Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Bible and Economics

Sunset Flowers by paynehollow
Sunset Flowers, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Part of an ongoing series looking at all the many passages in the Bible that deal with wealth and poverty issues. You can see the links to the other passages in the series under the heading "The Bible and Economics" below.

The last post in this series was back in April, where I looked at the first 15 chapters of the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Today, I'm looking at chapters 16 through 20. Because of the nature of the book, it's sort of a hodgepodge of this and that, but there are definitely economic/wealth/poverty themes found in this book.

Deuteronomy 16 begins with rules about remembering Israel's departure from the economic and social oppression/slavery they lived with in Egypt. As the passage continues, there are repeated calls to "remember that you were slaves in Egypt..."

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you...

Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival — you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns...

Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.

Deut 16:9-10, 13-14, 17

Then, there is a short point about appointing judges...

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone...

Deut 16:18-20

Chapter 17 offers some rules for kings...

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

Deut 17:16-17

Israel's rulers "MUST NOT" accumulate wealth? How very anti-capitalist of the author!

The first eight verses of chapter 18 tells us that the tribes of priests - the levites - were to have no land inheritance, but were to have food provided for them out of the surplus of the other tribes within Israel, and further outlines the rules regarding their special status.

Chapter 19 begins by establishing the concept of "Cities of Refuge," which were to be created equally out of shares of the land of each tribe. The purpose of these cities was to be a refuge for those who "kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice." In modern terms: Manslaughter. The idea was to provide a place so that an angry family member won't kill - in anger - someone who killed another merely as an accident.

I mention this mostly because of the concept of shared economic burden, but also because it is an interesting aside into a penal system vastly different than ours and because our penal system costs so much in both lives and dollars.

Then, there is this one verse that deals with land ownership...

Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive...

Deut 19:14

Chapter 20 has some very interesting rules about going to war, rules that relate to how Israel was to pay for wars and about the size/formation of their military...

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you...

The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.”

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.

Deut 20:1, 5-8, 10-14

Not that I'm advocating that as a model, just pointing out the economic aspect of this approach to "defense" and expansionism.

This first verse (don't worry about the great size of the enemy's army) is touched on elsewhere, where God commands Israel NOT to strive to have a large standing army, but a small militia called upon in times of need only. The point there is to NOT trust in large armies that come at a great cost (economic and spiritual) for their defense, but to trust in God. This would stand in stark contrast to the norm in today's approach to defense, even amongst most churches, where the model is "More is Better, Most is Best..." when it comes to bombs and guns and other implements of destruction.


Edwin Drood said...

"Israel's rulers "MUST NOT" accumulate wealth? How very anti-capitalist of the author!"

How's that anti-capatilist? God didn't say Israel shouldn't be rich just the king.

Edwin Drood said...

Did you purposely use the term "author" to imply that God did not say these things?