By Andrew McColl, 22nd November, 2022
Genesis 15-17 provide us with a chronological continuation of Abram’s life, and his family. These chapters give further details of God’s promises to Abram, along with God’s covenant with him, requiring the circumcision of him and all the males of his household. Chapter 16 gives us an interlude: Ishmael’s arrival on the scene.
Abraham’s relationship with his men and their families, illustrates the diversification of labour, and the interdependence of individuals in a free, capitalist economy. Abraham built wells (Gen.21:30; 26:18) for he understood the asset value of water in a dry land. He had flocks and herds, and the welfare of hundreds and possibly thousands of people to consider. He shows us, that
Physical natural resources, notably fertile soil or rich minerals, are not the only or even major determinants of material progress, though differences in the bounty of nature may well account for differences in levels and ease of living in different parts of the underdeveloped world. It has always been known that physical resources are useless without capital and skills to develop them, or without access to markets.
He built up assets in gold, silver and livestock (Gen.13:2; 24:22) through commercial activities which are not stipulated in scripture, and his livestock had a number of uses. Not only can sheep, cattle and camels be consumed, and thus sold for profit. Sheep provide their wool annually (see I Sam.25:1-4), while cattle can be milked, they produce leather and other goods, they can be used for pulling wagons (Gen.48:27) and ploughs for cultivating land.
If Abram’s stock were considered of good quality, his stock would be in demand, either for consumption, breeding, milking or travelling. Why?
People have always wanted to travel, and camels are useful for people travelling long distances in dry country (see Gen.24:10-30, 57-61), and carrying loads.
Domestic animals all need skilled, experienced people to care for and work with them, along with slaughtering, preparing them for consumption, then preserving them. Job (who may have been a compatriot of Abraham), had
7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east (Job 1:3).
“500 yoke of oxen?” Could that mean that Job ran a business called “Eastern Ploughs?” He could have had hundreds of men employed who worked the oxen for ploughing or other agricultural tasks, either for him, or for those in his vicinity, or actually, anywhere. They could have worked as flock managers and shepherds, slaughtermen, carpenters, leatherworkers, blacksmiths and farriers, orchardists, traders and many other pursuits.
They may well have produced goods, such as saddles, bridles, and other attachments for working animals. They also would have been able to produce and supply equipment for cultivation, along with weaponry, for defence purposes (Gen.14:14-16; I Sam.13:19-22) which could be vital, along with carts and wagons, for transport.
And who’d have 3,000 camels except to eat, or work them for some purpose, such as transporting goods and people long distances?
Why own Qantas, when you can go places by camel? Why go to an airport, when Mr Job’s people can come to your tent’s door, pre-arranged! And they’d know all the right places like waterholes to stop at, and even trade (see Gen.37:25).
Abram was a long-term planner, and these assets would be important in years to come (Gen.23:14-20; 24:22, 52-53; 49:29-32). He made the best of his abilities to understand markets, and to manage men, livestock and money his era. Abraham it seems, believed in the Biblical virtue of diligence; that “the hand of the diligent makes rich”(Prov.10:4).
Furthermore, Abraham illustrates, that
social progress comes about with the accumulation and development of wealth. Wealth comes, in a free economy, as a product of work and thrift-in short, of character. Capital is often accumulated by inheritance, a God-given right which is strongly stressed in the Bible. According to Proverbs 13:22, ‘a good man leaves an inheritance to his childrens’ children, and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.’ Inheritance makes possible the accumulation not only of wealth within a family but of social power.
Clearly, Abraham shows us, that“prosperity in the long-run is the blessing of God to those who are faithful to His laws.”
This was the life that Isaac was born into, this was his family’s business and what he would have understood. When Abraham died, Isaac carried on the traditions of his father. You’d even think Abraham had been privy to Solomon’s later advice, to
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov.22:6).
Abraham had livestock, large numbers of servants, and dealt in silver and gold. And the Bible says of Isaac, that he
…sowed in the land and reaped in the same year a hundred-fold. And the Lord blessed him, and the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy; for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him (Gen.26:12-14).
Abraham dug wells, and so did Isaac (Gen.26:18-25). Anyone would think Isaac had read what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
The things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:9).
Isaac didn’t have, and didn’t need a school-teacher. He had his parents. They discipled him, successfully. He was a godly, productive and prosperous patriarch.
Isaac’s upbringing shows us many things, but this part stands out: children need a good education, but they don’t need school. Where does Genesis, and other places in scripture show us this taking place? The godly family.
Are you following the Biblical example?
 Rousas Rushdoony, “The Politics of Guilt and Pity,” 1995, p.236-237.
 North, ibid., p.158-9.