Wealth

WEALTH (Heb. hôn, hayil, nekhāsîm, Gr. euporia). Abundance of possessions whether material, social, or spiritual. In the nomadic civilization of the early Hebrews, wealth consisted largely of flocks and herds, silver and gold, brass, iron, and clothing (Josh.22.8). In the days of Job, his sons had houses, but their wealth consisted largely of camels, donkeys, flocks, and herds, and “a large number of servants” (Job.1.3). Wealth can come from sinful endeavors (Acts.19.25). From the beginning of Israel, God taught his people that he was the giver of their wealth (Deut.8.18): “For it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” He taught them to be liberal: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (Prov.11.24). NT teaching goes even further: “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1Cor.10.24). Some OT passages give the impression that wealth always went with godliness (Ps.112.3) and that poverty was for the wicked (Prov.13.18), but this outlook can be debated.


WEALTH. At least twenty-five Heb. words (roots) are tr. wealth, riches, prosperity, etc. In the NT only five words are used. Many of the Heb. terms appear only a few times; and no clues are given by the context concerning the exact shades of meaning. The following words are defined in such a way as to give a measure of exactness to their meaning.


כָּבוֹד, H3883, means wealth in terms of silver and gold (Nah 2:9), and also in terms of flocks and herds (Gen 31:1).

רְכוּשׁ, H8214, is a general term for all kinds of movable property, e.g. when Abraham left Haran (Gen 12:5). Jeremiah 20:5 refers to חֹ֫סֶן, H2890, “treasure,” as the wealth of a city as becoming booty for the enemy.

מַטְמוֹן, H4759, suggests money carried in sacks (Gen 43:23), and hidden treasure buried in time of war (Job 3:21).

כֶּ֫סֶף, H4084, “silver,” is the general term for money.

צָלַח, H7502, “advance,” has the meaning of “to prosper.”

הוֹן, H2104, “sufficiency” is esp. a poetic term for wealth, and is widely used in Proverbs. One new source of wealth is mentioned, i.e. interest on money lent (Prov 28:8). The KJV correctly trs. Proverbs 28:22, and gives an interesting psychological slant on the attitude toward quick gain. “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye.”

עֹ֫שֶׁר, H6948, is commonly tr. riches. The only new usage is its reference to the wealth of kings, i.e. Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah; riches are also attributed to Pers. kings (Esth 1:4).

The most important item of wealth was food, for in Bible times food was a matter of life and death, far more significant than it is to the average Bible reader today. “The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it” (Prov 11:26). According to the prophet Micah, the withholding of food from the poor by the rich was in his day the equivalent of cannibalism (Mic 3:2, 3). Among food items were wheat, olives, oil (olive and sesame), honey, wine, and figs. Lamb and goat were the meats then as today, and they were of equal economic importance. For the rich there were also all kinds of spices, although only cassia and calamus are mentioned by name. “There were no spices such as those which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon” (2 Chron 9:9). Balm was also an expensive luxury item.

The wealth of the rich consisted of luxury items. White wool finished by the fuller, and linen, dyed blue and purple and finished with embroidery, provided luxurious clothing. Saddle cloths and multi-colored oriental rugs were highly valued. Precious stones of all kinds, esp. emeralds, pearls and agates were used for jewelry. Riding horses and mules, together with chariot horses were utilized by the wealthy for transportation. Ivory and ebony were imported for inlaid furniture. The OT world knew how to use metals almost as well as we do today. Ezekiel mentioned gold, silver, copper and its alloys, iron, tin, and lead.

Most tragic was the wealth in slaves, although Israel had fewer than most other ancient nations.

Wealth in Israel included gold, silver, gems, jewelry, and other precious items. Manufacturing, which began about the time of Isaiah, soon became the source of major wealth. Manufacturers leased the farmlands abandoned by the farmers who worked in their factories; thus the manufacturers also held a corner on a major grain market.

Abraham provides an example of a big business man. His trade reached from Haran to Egypt; he himself concentrated on the Negeb-Egypt area, leaving Eliezer to watch the Damascus unit, and Lot to handle the Arabian trade. Solomon is usually mentioned as the other big business man, but much of the credit for his wealth should go to David. David’s military conquest reached to the Euphrates River, and not only brought to him the booty of these campaigns, but also enabled him to be a major member of the iron monopoly when that metal was as revolutionary as aluminum is today. Furthermore, his military lines enabled him to tax any item crossing his boundary via Anatolia, the Euphrates River, the Arabian Desert, Egypt, and parts of the Mediterranean coast. It was David’s wealth that built Solomon’s Temple and Solomon’s palace complex. Solomon added horse-trading, some manufacturing, and the selling of copper—his government monopoly—to the backward peoples of the Red Sea. Wealth could not be denied to the farmer who worked large areas of productive soil or had legal rights to large grazing areas for his flocks. After David’s time the royal court gave opportunities for economic advancement. Interest could be earned on business loans and foreign deals, but not from farm land. Money could be made on the sale of city property, but farm land stayed within the immediate family.

It was in the days of Isaiah after the rapid intro. of manufacturing that wicked Israelites added Mammon to their heathen pantheon, and he quickly rose to an equality with their degenerate Baal. After Israel refused countless calls to repentance, Jerusalem was wiped out for seventy years.

There is an excellent description of the movable wealth of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:12-25, and this description fits Israel as well. Revelation 18:11-13 provides another excellent list of items of wealth; the only item mentioned that was not common in OT times was silk. It is a debatable question whether Ezekiel 16:10 actually refers to silk.

Money and coinage. Money, in the days before coinage was invented, was carried in ingots, bars, or rings of silver or gold; or the metal might be weighed out in any other form. Jewelry made of these metals was always more valuable than the metals themselves. The gold that Achan stole at Jericho (Josh 7:21) was literally a “tongue” of gold. One such “tongue” was actually found in the excavations at Gezer. Precious stones of all kinds were also used as money, even after the invention of coinage. Because of the great value represented in small precious stones, they were the most convenient method of carrying large sums of wealth. Embroidered garments were of such value that they were listed as war booty.

Coinage was not invented until the 7th cent. b.c. (see Coins). The first OT reference to coinage is to the Pers. gold Daric (Ezra 2:69). The NT refers to various gold, silver, and copper coins.

NT wealth. The NT uses about one-fifth as many terms for wealth as does the OT, and only one of these terms appears more than three times. The word πλου̂τος, G4458, the term used in the parable of the sower, is used fig. more often than literally. 2 Corinthians 8:2 contrasts poverty and wealth. Εὐπορία refers to wealth secured by making the silver shrines of Diana (Acts 19:25). Εὐοδόω, “prosper,” is used in the salutation in 3 John 2. Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:2 admonished the believer to contribute to the church in proportion to his prosperity.

Πλουσίως is used in 1 Timothy 6:17 where the wealthy are urged not to depend upon their riches but upon God.

Theology of wealth. The Bible everywhere insists that God is the Creator and that all things belong to Him. He alone is the Creator and Distributor of wealth. Wealth is the gift of God. In Deuteronomy 8:18 Israel was told, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” The believer is only the administrator of God’s wealth. In the application of the parable of the talents, however, God insists that He must have a return on His investment.

Nowhere in Scripture is wealth thought of as being sinful per se. Indeed, Israel was commanded to honor the Lord with her substance (Prov 3:9), and the tithe was an integral part of worship. Wealth, however, often became a temptation and the psalmist (Ps 62:10) wisely advised, “If riches increase, set not your heart on them.” Job’s attitude to the totality of life applies equally well to its economic phase. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

In NT times money and philosophy became the greatest obstacles to the worship of God. The deadly danger of money is seen in Christ’s remarks, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23); and the parables of the rich fool and the rich young ruler stress the same theme. To summarize, Christ says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24), and “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

The OT saints, e.g. Abraham, David, and Job, were men of great wealth, but there is no NT saint of comparable wealth. It is interesting to note, however, that the Rom. centurion of whom Christ said, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matt 8:10, ASV), was wealthy enough to have built the synagogue at Capernaum where Christ worshiped (Luke 7:5). Although Christ, was the Lord of all wealth, He saw fit to travel through life without wealth, trusting Himself to the mercies of His friends.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


Wealth may be the result of industry (Pr 10:4), or the result of the special blessing of God (2Ch 1:11,12). We are warned to be careful lest at any time we should say "My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember Yahweh thy God, for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (De 8:17,18).

Those possessing wealth are liable to certain kinds of sins against which they are frequently warned, e.g., highmindedness (1Ti 6:17); oppression of the poor (Jas 2:6); selfishness (Lu 12 and 16); dishonesty (Lu 19:1-10); self-conceit (Pr 28:11); self-trust (Pr 18:11).

It is of interest to note that in the five places in the New Testament in which the word "lucre"--as applying to wealth--is used, it is prefaced by the word "filthy" (1Ti 3:3 (the King James Version),8; Tit 1:7,11; 1Pe 5:2), and that in four of these five places it refers to the income of ministers of the gospel, as though they were particularly susceptible of being led away by the influences and power of money, and so needed special warning.

The Scriptures are not without instruction as to how we may use our wealth wisely and as well-pleasing to God. The parable of the Unjust Steward (Lu 16) exhorts us to "make .... friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness," by which is meant that we should use the wealth which God has committed to us as stewards in order that we may win friends (souls) with it for Him and His kingdom, just as the unfaithful steward used the goods with which his master had entrusted him to make friends for himself. The parable of Dives and Lazarus gives us the sad picture of a selfish rich man who had abused his trust, who had failed to make friends with his money, and who, in the other world, would have given anything just for such a friend (Lu 16:19-31).

See also RICHES.