Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bible and Economics

Fiery Martin bw by paynehollow
Fiery Martin bw, 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.

Today, I'm looking at the Book of Ezekiel, its first 16 chapters...

Ezekiel is a wild and crazy book, full of wild and crazy imagery which is mostly all about condemnation of Israel and/or Judah for their sins. Consider...

Ezekiel 1 begins with the otherwordly description of God visiting and communicating with Ezekiel (the one that some people say sounds like a UFO visitation).

Chapters 2 and 3 have God telling Ezekiel that he will be a prophet to Israel and Judah, that he is to prophesy against their great sin and rebelliousness. The specifics of Israel's sins are not mentioned, other than "rebelliousness..."

In Chapter 3 and 4, God describes to Ezekiel the bizarre sounding ways he will communicate God's displeasure to Israel and Judah (some of it involves human excrement, later "downgraded" to mere bullshit - literally.)

In Chapter 5, God starts to get a bit more specific (following some more imaginative ways of telling Israel they are under judgment - this time involving Ezekiel shaving off, weighing in a scale, and burning his hair). God describees Israel's sin as "rebelling against my laws more than the nations around her."

Descriptions of punishment ensue throughout Chapter 5 and into Chapter 6. There is a mention of Israel's idol worship as part of their sin.

In Chapter 7, as a result of Israel's sin and God's punishment, we read this about Israel...

“They will throw their silver into the streets,
and their gold will be treated as a thing unclean.
Their silver and gold
will not be able to deliver them
in the day of the Lord’s wrath.
It will not satisfy their hunger
or fill their stomachs,
for it has caused them to stumble into sin.
They took pride in their beautiful jewelry
and used it to make their detestable idols.
They made it into vile images;
therefore I will make it a thing unclean for them.
I will give their wealth as plunder to foreigners
and as loot to the wicked of the earth,
who will defile it."

There is also mention in Chapters 8 and 9 of violence and bloodshed as sins of Israel, but it isn't specified in what way. In these chapters and the following ones, there is more trippy imagery, more promises of judgment and a prophecy of exile to come.

Up until Chapter 16, we see "Israel's sin" spoken of mostly in general terms, mostly associated with idolatry, unfaithfulness, rebellion and, to a lesser degree, violence. In Chapter 16, though, the text gets more specific about Israel's sin. First, God speaks adoringly of God's love and care for Israel, described thusly...

I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.

BUT, God then says (warning: text of a graphic nature follows)...

you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you—the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.

And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.

In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.

Woe! Woe to you, declares the Sovereign Lord. In addition to all your other wickedness, you built a mound for yourself and made a lofty shrine in every public square. At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, spreading your legs with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by. You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbors with large genitals, and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity. So I stretched out my hand against you and reduced your territory; I gave you over to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were shocked by your lewd conduct. You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians too, because you were insatiable; and even after that, you still were not satisfied. Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia, a land of merchants, but even with this you were not satisfied...

You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you.

The text continues in this vein and then compares Israel to Sodom and other sinful nations...

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

The sins of Israel is likened to the sins of Sodom. They were idolatrous, but that idolatry seems to have been tied to their lust for silver, gold, jewelry, and baser lusts of the flesh. That idolatry showed itself in pagan sex rituals, in human sacrifice (of children, apparently) and in a failure to be concerned about the poor and needy and in reveling in their wealth and appetites.

I'll stop there for today...


Nate said...

I'll make a comment I hope will be at least interesting.

What I find fascinating, and it's not just in the bible, is that when wealth is talked about in almost every culture on earth, that wealth is synonymous with gold, not value.

Strictly speaking, gold has little value. The only reason it is deemed to have value is because of it's relative rarity and the fact that others will accept it for other things.

I wonder, if gold, and fiat currency, were removed from the economies of the world, and a strictly barter, that is the use of true commodity currency, how would the definition of wealth and rhetorical treatment of persons who are known to be wealthy, change?

Why is wealth in money always condemned? Is wealth of spirit, or wealth of friends really any different? Isn't the issue supposedly about having plenty while others do not? So why the focus on money?

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Nate.

I guess I'd say that when the Bible speaks of wealth, it speaks of it in at least two ways.

There is the wealth that is the "abundance of God," or the "abundance of good things" sort of idea. Being wealthy in friends and family and contentedness, having enough and being joyful about it. That is the good wealth and the sort we can celebrate.

Then there is "mammon," or monetary wealth (gold, money, monetary riches) and that is not an evil in the Bible, but it is very consistently warned about, as a good way to get entrapped and lead to a negative sort of wealth. A wealth that is never content but always wanting more, that might even drive you to cut corners or not be giving at the expense of other people in order to increase your own wealth. That is a bad wealth.

A barter system might help us with the negative attributes of wealth, I don't know. It also might just lead to a "building of more and more barns" to store more and more stuff - as Jesus warns about in places in the Bible.

I think the concern with the wealth of money is that it does tend to be a trap, leading one to want more and more, leading to a greedy spirit. It doesn't have to, but it often does, or at least that seems to be the Bible's take on it, given the many many warnings about monetary wealth.