Material possessions have a limited shelf life. “You can’t take it with you!” we are told. But there is treasure you can take with you.
As we have seen, the city of Tyre, the New York of the day, lost it all and then got it back again. Isaiah lamented the fact that she was soon investing her wealth in the old godless pursuits. But Isaiah’s song (ch.23) ends on a note of hope. The lost and found treasure, in some instances at least, is handled in a way that shows that the strongholds of the world have been broken. The final verse (v.18) gives two hints of the way that treasure can be handled in the new worldview that Jesus introduced in His Kingdom.
Jesus did not tell us to have no treasure. He told us not to store it on earth, but to lay it up for ourselves in heaven (Mt 6:19-21). Isaiah gives us two hints on how to have treasure we can take with us. Positively, it is treasure that is holy to the Lord (Is 23:18) – or as the NKJV puts it, “set apart for the Lord”. Negatively it is treasure that “will not be hoarded or stored”. These phrases capture the heart of the alternative economics of the Kingdom of God.
It will require a change of heart to create an alternative economy, for our treasure always lines up with our heart. Firstly, then, a new heart will see wealth as set apart for God. It all belongs to him anyway. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the cars in a thousand parking lots and the houses in a thousand sub-divisions. All he asks is that we acknowledge that. And then, in his grace he lets us eat his cattle, drive his cars and live in his houses – and enjoy them all!
In the old Phoenician empire that Isaiah had been singing about, the treasure had been set apart for personal gain. The honour, the power, the reputation, and the security of the Phoenicians were built on their commercial success, in much the same way as is true of the west in our day. An advertisement for a car carries the slogan “You want respect!” and we believe the lie that our respect is built on what we own.
In Acts, the early disciples had had this change of heart. No Christian said that “any of the things that belonged to him was his own” (4:32). It was God’s. This meant that, secondly, treasure that was set apart became treasure that was a source of supply. All that they possessed could be used as necessary (Acts 2:44,45). A source of supply, not a storehouse for hoarding.
They too lived in a world that was disintegrating. They left their Jewish roots to follow Christ, and their Jewish world fell apart. This actually was the “great shaking” to come, of which Hebrews 12 speaks. How would the early believers survive the big crash? Lots of them sold their homes in Jerusalem in the early days of the church, sharing with those who were in need. It proved to be a sound investment. The bottom fell out of the real estate market in Jerusalem when the Romans invaded in AD 70; the city was razed to the ground – another flat Tyre. They had let go in their hearts of what they would never have been able to keep, and invested it in that which would never end. It’s the only way to survive a crash.