Beware lest you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (ESV)
The 1965 film classic Shenandoah features a memorable and outlandish prayer. With his eight children seated for dinner, the father, played by James Stewart observes, “Now, your mother wanted all of you raised as good Christians. And I might not be able to do that thorny job as well as she could, but I can do a little something about your manners.” After a forgetful and now convicted son removes his cap, Stewart then leads them in a thoroughly ungrateful prayer:
Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway Lord for this food we are about to eat. Amen.
Few have the gall to say it outright, but many think the same as this movie father; they see themselves as “self-made” men and women. This attitude was certainly a temptation for the Israelites, so God issued them a warning through Moses.
As they stood on the brink of plenty, Moses reminded them of the source of their wealth. The Lord had promised them a rich land, one flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 8:7-9). There they would eat and be satisfied (Deut. 8:10), build good houses, and live in them (Deut. 8:12). Their herds, flocks, silver, and gold would multiply (Deut. 8:13). All this was assured by God’s generous provision, so they must not think that they had gained their wealth by their own power and might (Deut. 8:17).
This was no excuse for laziness. They still had to tend their flocks and herds (Deut. 8:13) and build their houses (Deut. 8:12). But God gave them the circumstances, talents, energy, insights, and protection to do so (Deut. 8:18), and their wealth should remind them that they were a covenant people.
Shenandoah was set in Civil War America, 30 years before Katherine Lee Bates penned the words to “America the Beautiful.” Stewart’s character would have sung a different tune had he absorbed the biblical truth found in that song text, a truth that extends to all nations who enjoy bounty—that “amber waves of grain” and “the fruited plain” are due to the fact that “God shed His grace on thee.” As it was in Moses’ day, prosperity is a function of God’s mercy and grace, and the nation which ignores His benevolent handiwork is ripe for judgment.
Another song, written more than a decade before the Civil War, captures the spirit God prescribed in Deuteronomy 8:1-20. It is usually sung at Thanksgiving, but its message is fit for every day and every task blessed by God, whether at home, office, construction site, factory, or “the fruited plain.”
Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest home!
All is safely gathered in, Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide, For our wants to be supplied:
Come to God’s own temple, come, Raise the song of harvest home.1
- Henry Alford, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, ed. Tom Fettke (Waco, TX: Word Music, 1986), 559. Written in 1844.