Sometime back in 2009 or 10, a church couple brought a friend over to our apartment in California. This friend was visiting the couple during a break from Bible college and wanted to meet me. After we settled in, I started asking him questions about his classes. He told me he was in one class called “Economy of God”.
I had never heard the term “Economy of God” before, and I was suspicious of it at first. But I quickly realized it described a very real and very important thing. It described the value system God holds and on which He operates. That is, “economy of God” or “God’s economy” is what He considers valuable and what He does not consider valuable.
I was reminded of that incident and that term this week as I made my way through our assigned passages in Genesis. These passages reminded me of these things because they demonstrated this same reality. I noticed that the various characters in Genesis each had an economy of their own, a “spiritual economy” which showed the value they did or didn’t put on the things of God.
Here’s a few examples:
The patriarch Abraham not only operated on a clear spiritual economy but on a clearly “good” spiritual economy. What he did often demonstrated how he valued God and other spiritual things in his life.
My favorite example of this comes when he needed to bury his wife Sarah. He approached the men of Canaan in whose land he was living to acquire a burial plot for her. When they him to “wheel and deal” with them over the price of this land, he refused. He would not dicker the cost of his wife’s grave. Instead, he paid the full, exorbitant price, showing one last time how much Sarah meant to him and how determined he was to honor her (23:3-16).
Another example comes after Abraham’s rescue of his nephew Lot. Having defeated the four kings who took Lot, he was entitled to the goods they had carried off. But he refused to take a share of the goods. Instead, he gave a tenth to Melchizedek and allowed the men who went with him to a share but then returned the rest. Lot was important to him. God was important to him. The spoils of war were not (14:17-24).
There are several other examples of Abraham’s spiritual economy as well: his protection of Isaac, the son of promise, from his other sons (21:14, 25:5-6); his willingness to sacrifice Isaac in faith that God would somehow still keep the promise (22), and his determination to get a godly wife for Isaac (24) all show not only that he had a good economy but that he was incredibly committed to it.
On the other end of the spectrum is Laban. This man, another of Abraham’s nephews and brother to Rebekah, clearly had an economy as well, but that economy was also clearly not a spiritual one. He did not value the things of God as much as he valued the things of this world.
This man’s economy may have been revealed as early as Genesis 24, when Abraham’s servant comes to Laban’s household to get Rebekah to be Isaac’s wife. Laban seems to have been at least partially intrigued by the jewelry the servant gave Rebekah (24:30).
Even if that is not the case, it is the case that this man’s economy showed itself when he insinuated himself into the life of Jacob, his nephew. He used Jacob, taking financial advantage of him, asking him to work for less wages than what was right. He also changed Jacob’s wages on numerous occasions in order to benefit himself. Laban’s own daughter accused him of using up their bride prices, i.e., not securing and blessing them financially as he should. And Laban seemed to regard everything Jacob had earned as still “his” in some way (29:35ff, 31:7, 15-16, and 43). He seems to have some knowledge of God and shows some (probably reluctant) obedience to God, but he does not bless people the way Abraham does. He hurts them instead. He also uses up whatever resources he finds. Beyond that, he never seems to understand just how negatively he is affecting both people and the world. The man had a lowly economy, and so he did lowly things.
Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, also had a spiritual economy. I would say his spiritual economy aligned more with Laban’s than Abraham’s. But there was at least one time when he made some economical changes.
After Abimelech saw Sarah, he took her into his harem. This was a threat to the birth of the son of promise and thus the salvation of the entire world. God could not allow that threat to stand, so He appeared to Abimelech in a dream and said, “You are as good as dead.” (20:3) That’s the kind of thing that can make any man, even a king, reevaluate his economy.
The next day, Abimelech returned the woman he took. He also gave a great deal of wealth to her and Abraham. While I can’t say this was a true change of heart that put him in Abraham’s company, it was at least a better reaction to the spiritual than anything Laban ever did. For at least that moment, Abimelech realized the importance of the spiritual and acted accordingly.
These three men aren’t the only ones in Genesis to have spiritual economies. Everyone in Genesis has such an economy. Everyone who has ever existed had and who exists today has such an economy. They may not realize it. They may not have put a lot of thought in it. But they do. And the economy they have determines the kind of things they do and the kind of person they are. The difference between an Abraham and a Laban is really a difference in economy.
That being the case, the importance of having the right spiritual economy, that is, a spiritual economy which matches the reality of the existence of a good God and His desire for us to walk with Him intently and exclusively, is obvious. This, in turn, leaves us with the all-important question of, “What is your spiritual economy?”