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 56Genesis 24:21, 40, 42, 56 (NKJV)
21 And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not.
40 But he said to me, 'The Lord, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way; and you shall take a wife for my son from my family and from my father's house.
42 "And this day I came to the well and said, 'O Lord God of my master Abraham, if You will now prosper the way in which I go,
56 And he said to them, "Do not hinder me, since the Lord has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master." . 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 23Genesis 39: 2, 3 and 23 (NKJV)
2-3 The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand.
23 The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper. ). 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 19Judges 14:6 and 19 (NKJV)
6 And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.
19 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of their men, took their apparel, and gave the changes of clothing to those who had explained the riddle. So his anger was aroused, and he went back up to his father's house. speak to the Spirit of God coming on someone giving him strength in battle (against both a lion and men).
Judges 18:5Judges 18:5 (NKJV)
So they said to him, "Please inquire of God, that we may know whether the journey on which we go will be prosperous." again speaks to a successful journey, and as seen by Judges 18:6Judges 18:6 (NKJV)
And the priest said to them, "Go in peace. The presence of the Lord be with you on your way." , was successful in that it was a peaceful journey under the protective eye of the Lord.
1 Samuel 10:61 Samuel 10:6 (NKJV)
Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. uses the word to speak to the Spirit of God coming on Saul to empower him (turned into another man).
2 Chronicles 26:52 Chronicles 26:5 (NKJV)
He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. 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: 20-212 Chronicles 31: 20-21 (NKJV)
Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered. ). Psalms 1:1-3Psalms 1:1-3 (NKJV)
Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. confirms this for everyone who keeps himself in God.
However, prosperity is not always associated with those who wait on God. In Psalm 37:7Psalm 37:7 (NKJV)
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. , we are reminded to not fret because of him who prospers in his wicked ways. Also see Jeremiah 5:28, and 12:1Jeremiah 5:28, and 12:1 (NKJV)
5:28 They have grown fat, they are sleek; Yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked; They do not plead the cause, The cause of the fatherless; Yet they prosper, And the right of the needy they do not defend.
12:1 Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You; Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously? .
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 118:25Psalm 118:22-26 (NKJV)
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. and surrounding verses).
Proverbs 28:13Proverbs 28:13 (NKJV)
He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. 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 19:10Luke 19:10 (NKJV)
for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.). 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 2:37Jeremiah 2:37 (NKJV)
Indeed you will go forth from him With your hands on your head; For the Lord has rejected your trusted allies, And you will not prosper by them. ).
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.