Prosperity Part 1: OT Word Study

A lot is said these days about God wanting us to prosper. The prosperity bestowed upon servants of God is one of the great truths of the Bible. However, how God defines prosperity and how Western civilized churchgoers define prosperity often differs markedly, and this difference leads to confusion and disappointment among those who don’t see man’s version of prosperity playing out in their lives.

The Hebrew word often translated “prosperity” is tsalach. This word means to go over or through (as a river); to attack, to fall upon (used of the Spirit or God falling upon a man); to go on well, to prosper, to succeed; to flourish (as in a plant); to make successful, to prosper; to accomplish prosperously, to finish well; flow, to be poured out as water. This word is translated in the King James as prosper (44 times), come (6), prosperous (5), come mightily (2), effected (1), good (1), meet (1), break out (1), and went over (1).

To get a better understanding of the biblical use of the word, let’s look at it in context.

The first use of the word is in Genesis 24: 21, 40, 42 and 56. Here, Abraham’s servant is prosperous in his journey to find a wife for Abraham’s son. The prosperity speaks to his success in his journey.

The next use of the word is in regards to Joseph, who prospered in the house of his master, Potiphar (See Genesis 39: 2, 3 and 23). Joseph, even though he was a slave, was given responsibility and position because of the prosperity in everything  he did. His prosperity was a blessing to his Egyptian masters, as well as to himself.

One of the more famous verses is Joshua 1:8

This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success.

Judges 14:6 and 19 speak to the Spirit of God coming on someone giving him strength in battle (against both a lion and men).

Judges 18:5 again speaks to a successful journey, and as seen by Judges 18:6, was successful in that it was a peaceful journey under the protective eye of the Lord.

1 Samuel 10:6 uses the word to speak to the Spirit of God coming on Saul to empower him (turned into another man).

2 Chronicles 26:5 says of Uzziah, “and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.” The same is said of Hezekiah (See 2 Chronicles 31: 20-21). Psalms 1:1-3 confirms this for everyone who keeps himself in God.

However, prosperity is not always associated with those who wait on God. In Psalm 37:7, we are reminded to not fret because of him who prospers in his wicked ways. Also see Jeremiah 5:28, and 12:1.

Psalm 118 speaks of Jesus as being the answer to the prayer “Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity” (See Psalm 118: 25 and surrounding verses).

Proverbs 28:13 juxtaposes lack of prosperity for hiding one’s sins with mercy for confessing and forsaking them. Here, prosperity is seen as the mercy of God forgiving us of our sins.

Another commonly quoted verse which uses the word tsalach is Isaiah 54:17

No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

Here again, prosper refers to success in a mission. While the enemy’s weapon will not prosper in its mission against us (the mission is slander, as seen in the next line), I pray we would all prosper in advancing the mission of the gospel (Our mission of speaking forth the good news of Christ).

Similarly, God says His word will prosper in Isaiah 55:11

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Jesus is the Word of God made flesh (See John 1). Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost (See Luke 19:10). God’s word of salvation will prosper!

If you place your confidence in anyone or anything but the one and only God, you will not prosper in your misplaced confidence (See Jeremiah 2: 37).

From the many verses above, we see how God uses the word tsalach. From these examples, we can surmise that in our life’s journey, as we place our trust in Him, we will be successful in moving forward in God’s mission for us – and that mission is to bring the message of forgiveness of sins, and salvation to those who are lost. The Spirit of God will prosper in making us who He needs us to be for His purpose. Others may appear to have worldly success, but we are to pay them no heed. Others may try to speak against us, but their words will prove to be false. We are God’s servants, and the mercy of God will prosper in covering our sins as we confess them and continue forward in growing fruitful as we meditate day and night on God’s Word.

For the New Testament word for prosper, please see the next entry.

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