:11-26) ITS TREACHERY — THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL JUSTIFIES ITS PERVERSION BY MEANS OF AN EXPEDIENT, COUNTERFEIT, MAN-MADE RELIGIOUS SYSTEM —
600 DANITES ARE MOBILIZED TO ATTACK LAISH
A. (:11-13) Mobilizing the Troops for Their Military Mission of Human Initiative
“Then from the family of the Danites, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, six hundred men armed with weapons of war set out. And they went up and camped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. Therefore they called that place Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. And they passed from there to the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah.”
600 men does not seem like a very large army – they knew the mission was a cakewalk; not all of the tribe was going to relocate apparently
Kiriath Jearim = place where the ark of the Lord ended up after it was returned by the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:2); 7 miles NW of Jerusalem; called it Camp of Dan – constantly infusing their human agenda with spiritual significance
James Jordan: Again we are reminded of Samson, who was from Mahaneh-Dan (Jud. 13:25), in order once again to make the contrast between that mighty man and these Danites.
Why did they stop at the house of Micah? Seeking to justify their mission as divinely ordained; they wanted assurance of the blessing of the Lord
B. (:14-20) Installing an Impressive Counterfeit Religious System
1. (:14-17) Appropriating Religious Trappings
“Then the five men who went to spy out the country of Laish answered and said to their kinsmen, ‘Do you know that there are in these houses an ephod and household idols and a graven image and a molten image? Now therefore, consider what you should do.’ And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young man, the Levite, to the house of Micah, and asked him of his welfare. And the six hundred men armed with their weapons of war, who were of the sons of Dan, stood by the entrance of the gate. Now the five men who went to spy out the land went up and entered there, and took the graven image and the ephod and household idols and the molten image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the six hundred men armed with weapons of war.”
2. (:18-20) Propositioning a Religious Leader –
Let selfish ambition overrule your conscience and convictions
“And when these went into Micah’s house and took the graven image, the ephod and household idols and the molten image, the priest said to them, ‘What are you doing?’ And they said to him, ‘Be silent, put your hand over your mouth and come with us, and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be a priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and a family in Israel?’ And the priest’s heart was glad, and he took the ephod and household idols and the graven image, and went among the people.”
Let’s make a deal approach to spiritual leadership;
Buying someone out and silencing their prophetic voice – what type of instruction and leadership was this priest going to provide? He has been totally compromised.
What does it take to buy your silence??
Should a pastor always jump at the opportunity to preach to greater numbers?
No honor among thieves; no integrity on the part of this Levite priest
C. (:21-26) Intimidating Any Opposition
“Then they turned and departed, and put the little ones and the livestock and the valuables in front of them. When they had gone some distance from the house of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house assembled and overtook the sons of Dan. And they cried to the sons of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, ‘What is the matter with you, that you have assembled together?’ And he said, ‘You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what do I have besides? So how can you say to me, ‘What is the matter with you?’ And the sons of Dan said to him, ‘Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest fierce men fall upon you and you lose your life, with the lives of your household.’ So the sons of Dan went on their way; and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his house.”
Put the women and children in front because that would be the safest spot since they expected to be attacked from the rear – whatever posse would be chasing them for what they had stolen from Micah’s household
Brensinger: “hot-tempered men”, literally, “bitter of soul,” elsewhere denotes a wild bear robbed of her cubs (2 Sam. 17:8)
Block: in the providence of God the Danite treatment of Micah may be interpreted as the divine response to Micah for his abominable behavior. With delightful irony the despised Danites serve as agents of judgment upon this representative of the high and mighty Ephraimites.
IV. (18:27-31) ITS RESULTS — THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL CAN PRODUCE SHORT TERM RESULTS THAT LOOK IMPRESSIVE BUT ARE AT ODDS WITH GOD’S KINGDOM PROGRM —
DANITES CONQUER LAISH, SETTLE THERE AND ESTABLISH THEIR OWN WORSHIP CENTER AND PRIEST
3 Key Philosophies of the Prosperity Gospel Movement:
A. (:27-28a) What’s Yours Is Mine Philosophy
“Then they took what Micah had made and the priest who had belonged to him, and came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire. And there was no one to deliver them, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob.”
– Some people live by the very selfish philosophy: What’s mine is mine and I am not going to share
– Very few people live by the servant philosophy: What’s mine is yours and I am going to minister to your needs
B. (:28b-29) Name and Claim It Philosophy
“And they rebuilt the city and lived in it. And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father who was born in Israel; however, the name of the city formerly was Laish.”
No wonder that they advocate that others live by this mantra; this is how they got to the top of the heap
They could call the city whatever they wanted; but God knows that it still is Laish
C. (:30-31) External Religious Trappings Philosophy
“And the sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.”
– Have to wear the fanciest suits and the wives have to be dolled up with the fanciest clothes and jewelry
– Have to worship in fancy cathedrals; TV sets have to be expensive and impressive
o Cf. the Crystal Cathedral
o Cf. Joel Osteen’s worship center
– Music and entertainment have to be of the highest performance quality
Block: In the end the Danites have a territory they may claim as their home, but they have sold their souls to Canaanite values.
The refutation of the Prosperity Gospel is quite simple:
Life of Christ:
Matt. 8:20 “And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
2 Cor. 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Example of the Apostles:
Acts 3:6 “But Peter said, ‘I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene– walk!’”
Acts 20:33-35 “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
John Piper – excellent video on YouTube decrying the Prosperity Gospel:
“God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied with Him in the midst of loss not prosperity.”