Theology 101

Can Wealth Acquired by Unrighteous Means Be Used for Righteous Purposes?

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Job is an unimpeachable example of the righteous rich. But, those classified as the righteous rich are not always such paragons of righteousness, as Abraham’s story shows.

Even when the character of one who acquires wealth is mixed or ambiguous, that wealth can still be used righteously. King David became enormously wealthy, but it seems that some of his wealth came from unrighteous sources.

In fact, God told David that he would not be allowed to build the temple. David recounts to Solomon that God told him:

You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before me. (I Chronicles 22:8)

It is an interesting question as to what this charge meant. Sometimes God gave David a direct strategy to win a battle, such as with the Philistines in I Chronicles 14:8-17. This victory established David’s fame as a warrior. The problem was not that David was a military leader but that he had gone overboard and was excessively cruel in his assaults:

Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. (1 Samuel 27:8-9; see also 30:1-31, 2 Samuel 3:21-23, 5:4-10, 5:19-21, 8:1-7, 12:30)

Certainly as you read the narrative, you wonder about some of David’s military actions.

In any case, David became very wealthy, and much of this wealth came from the spoils of war.

  • He led the way in giving resources for Solomon’s building of the temple. He gave 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of silver, much bronze, iron, wood, and precious stones (I Chronicles 29:1-4).
  • His generosity inspired others to give 5,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of brass, 100,000 talents of iron and many precious stones (I Chronicles 29:7-8).

Much of David’s wealth was given to the temple project and his generosity inspired others to give generously. David dedicated this project to the Lord (I Chronicles 29:10-20). So even though some of David’s wealth may have been gained unrighteously, he used it for righteous purposes.

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  • Pete Smith

    I find this post very unconvincing. It is based on a questionable reading of one verse. God never rebuked David for cruelty. The prophet Amos clearly rebuked the nations for cruelty, so if God intended this understanding he could have made it much clearer [see first two chapters of Amos]. Deuteronomy 23.18 is more on point. The wages of a prostitute could not be used to pay a vow. Thomas Aquinas discussed whether one may give alms out of ill-gotten goods [Article 7 of Question 32, second part of second part]. He concludes for dubious reasons that almost all goods are ill-gotten in some way, so almost any can be used for charity. However, Augustine said (De Verb. Dom. xxxv, 2): “Give alms from your just
    labors….” If wealth is acquired by unjust means, it ought to be restored to those from whom it was taken, so it may not be used for righteous purposes.

  • Tim Weinhold

    I entirely agree with Pete Smith and disagree with Lindsley who, it seems to me, is drawing a very sketchy inference. David had character flaws, like the rest of us, but Scripture gives no evidence that God considered David’s warfare activities as unrighteous. Therefore, there is no good Scriptural basis for considering whatever wealth David gained through warfare as having been gained unrighteously. Whereas the Deut. 23:18 verse is directly on point. According to Lindsley’s reckoning, God would evidently be perfectly happy to receive offerings procured through robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and the like. Bad theology!

  • ChipWatkins

    God will accept our gifts under any circumstances. After all, he already owns them.
    Because we are sinners, in one sense, nothing we have has been “righteously” earned. The real issue is not whether God will accept the gift, nor the source of the funds given, but the reason for giving. Giving to buy God’s favor will always fail. Giving from gratitude for his free gift of grace in Jesus Christ ought to be our habit.

    • Tim Weinhold

      Your opening sentence, Chip, is one heck of a pronouncement. Do you have any biblical basis for your blanket assertion? And how do you square your pronouncement with what would would seem to be the precisely opposite teaching of Deut. 23:18?

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