“So what do I get from this deal?”
We’re a bottom line kind of people. We want to know. Reward may not be our only motivation, but still …
God’s people have always wondered this. So I go God’s way and then what?
When God appeared to Abram he was quick to let him know what he could expect out of this Master-Servant relationship: “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward’” (Gen. 15:1, NIV; cf. KJV, NKJV).
God was quick to inform Abram that there would be a reward for trusting and obeying God. In using the word “reward” God chose a word that probably was “a term for a mercenary’s pay” (p.241, Genesis: A Commentary, Waltke).
It is an interesting choice of words, for at the end of chapter 14 Abram had just returned from defeating the four kings who had raided and plundered and kidnapped the peoples of the area around southern end of the Salt Sea. Abram and his people utterly defeated these kings and “he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people” (14:16). He immediately tithed of this plunder (vv.17-20). Then he refused to take even a little of the ninety percent that remained—“…lest [the king of Sodom] should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’” (v.23). He continued, “I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me” (v.24a).
So Abram refused to get rich quick. Immediately God appeared and said (in essence), “Sign on with me, Abram, and you will be rewarded.” And, said God, “You won’t be disappointed!” Indeed, He emphasized the value of the reward twice over by saying the reward would be “very great.”
So what did God promise Abram he’d get out of a lifestyle of leaving everything to obey God? Abram’s reward would be God Himself. The Giver is the greatest and ultimate (and, indeed, the only really important) gift.
The text of Genesis 14:24 twice utilizes an interesting word that designates a “share of the booty.” The word shows up elsewhere in the Old Testament again emphasizing that God Himself is our very great Reward.
God brought the psalmists to the place in life where they would confess that their great hope and reward in this life and the next was simply the favor and presence of and relationship with the Lord Himself.
- “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot” (Psalm. 16:5).
- “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psa. 73:26)
- “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words.” (Psa. 119:57)
- “I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” (Psa. 142:5)
The last of these was written “when [David] was in a cave.” Saul had attempted to take his life. God’s promises of kingship seemed impossible to realize. Life had crushed out of David all hope of the rewards one might expect in this life. Life may take everything from you, but it cannot take your immediate fellowship with the Lord. He is the one thing circumstances and evil people cannot take from you. You may surrender your enjoyment of His fellowship, but it cannot be taken from you. At the apparent end of it all, David delighted in the only real reward there is–enjoyment of the presence and favor of God.
There is another man in the Scripture who was brought to a similar place. His name is Jeremiah. He is sometimes referred to as the Weeping Prophet. Jeremiah was given the task of sharing the Lord’s heart and speaking the Lord’s word in the darkest hour of Judah’s history. He watched as the nation fell, the city was destroyed, the temple burned and its treasures plundered by the Babylonians. He watched what appeared to be the incineration of all the Lord’s promises to His people.
Before these things befell the nation, Jeremiah cried out to God’s people on His behalf and begged for their repentance. In doing so he more than once reminded them that God Himself is their Reward—“he who is the portion of Jacob” (Jer. 10:16; 51:19).
But they would not listen. Discipline came. The nation fell. Jeremiah was left standing amid the burned over remains of God’s chosen dwelling place, Jerusalem. In his grief and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Jeremiah wrote five funeral dirges. They remain for us in the Old Testament book of Lamentations. At the heart of those five mournful songs of grief Jeremiah speaks of our only hope:
Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:19-24)
When all else is gone, God is not. When all other reward for following Him seems to have evaporated, when it seems not to pay for trust and obey, God Himself—the immediacy of His presence, the knowledge of His nearness—is our Reward. That means, of course, that even when it does seem to pay to follow God—when His favor is manifest in finances and favored relationships and physical health—He is still our Reward. To paraphrase Phil Visher, the founder and genius behind the Veggie Tales phenomenon, He who has God and every possible earthly blessing He can bring has no more than he who has God alone.
I don’t know how well it appears to pay to follow God in your life right now. You might be flush with earthly blessings untold. Perhaps not. Either way, can you say, “The LORD is my portion”? Don’t be seduced by the “stuff.” Don’t be soured by the apparent lack. Have or have-not, God, His presence, the immediacy of His favor and love is your share of the inheritance, your share in the booty, your very great reward.