Riches? Fame? Financial security? Peace of mind?
What does prosperity look like?
Riches, fame and fortune can all be a barrier to entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” Matthew 19:24. The rich young ruler who came to Jesus searching for the way to eternal life left sad because he had great wealth. Eternal life is found in restored relationship with God through Jesus, beginning now and continuing into eternity. The young ruler’s wealth gave him only a temporary assurance.
In the Kingdom of God, true prosperity, abundance and security are found through a different perspective on life. Wealth, luxury and prestige seduce us away from these true riches. True prosperity springs from an understanding of what is good, and what is good needs to be understood from God’s perspective:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30
In God’s Kingdom, what is good is connected to being conformed to the image of Jesus. This is what unlocks our destiny, calling and purpose. True prosperity is about carrying God’s glory.
In English, we find the word prosperity sprinkled throughout the Bible; the righteous will prosper, the blessing of the Lord brings prosperity etc. But if we apply our modern understanding of the meaning of prosperity we will miss the true riches. Going back to the original scriptures, many different Hebrew and Greek words together give us a picture of true prosperity. The Hebrew words for good, peace, success, wisdom and abundance are all translated into English as prosperity. In Greek, the words for prosperity combine goodness with the theme of a journey.
Good – טוֹב (tov)
The Hebrew word for good, tov, reminds us of the perfection of God’s creation. The word tov is first used in Genesis on the first day of creation when God describes the light as good. Goodness is thus tied to the principles of God’s Kingdom.
God is good. He has good plans for us. He blessed his whole creation to increase and multiply. This first aspect of prosperity reminds us of our calling to be like God; to increase and multiply goodness upon the earth; to be light in the darkness and shine that light for others.
Jacob summarised the blessing that he received from God with the word tov (here translated as prosper):
But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.'”
God had promised to bring him back safely to the land of his birth, to bless all the families of the earth through him, to watch over him and not to forsake him (Genesis 28:10-15). Jacob’s path did not protect him from harm nor preclude hard work; he reaped the consequences of his own deception as he fell prey to his father-in-law’s tricks and worked 20 years to build his family and lifestock (Genesis 31:38). The promise of tov that he received was fulfilled in the inheritance of his descendants.
Moses instructed the Israelites in Sinai to walk in obedience to God so that they might enjoy what is good:
Walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.
King Solomon reflected on wisdom and its connection to finding what is good. He instructed his readers that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10. Many of the words we have translated in Proverbs for prosperity and to prosper are from the Hebrew word for good. Consider the difference this understanding brings to the meaning here: When the righteous are good (like God) then the city rejoices:
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. – Proverbs 11:10
Or consider this Proverb:
The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper. – Proverbs 19:8
The one who cherishes understanding will soon find what is good. Jesus said that no-one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18).
Peace –שָׁלוֹם (shalom)
In the Psalms and Prophets, peace is sometimes translated as prosperity. The Hebrew word for peace contains much more than the idea of absence of war and strife. Shalom implies wholeness, healing, rest and completeness. Shalom is first used in the Bible in the context of covenant. God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land but that Abraham himself would go to his fathers in peace.
Solomon prayed for the full richness of shalom to be made manifest during his reign, tying this concept closely to that of righteousness. Righteousness is an attribute of God himself. Solomon’s prayer found its fulfilment in Jesus:
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness….
In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
Psalm 72:3, 7
Jeremiah advised the exiles in Babylon to pray for the shalom of their place of exile and encouraged them that God had thoughts of shalom towards them:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Success – הַצלָחָה (hazlicha)
The Hebrew word for success has its roots in a favourable outcome to a journey. It is first used in Genesis when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, “Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful,” (Genesis 24: 21). The servant had fulfilled his promise by travelling to the town of Nahor and now relied on God to grant a favourable outcome. Hazlicha means success, advance, to push through and to thrive.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. – Proverbs 28:13
Wisdom – שכל (sekhel)
Another aspect of prosperity comes from one of the Hebrew words for wisdom, sekhel. This is wisdom in the context of discerning evil from good; the word is first used as Eve contemplates the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This word was used by Moses when he advised the Israelites to be diligent in following God’s law:
Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. – Deuteronomy 29:9
Abundance – דשן (deshen)
My favourite Hebrew word for prosperity is deshen. I like the irony of how the idea of “being made fat” has become abhorrent in modern society whereas in ancient times a layer of fat was desirable because it assisted survival during the long winters. But this word is also connected to the concept of priests, prophets and kings being anointed with oil (Psalm 23:5). Deshen can be translated as to be saturated; being soaked full of the anointing of God.
Those who trust in the LORD will prosper. Proverbs 28:25
The two Greek words for prosperity used in the New Testament are formed by putting the word eu, which means good, together with the word for road or the word for journey. The idea is similar to that of the roads in the book of Proverbs where there is a path that leads to righteousness and another that leads to destruction. Jesus said that he himself was this path, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). He made the way back to God for everyone who believes in him through his death on the cross and resurrection.
On the good path εὐοδόω (euodoo)
Paul used this word for prosperity in describing his hope of visiting the believers in Rome. His wish was fulfilled although not in the way he had imagined it; rather he travelled as a prisoner awaiting trial in Rome. His good road took the path through suffering.
Making request, if by any means now at last I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. – Romans 1:10 (KJV 2000)
John used the idea of prosperity in greeting his friend Gaius. His letter is concerned with walking in the truth and choosing good over evil recalling the Hebrew meanings of good, peace, success and wisdom.
Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers. – 3 John 1:2 (KJV 2000)
Prosperity in God is found through following Jesus and taking his offer of eternal life in fellowship with God. This kind of prosperity is totally different from the prosperity that the world offers. The “good path” might lead you through loss and suffering but the rewards are true riches worth more than gold.
May you live long and truly prosper!