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Biblical Economics

Radio March 23, 2009

What would a biblical economic system look like?


          Some people worry that Christians would like to turn the good old USA into a theocracy.

                      They worry without cause.

                      It will never happen—not even close.


          We have a constitution, and as strange as it may sound, Christian folk are happy with the US constitution.


          Here is an irony for you:

The constitution, if honored, would allow us all to live a lot closer to a biblical economic system than we currently do.

But what would such a system look like?


          I’m glad you asked.

There are some fundamentals that lay the groundwork.


          The first principle of biblical economics is freedom.

Imagine for a moment that God decided to establish a nation under a theocracy and he would be their God. What would it look like?


          Actually, he did, you know.


          It was the nation of Israel in the period of the judges.


          God was king, and every man was free.

(Judges 21:25 KJV) In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.


          I have heard this applied in negative sense, that Israel really needed a centralized government.


          But the statement is neither positive nor negative. It is simply a fact, and it was what God wanted for them—except that he wanted them to hold God as their king.

One of the first principles of economic freedom is the right to private property.


          Chances are, you have heard that the land of Israel was divided to the tribes by lot.


          I suppose they had some sort of survey, with meets and bounds, and determined borders. Then they cast lots to see who got what land.


          What you may not realize was that you could not sell off your inheritance—unlike today, you could not take away the inheritance of your children.


          Consider the instructions for the Jubilee year:

(Leviticus 25:8-10 NIV) "'Count off seven sabbaths of years--seven times seven years--so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. {9} Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. {10} Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.

(Leviticus 25:14-17 NIV) "'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. {15} You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. {16} When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. {17} Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.


          So you could only lease the land for the number of years to the next Jubilee.


          And there was no governing authority to take your land away from you. In the event anyone did, he had to let your kids have it back in the Jubilee.

So, the fifth amendment to the constitution provides:

Private property shall not be taken for a public use, without just compensation.


          But in biblical economics it could not be take at all, and if sold off, it had to be given back.


          This a radical dedication to private property.


          Every square inch of Israel was privately owned, with the exception, I suppose of the compound in which stood the Tabernacle.

And it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that a commune misses the point entirely.


          The principle is enshrined in the Ten Commandments as well.


                      Thou shalt not steal.

                      And beyond that, there is the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”


          Not only are we to respect private property in fact, we aren’t even to think about taking it away.

The fundamental’s of a biblical economy in their original application would look somewhat different from what we do today.


          But the fifth amendment is at least a nod in the direction of a man’s right to his property.


          And the principles can still be followed by anyone.


                      Unfortunately, we have less freedom than we used to have, but so far, we can still practice these things.

Now here is a 21st century question that bears on this.


          What about the poor among us?

          Do we have the right to take property from well to do person and give it to a poor person?

                      Wouldn’t that violate: “Thou shalt not steal”?

So how did the law of Moses make provision for the poor.


          First, we have to consider that there are many causes of poverty, and they fall in two major categories.


                      Things that couldn’t be helped, and things that are your own fault.

Under the first category:


          Illness, injury, blindness, disease, mental or physical handicap.


                      Or, perhaps, a death in the family where no provision had been made for heirs.


                      The classic example in the Bible is in the book of Ruth, where Naomi, an Israelite woman lost her husband and returned to Israel in poverty.


          A man’s death creates what the Bible terms “Fatherless Children.”

One of the most fundamental principles in the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is care for the poor.

It is enshrined in the laws concerning the harvest.

(Leviticus 23:22 NIV) "'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.'"


          Now there is something very important here. It was up to the poor to come and get it, you didn’t have to take it to them.


                      But what if a man was crippled and couldn’t come.


                      Well, then, it becomes someone’s responsibility to take it to him.

From time to time, I drive past a church that maintains a food bank, following in a modern town the principle of this law.


          The poor can go there and get food, and very possibly other help as well.


                      And I will be willing to bet that they take food to people who are unable to come and get it.

There is something else important here. The church does not take food from people who do not choose to give.


          Charity, in the Bible, is always voluntary, never coerced.


          And it is far better for the poor to be helped by neighbors that a government a thousand miles away.


                      For they will get the human touch along with it. Perhaps a job, perhaps shelter, because they have encountered real people who want to help them.

But is there no role for government?


          Sure there is. Government can give a tax deduction for money given to charities.


          And this is what we have done here for a very long time.

Now, what can we say about the people who have the money to help the poor?


          How did they get that way.

Well, I have long advanced the first principle of helping the poor: Don’t become poor yourself.

(2 Corinthians 8:11-14 NIV) Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. {12} For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. {13} Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equity. {14} At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equity,


          You don’t have to get yourself into the poor house giving to others.

So, who is in a position to help the poor? Another poor person? Hardly.

It is the people who have money who are in a position to give.


          But how do people who are well off get that way?


          Two ways: Just and Unjust.


          Unjust gain comes from theft, oppression, cheating.


                      (Proverbs 13:23 NIV) A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.


                      And here is a role for government. Don’t let injustice prevail.


          Just gain can come from hard work, inheritance, time and chance (the lottery)

Who is the more likely to help the poor? Those who got their money justly.

What are the principles of wealth and poverty in a biblical economy?


          Is the accumulation of wealth a bad thing?

(Proverbs 13:22-23 NIV) A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous.

(Proverbs 10:2-4 KJV) Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death. {3} The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked. {4} He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.


          Accumulation of wealth is a generational thing, and it is not bad.


          Before you can spread the wealth around, it has to be created by someone. It doesn’t create itself.


          Who creates wealth? People who work.


          (Proverbs 14:23 KJV) In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to poverty.

And that calls to mind a classic proverb, and one that I didn’t understand correctly for a long time.


(Proverbs 6:6-11 KJV) Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: {7} Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, {8} Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.


          What is he driving at here? For a long time, I thought this was merely an exhortation to diligence.


                      But the real message has to do with the willingness to do what has to be done without being told.


          Suppose you work in a plant where you make thing that sells for 100 dollars apiece.


                      There are 100 of you there who actually make these things. Are you each entitled to a dollar every time one of them is sold?


          Sounds reasonable. But wait. Who pays for the building you are working in? Who bought the tools you use to make it? Are those people entitled to anything for their investment in the place?


                      And what about the inventor/designer? Should he get something?


          Then there is the simple truth that you guys have to have supervision: Someone has to see to safety, to organize the work for maximum production, to evaluate you guys to see who really works and who doesn’t.


          So after all the costs of producing this thing, including the raw material to make it, you may end up with about a penny.

Now contrast this with a man who is his own boss, works hard and long, and controls his output from start to finish. He may end up with 50 bucks for each of his 100 dollar sales.


          This is the lesson of the ant.

Solomon went on:

{9} How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? {10} Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: {11} So shall thy poverty come like a bandit, and thy want as an armed man.

(Proverbs 12:11 NRSV) Those who till their land will have plenty of food, but those who follow worthless pursuits have no sense.


          Worthless pursuits. Like playing solitaire on your computer at work.


          When the time comes for layoffs, who is going to be at the top of the list?


                      (Proverbs 12:24-27 NIV) Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor. {25} An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. {26} A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. {27} The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.

(Proverbs 13:4 KJV) The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.

An old favorite of mine:

(Proverbs 14:4 KJV) Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.


          You can grow a lot more food with an ox, but you are going to have to shovel some manure.—and you are going to have to feed it.

(Proverbs 15:19-21 NIV) The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway. {20} A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother. {21} Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.

(Proverbs 17:5 NIV) He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

(Proverbs 17:16 KJV) Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?

(Proverbs 18:9 NIV) One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.

(Proverbs 19:14-15 KJV) House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the LORD. {15} Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.

(Proverbs 19:21-24 NIV) Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. {22} What a man desires is unfailing love ; better to be poor than a liar. {23} The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. {24} The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!

(Proverbs 20:1-6 NIV) Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. {2} A king's wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life. {3} It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. {4} A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing. {5} The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. {6} Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?

(Proverbs 20:13 NIV) Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare.

(Proverbs 21:5-7 KJV) The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want. {6} The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death. {7} The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.

(Proverbs 21:25-26 NIV) The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. {26} All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing.

(Proverbs 22:29 KJV) Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.

(Proverbs 23:20-21 NIV) Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, {21} for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

(Proverbs 24:27 KJV) Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.

(Proverbs 24:30-34 KJV) I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; {31} And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. {32} Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. {33} Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: {34} So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

(Proverbs 25:13-14 NIV) Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters. {14} Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.

(Proverbs 25:19 KJV) Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.

(Proverbs 26:16 KJV) The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.

(Proverbs 27:23-27 KJV) Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. {24} For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? {25} The hay appeareth, and the tender grass showeth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. {26} The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. {27} And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens.

Robin Hood Economics.

It is not Rob from the Rich and give to the poor. It was rob from the oppressors and give to the poor. And mainly to rob from an oppressive government—the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John.

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