God’s covenant with His people includes the created universe. It is both our area of service and our material inheritance. The word “material” is important here. God Himself is our ultimate inheritance (Ps. 16:5), and we must not let creation take His place. That is idolatry, and many have fallen into this sin in the name of dominion. On the other hand, God has created us to demonstrate our love for Him within the framework of this material universe. At the very least, covenant faithfulness means faithfulness in the material things of this life (cf. Luke 16:1-12). It always has.
God’s Covenant Intentions
In the beginning God declared His covenant intentions for mankind. Man was to fill the earth, subdue it, and exercise dominion over its other inhabitants (Gen. 1:26-30). Man was to do this in complete dependence upon God; he was to trust Him and obey His law. He was to live by every word of God. The forbidden Tree stood as a sacramental token of this covenant principle (Gen. 2:16-17).
Man, of course, had done nothing to earn his position in the covenant. He was there by grace. Dominion was not a means into God’s blessing; it was the enjoyment of that blessing. Nonetheless, as Man exercised godly dominion, he would experience new and greater blessing. For the earth was vast, harmless, and abundant in resources, and its creatures were under the blessing of God (Gen. 1:22). As Man matured in his faith, as he worked out his task of dominion, he would experience more and more of the good things that God had laid up for him within the creation. He would discover honey. He would create wine. He would have grandchildren. He would invent music. He would learn to fly. All sorts of good things awaited Man if he would continue to trust God and walk in His commandments. The blessings would increase and compound. But the point is not merely that Man would have all sorts of good things (mere economic possession), but that he would be blessed in these things, for he would have them and enjoy them within the context of his blessed relationship with God (cf. Dt. 28:1-6).
Sin, Redemption, and Dominion
But Man fell. He chose autonomy; he wanted to be his own god, setting his own system of values, making his own rules (Gen. 3:5). His choice had immediate economic consequences: God cursed creation. The earth would bring forth thorns and thistles; Man would work by the sweat of his brow. In the end, he would return to the dust (Gen. 3:17-19). Creation, Paul tells us, became subject to vanity (Rom. 8:20). But that’s not the end of the story.
We must not suppose that God allowed His original purposes to be thwarted. The whole of Scripture says just the opposite. God still is filling the world with His covenant people; He still is giving them the earth as their inheritance. “The meek will inherit the earth,” Jesus tells us (Mt. 5:5). Abraham will yet be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). Ultimately, the whole of creation will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21), and we will inherit all things (Rev. 21:7).
How is this possible? Jesus Christ entered creation as a second Adam, a new covenant head. Where Adam failed, He was faithful, even unto death. And through His death, Christ has redeemed the Church and the earth, both His Bride and her inheritance (Rev. 5:9-10; 21:1ff.). He is now in the process of ejecting the false heirs and restoring His Bride to her inheritance. 1 Inheritance, restoration to dominion, is basic to the Biblical concept of redemption in both Testaments.
Prosperity by Covenant
Remember that after God had redeemed Israel from Egypt, He gave her an entire book about receiving and enjoying her inheritance. We know it as Deuteronomy. If we read it with new covenant eyes, we will see past Joshua and Israel to Christ and His Church (cf. Heb. 4:8-12). We will find that Deuteronomy, rightly understood, is a handbook for dominion under both covenants, the new as well the old. For though the sword of iron has given way to the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17; 2 Cor. 10:3-5), God’s intentions to bless His people materially have not changed. He still intends to give His people the earth and to bestow upon them the glory and honor of the nations (Rev. 21:24-26; Is. 60). In fact, Deuteronomy 8 is a passage that summarizes God’s program for inheritance. 2 Six major points to this program are especially important.
First, throughout the chapter we are reminded that God trains His people in the wilderness. God did not immediately give Israel the Promised Land. Yes, He did make the offer, and they rejected it in unbelief. But God could have annihilated the older generation in the blink of an eye and led the younger generation into Canaan much sooner than He did. The generation-long trek through the wilderness served a vital purpose. The wilderness was Israel’s boot camp. For Israel needed desperately to learn the lesson that Adam failed to learn in Paradise: “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Dt. 8:3). It is in tribulations and sufferings that we most fully learn obedience (Dt. 8:5; cf. Heb. 5:8). And so God did not hand the Church worldwide dominion upon Christ’s resurrection. What He handed her, in large measure, was persecution. To express this in economic terms, we may say that faith and obedience do not necessarily bring wealth and prosperity immediately. While God has certainly promised to meet the economic needs of His people (Mt. 6:25-33; Ps. 37:25), He does not guarantee that each faithful generation, let alone each faithful believer, will become rich.
Second, while God’s people are learning obedience, God’s enemies are busy creating a civilization and a culture. 3 The dominion impulse remains latent in fallen man, though it has, of course, been distorted by sin. And so fallen man digs wells, plants vineyards and olive trees, and builds cities (Dt. 6:11). Deuteronomy 8 refers to the grains and fruit already growing in Canaan. All of this wealth is predestined for God’s people. “The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Pr. 13:22b). Of course, the ungodly also make idols. These are not things to use or redeem; they are things to destroy (Dt. 7:5, 25-26). Not every piece of pagan culture can be put to God’s service. God’s people must be discerning.
Third, as God’s people conquer the land that has been given them, they will progressively receive greater and greater material wealth. Some of that wealth will be part of the original creation — fountains and springs, pasture land, and mineral resources. Some will be the wealth the ungodly have stored up. And some will come to them as God prospers their own labors. While they continue in obedience, they will continue in prosperity. As a people they will be economically successful.
Fourth, God’s blessings compound over time. Deuteronomy 8:13 speaks three times of Israel’s wealth “multiplying.” As the covenant people remain faithful from generation to generation, God will pour out greater and greater blessings for them to enjoy. Economists speak of compound growth. We have witnessed this kind of growth in the West, and particularly in America, over the past two centuries. This has not been an historical accident; it has been rooted in the spiritual and moral capital laid up by the Reformers and their heirs. That capital is nearly exhausted, but it has helped to put incredible tools for evangelism and dominion into the hands of the believing Church.
Fifth, the wealth that God’s people inherit can be a snare. The covenant people can forget how they got their wealth. Since God did deliver it to them, at least in part, through the labor of their own hands, they may conclude that they have created the wealth themselves. Worse, they may conclude that their good works have earned them these material blessings. They may think God owes them. God becomes a sort of cosmic vending machine: insert act of outward obedience, pull lever, receive economic blessing. The Heidelberg Catechism contains a healthy corrective to this kind of thinking:
63. Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God’s will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.
God does reward our works in this life (Pr. 11:31); He does bless them. But they, in fact, merit nothing. Christ has already secured all the blessings of heaven for us (Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:32); we cannot add to what He has done (Gal. 3:1-14). The economic doctrine of Deuteronomy 8 does not tell us how to get into God’s blessings, but how to walk in them, how to make use of them. It tells us how to practice our faith.
Sixth, if God’s people turn from faith and obedience, if they embrace idols, God will begin to withdraw His blessings… eventually. Apostasy yields dire economic consequences, but those consequences may be long in coming. God is longsuffering, and He gives His people lots of time to repent (Rom. 2:4). So we cannot look at the economic condition of God’s people in a particular place and time and say with confidence, “Here is an obedient people,” or, “Here is a disobedient people.” Perhaps these people are poor because they are still in the wilderness; perhaps those people are wealthy because their apostasy has not caught up with them yet. Certainly we can make no pronouncements about individuals. Remember the case of Job. God makes His blessings to serve His purposes, not our convenience.
Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.” God uses “the power to get wealth” to establish His covenant with His redeemed people. God intends for His people to inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). As God’s people remain faithful, generation to generation, God’s compounding blessing will facilitate and accelerate that inheritance. For a people who have really learned to live by every word of God will use their wealth to advance and expand the work of God’s Kingdom on earth. That they will at the same time be laying up treasure in heaven is one of the happy paradoxes of Scripture (cf. Lk. 16:9).
1. See Rousas J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, Studies in Daniel and Revelation (N. p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1971), ch. 5-8.
2. At this point I should acknowledge my debt to Dr. Gary North’s numerous works on this whole subject, especially Dominion and Common Grace, Millennialism and Social Theory, and his commentary on Deuteronomy, all available on-line from I.C.E.
3. Because the ungodly feel free to break the covenant law, they will race ahead of God’s people in their culture building efforts (cf. Gen. 4). But a pagan worldview cannot sustain such cultural and economic progress for long.