TorahBytes - Back to home pageBe-Hukkotai
For the week of May 17, 2014 / 17 Iyar 5774
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3 - 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19-17:14

The Deceit of Abundance

You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:10; ESV)

This week's parasha (Torah reading portion) includes one of the Torah's descriptions of blessings and curses. God told the people of Israel how he would respond to their faithfulness or lack thereof. If they stayed true to him and his ways, life in their land would go well. But if they neglected to follow his instructions, disaster would ensue. One key aspect of this had to do with agriculture. Godly living would result in healthy and abundant crops; but if the people were disobedient to God, he warned them: "your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit" (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:20; ESV). The abundance enjoyed as a result of obedience is described in terms of having more than enough; so that when the new harvest is gathered, the previous year's goods would need to be disposed of.

In Canada, where I live, this is the kind of abundance we experience. This is not to say that we don't have poor people in this country who struggle to have enough food. But as far as our stores are concerned, they are overflowing with food to the extent that each day large quantities of food are thrown out to make room for new stock. Does this mean that as a nation Canada is blessed by God, and if so, is this blessing a result of godly living?

There are a couple of issues here. First, are the Torah principles with regard to God's response to his people's behavior as laid out in the Torah transferable to Canada (or any other country)? If this is the case, then God must be holding Canada to the same standard as Israel in biblical times. Biblically we have no reason to come to such a conclusion. The Torah never states that the dynamics of the Sinai covenant apply to other nations. But if it did, would Canada be blessed with the current abundance? I don't think so.

Before going further, let me point out that abundance of food is not the only indicator of blessing in a society. Economics is more than agricultural bounty. The current debt load suggests that we are not as prosperous as we think we are. In addition, the total sum of a county's state is not restricted to economics alone, but also its physical and spiritual health. The prevalence of family dissolution, negative population growth, and moral confusion suggest something different from what our food abundance may suggest. In fact, the overflowing shelves at the supermarket may actually be deceiving us.

For ancient Israel, having to remove the old food stores to make way for the new was a promised result of faithfulness to God's covenant. But it doesn't necessarily always work the other way around. If and when Israel at a particular time might experience such bounty, it would be wrong to assume that they were living right, which brings us back to our own context.

I wonder how many of us make that wrong assumption based on our current culture's prosperity. On one hand we know we are not doing well as a society, but as we look around, we see signs of prosperity and think we must be okay. Isn't this what we do with ourselves as individuals? How many of us know we should make changes to our personal lifestyle, for example, but until we have a significant breakdown, such as a marriage failure or heart attack, we don't take our lives seriously.

God's words regarding blessings and curses were never intended to be implied in reverse as in if you are prosperous; you must be doing something right. Right living is determined based on how it compares to God's directives, not the current state of affairs, good or bad. If we live in a prosperous part of the world, we should be grateful. If we have more than enough, we should share with those in need. But regardless of how we practically respond to the abundance at our disposal, it's time we stop being fooled by it.

Do we need to wait for disaster to strike before we take serious stock of our personal lives and the condition of our communities? While the nations of the world are not under the same covenant obligations as ancient Israel, it is only a matter time before our neglect of God's ways will be called to account.

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