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Money: The Universal Icon

Written by Gary North on April 16, 2016

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the lite more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take though for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matt. 5:24-34).

This is a lengthy passage. Jesus was trying to get across a fundamental principle: It is futile to serve Mammon. But what was Mammon? There is no god listed by that name in the Bible or anywhere else. No nation’s priesthood worshipped a statue representing Mammon. Moses did not include the Mammonites among the Hivites, Jebusites, and all the other “ites” of Canaan. Yet Jesus contrasts this god with the God of the Bible. The battle for the souls of men is between God and Mammon. Not Satan – Mammon. There really is a being called Satan. But Mammon dwells in the hearts of men. It is the personification of wealth. Men serve Mammon, i.e., worship Mammon, to the neglect of their worship of God.

Is Mammon neutral? Not in the way Jesus spoke of it. Mammon here is a principle. Men trust in Mammon rather than trusting in God. They put their hopes in Mammon. That is, they believe that possession of wealth is a way to insure the success of their dreams, visions, and goals. Wealth will ratify their decisions so that all the world can see. Wealth becomes a universal success indicator, a universal currency of success. It is Mammon that both represents success and grants success in future ventures. “It takes money to make money,” says an old slogan, which neglects the obvious question: How did someone get the money in the first place to make more money?

There are three universal languages. They cross borders — cultural, legal, and linguistic. In English, they are the three M’s: money, music, and mathematics, and the most respected of these is money. The language of mammon is the only truly universal language. It is spoken everywhere. A pile of gold coins is recognized as wealth anywhere on earth. A pile of gold coins will buy you whatever you want anywhere on earth. A man can walk into a store anywhere on earth, point silently to what he wants, point to his pile of gold coins, and the owner of the thing pointed to will hand over the item and take the coins. If there is any negotiating required, it will be in terms of numbers: fingers held up, each of which represents a coin. The would-be buyer (seller of money) holds up two fingers instead of coins. The seller (buyer of money) holds up four fingers. They compromise on three coins. This transaction works as well today as it would have worked five thousand years ago. Notice also that we even define buyer and seller in terms of money, not goods. The buyer is the person offering money for the goods. The seller is trying to buy the money with his goods.

Jesus understood well that when He raised the issue of money. He was raising the fundamental issue of religion: service. Whom should men serve? The most powerful rival to God is Mammon. There are many local gods on earth, many theologies, many prayers, many ways to bow down. But the most universal rival is Mammon. When men pray, they pray for money. Sick men pray for health. But to get health, they must locate healers, and healers charge money. Only when money cannot possibly buy whatever is sought do men pray for deliverance by God directly rather than by way of money. When Mammon cannot deliver the goods, men seek a higher God. “There are no atheists in foxholes,” says the proverb. But if men could honorably buy their way out of foxholes, Mammon would gain enthusiastic converts in foxholes.

The worship of Mammon is a snare and a delusion, Jesus said. He could not have said it any plainer. “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” Pretty clear, isn’t it? Nothing is lost in translation here! We do not have to get out a Greek-English lexicon to make sense of this passage. So, there is only one way around it. “Jesus was speaking figuratively.” Indeed, He was.

Figuratively Speaking

There is no god known as Mammon. The whole passage begins with a figure of speech. Yet what Jesus was saying is that Mammon is the true rival of God. Mammon is the universal icon. Men rarely worship Satan directly. There have never been many cults that have offered sacrifices to Satan. Though Satan is a person, he is most commonly worshipped by those who worship his personification. Men rarely worship an image of Satan. They worship that which Satan offers as his ultimate positive covenant sanction in history: this world. “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence. Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:8-10). Put another way: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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