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Saturday, July 17, 2021

Isaac reaped a thousand fold return, so what?

A reflective moment birthed through my recovery from the Pentecostal/Word of Faith movement.

I saw the meme below, laughed, then my smile faded to a sigh. I had just read the story of Isaac earlier the same day.
When Isaac planted in that land, he reaped in the same year a hundred times what he had sown, because the Lord blessed him. Genesis 26:12 NET
It reminded me of some well-intentioned errors we believed in the Word of Faith. While there are some "TV Evangelists" who intentionally misuse the concepts of giving to rob people, most of us (pastors included) really believed in it for our own giving too. Yet, herein lay an example of poor exegesis that brought very little measurable fruit to anyone I ever knew in the Word of Faith movement. What little fruit it did bear was a result of different giving principals that were related but also misused.

The story of Isaac reaping a 100-fold return on seed he sowed was used to show why you should give at church. While giving generously is a common theme in the Bible (Paul talked about it to the Corinthians), and it can be associated with a financially blessed life (indirectly), there is very little scriptural basis for give X, receive Y.

It was taught that the basis for this concept was actually from Jesus, who told Peter (who had walked away from everything) that anyone who left houses, family, etc. for the cause of Jesus would reap a 100-fold return now in this life, and in the life to come. The use of the same term tied the story back to Isaac, so we drew our conclusions.

Some of us took this to mean, "if I give $100 in the offering today, I have a $10,000 check coming in the mail"... Yeah. That never happened. Ever. To anyone I personally knew.

So we took a valid line of thinking (Jesus is referencing Isaac and promising rewards for prioritizing the Kingdom of God over life and family) and extended it too far (that doesn't mean a check is coming).

Most of the so-called basis for this comes from misapplication, poor exegesis, and poor hermeneutics of biblical passages.

1. For starters, Genesis isn't a collection of random historical events, it is a narrative theological history. There is a single-narrative authorial intention (and multiple editors) for all of Genesis and he/she is trying to tell a story with key theological themes. What is the story of Isaac telling us about the human condition? Etc.

2. In terms of his story, Isaac had a very specific situation, and a specific command (do not go to Egypt, stay here). He was following the direct instructions given. He was also living several thousand years before Jesus, so different time and place than 21st Century USA.
3. You're not Isaac. While you are indirectly associated through Jesus, and under the blessing of Abraham as a result, that doesn't mean you get to do verbatim what Isaac did and get the same verbatim result, if it did, you had bettter like planting seed in the deserts of Ancient Canaan. God's not a magic formula. You cannot take anybody's story from the Bible and just usurp it for the same results. You can see what theological points are being made, and what God would have you learn from it.

4. Note: he sowed physical seed, in a physical ground, and reaped physical harvest. If there were any application of this story for your life, giving money into a bucket isn't it. There are themes and patterns for giving, this isn't one of them.

So what can we, legitimately, learn from this story, in light of the themes of scripture?

This story is about a physical action taken in the real world. If anything was to be mimicked, it would be "go write your book, start your business, get your degree and become a teacher..." in the land you are told to plant yourself in. That would be far closer to what Isaac did than putting money in a bucket as if it were a slot machine. But even that is drawing too much from the story, unless you also heard from God to that effect. 

And that is the real "lesson". God blessed them because... he decided to.
God had just disinherited the nations, and was choosing Abraham and his family out of the nations for a specific task. They obeyed, imperfectly. They also failed, often, and God corrected them and stepped in to protect them from their own stupidity (just look at how often Abraham and Isaac lied to the kings they stayed with about their wives). God blessed them, not because they were special or different or had more "faith" than anyone else. God blessed them because Abraham believed Yahweh and took steps to follow him as instructed; and, because God had already decided to "bless" them before Abraham was ever called. 
*If you notice, his father had already started the journey and stopped in Haran. Abraham was technically picking up where Terah had left off, but that's a rabbit trail for another day.

We do; however, see a pattern in scripture. As we learn from Proverbs: when people hear God's voice, and do what he says, things tend to go better for them. And as we learn from Ecclesiastes: That's true, most of the time. Sometimes things don't go well for the righteous, and God will work that out in the eschaton (the end of all things). 

There are no guarantees. God is not a slot machine or a even a stock trading company. Your giving doesn't automatically mean your financial rewards. In fact, that is exactly backwards of God's giving. You give out of a gratitude for all he's done for you (past-tense), not as a way to get a "return on investment". 
Giving in the Bible is almost always out of the produce you have already reaped, and sometimes even out of our lack. There are instances, miracle moments, where giving from lack results in rewards (the widow who gave her last oil and flour to Elijah), but even then the reward is usually survival or rescue not mansions and Mercedes.

The next time someone calls your giving "seed", just smile and nod. If you feel compelled to use an Old Testament phrase, call it your Thanks Offering Unto God. 
Just my two-cents, I could be wrong and often am. 
Darrell Wolfe, Storyteller

Attribute Unknown "Facebook Meme"


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