The Socioeconomic Structure of the People of God
I hate to be reactionary, but so many people are posting about what the USA is or is not doing and trying to quote scripture to prove the point that a certain subject is biblical or not biblical. Many hot button topics are being bantered around with Christians of all brands throwing out vague principles hoping to influence people with scripture. Here are just a few of the socioeconomic ideas that some people are either for or against and are going to the scriptures to prove their points: Illegal Immigration, Debt Forgiveness, Socialism, Capitalism, Welfare, Charity, Abortion, Taxes, Personal Freedoms, and every other hot button topic you can think of. Instead of throwing out vague principles, I am going to detail what the socioeconomic structure was for the people of Israel as outlined in the scriptures.
Some may say that these scriptures should not apply. This was for Israel but not for other nations (is what they would insist). Some say we should only use the New Testament Scriptures, which in and of themselves are vague which defeats the purpose of this post. The New Testament gives general principles like “remember the poor” ~ Galatians 2:10, “those who have more should give to those who have less” ~ II Corinthians 8-9, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” ~ Acts 20:35, “work in order to have extra to give to those in need” ~ Ephesians 4:28. These scriptures are helpful and should illuminate us as to our attitude toward those in need. I think it’s quite notable that the first Gentile to hear the gospel from Peter in Acts 10 was chosen in part because of his kindness to the poor, see Acts 10:2, 4, 31. That’s three different times the generosity of Cornelius to the poor is mentioned alongside his fear of God, his prayers, and fasting. If you are not practicing these basic Christian principles of giving to the poor, there is probably not a whole lot of point in you reading the rest of this article. It’s just going to make you mad.
Here is an examination of several different socioeconomic principles as outlined in the word of God for the nation of Israel. Should these principles apply to nations today? Is this in the plan of God? When a nation is structuring its laws, most people believe that laws should restrain evil, see I Peter 2:13-14, Romans 13:1-7. But what is evil? Is it an evil practice for large corporations to put small businesses out of business? Is it evil for a country to have poverty and not do anything about it? So here are the principles, but how should a nation structure its laws remains something for discussion.
Every seven years, all debts within the nation of Israel were to be forgiven, see Deuteronomy 15:1-6. The only two exceptions that I see in this passage are with foreigners and when the condition is met that there are no poor people in the nation of Israel. Debt forgiveness is specifically designed to let poor people off the hook from their debts that they would acquire over the course of a seven-year period. If the poor person was an Israelite, they would be debt free every seven years, not necessarily rich, but debt free anyway. Note God’s displeasure with Zedekiah and the ruling rich at their apparent failure to follow this simple command in Jeremiah 34:8-22.
If a country were to adopt this as a law, imagine how the socioeconomic structure would change. Huge corporations would be forced to change their practices. Credit cards, loaning institutions, cash stores, most of these would no longer be profitable as they prey on poor people with no money. How would this work for loans with liens on them in the case of a house or a car? Where would the house go when the debt was forgiven since possession of the property was contingent upon full payment of the money? Our laws would have to be completely rewritten if we were living out the socioeconomic structure of the people of God. Debt forgiveness would be the center of the law rather than protection of the corporation who loaned the money. What about those college student loans? It seems to be a hot button topic lately, but how many are familiar with these biblical principles right here?
Mandatory Lending to the Poor
There are those who might say, “If I was living during that time, I would simply not lend to the poor because you knew you wouldn’t get your money back.” Well guess what? The LORD commanded that lending to the poor was mandatory. It was against the law NOT to the lend to the poor, see Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which is immediately after the passage we just studied above. It was considered wicked (see verse 9) to not extend a loan to a poor person simply because you knew it would be forgiven during the seventh year. And don’t just loan the money, loan the money to him generously, or freely as it says in verse 11. What was the definition of being poor at that time? I’m not sure, but that is another subject for discussion: who qualifies?
Imagine the consequences of this affront to capitalism if mandatory lending to the poor were instituted. Any poor person knew that they could get a handout. They would not have to be afraid that their family would go without. This would probably put a lot of financial institutions out of business. The number of defaults on personal loans would increase dramatically and those institutions would no longer be profitable. Every seven years they would undergo a complete loss of profits. They knew this would be coming but would be powerless to stop the outflow of cash to the poor. Most likely what would happen is that these large institutions and corporations would simply cease to exist. Every day, ordinary people would be the ones with more money rather than the corporations. Loaning money would be more neighbor to neighbor and between individuals with either understood terms of repayment or perhaps just a written note. When the seventh year came, that person knew that it was not a loan but had been a gift. All this would be understood up front and there would be no hard feelings that the person had given money to someone less fortunate than themselves and didn’t get the money back. Perhaps some corporations would be able to function, but would have to have the backing of people who were completely fine with their money going to (gasp!) charity, or to students who were not going to be able to pay their debt even thought they attended school for a degree. Remember back to the first principle, debt forgiveness was the rule rather than protection for the wealthy.
A Year of Rest
In the cycle of seven years, God also instituted a seven of seven rule. After seven years of seven years, which equals 49, then there is one year set apart, the fiftieth year. In Leviticus 25:1-7, each seventh year is a year of rest in some respects. You were not allowed to sow (plant crops) or prune (maintenance the vineyards). The crops that grew of their own accord were not allowed to be harvested in the same way as the other six years. Instead, whatever grew on its own was food for you, for all your family, for your servants, and for foreigners. So basically, no harvesting to store grain or sell it, but picking food for consumption was allowed. Although not explicitly stated, it seems that this seventh year of rest correlated with the seven-year forgiveness of debts that was supposed to occur.
Can you imagine if you knew you would have every seventh year off from toiling in the field? Extended vacations, childcare, maternity leave, equipment repair, all of these things could be coordinated with this seventh year. If you knew you would have a good year off from the basic hard labor, you could spend time with your wife when your newborn baby arrived. You could travel up north to visit those relatives that you hadn’t seen for, well, probably seven years. Not just for you, but your servants could make these same plans as well. Wouldn’t you want people who are employed by you to have those same benefits? Oh but wait, how would someone exert their authority to show that the owner of the land is more important than they are? The law determined all would benefit from the year of rest. What would this mean for those in the restaurant business? Or for those who run a hotel? How about the mail or other delivery services? One year of rest? Who would do the work? Quite a bit to think about here.
What would be the practical ramifications to instituting a year of Jubilee within the laws of a socioeconomic system? Wait, maybe not all of you are familiar with the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-55. There was already debt forgiveness every seventh year. But here in this fiftieth year there is something extra. All properties were to go back to their original owners. There were some exceptions. If a house was within a walled city, then when it was sold there was a one-year period during which the original owner had the opportunity to redeem it. If not, the transaction was permanent. But all other property transactions were only until the year of Jubilee. If a family was broke and needed money to live, they could sell the property to someone else who had the means to farm it for however many years until the Jubilee. Then when the fiftieth year arrived, the family resumed possession of the family inheritance. The property was theirs once again. They would be back home. Then it could happen again, sell it for the full fifty-year price and then fifty years later it would fall back into the hands of the family owners, or the nearest relative. Additionally, if someone were so broke that they had to be sold as someone’s personal servant, in the year of Jubilee they could go out free. There was no permanent slavery. Remember, being a servant was more like a job being housed with your employer rather than being held against your will, see Deuteronomy 23:15-16.
One of the practical implications to property reversion is spelled right out in the text. There was a reverse inflation built into this system of socioeconomics. It’s called deflation but we rarely see it. Things would decrease in value according to the number of years as the year of Jubilee approached. If a piece of property was sold two years after the year of Jubilee, it had 48 years of value. It would continue to decrease in value because the years whereby someone could make money from working it were being diminished. If it were only five years, then the sale price would be much lower. If it were only one year, would someone even bother buying that field knowing it would be reverted the very next year. In our capitalistic society, things tend to only go up in value, but have you ever questioned why? Why don’t things ever go down in value? Well, they do, but it’s the exception. Generally speaking, inflation is the rule, not deflation. Talk to your grandparents and ask them how much they paid for their house.
Let’s think about the consequences of corporations being allowed to buy up significant portions of land. What happens when a business owner is trying to put another business owner out of business? What if in fifty years, no matter what happened, they were both on even ground in terms of property ownership? Like it or not, this was the socioeconomic structure commanded by God for His people. There have been scandals here in the USA that have plagued us for decades. We have seized land from native Americans, from black people, and many other situations. The generational wealth that could have passed on to their families has been denied them. I currently deliver mail in a wealthy neighborhood. Many of the houses are on lakefront property. Now that I am getting to know these people, I was surprised at how many of these lakefront homes were not purchased, but passed on from their parents. And they received them from their parents. Many of the rich and influential did not earn their status; they inherited it. But if this happened across the board, every family would be going up in value at the same time, meaning they would stay the same in relationship to each other, meaning there would be no value increase within that socioeconomic system. Every fifty years there would be a reset. Everyone would be back at ground level and every business minded entrepreneur would be ready to start making their money all over again. But they wouldn’t be able to amass ten times their wealth in terms of property and pass it on. Every fifty years everyone would be back to square one and every family would pass on their inheritance. Would you call this Socialism? Capitalism? Communism? What would you call this system? There is also the issue of servants being allowed to leave. Anyone anywhere could walk out on their job situation. The question is, where would they go? See the above. If your entire family was going back to the estate that they just got back, you could go back and try to make a fresh start. I hope to write more on this later.
Before moving on, what do we have so far? How would God want our laws to be written here in USA? Debt forgiveness, mandatory lending to the poor, a year of rest, and mandatory property reversion. Sounds like a poor person’s paradise and a millionaire’s nightmare. But wait, there’s more!
Pentecost Recognized the Poor
I wrote about this in a technical fashion here. I’ll just summarize it in this post. Pentecost was a time to formally dedicate a portion of all crops to the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners, see Leviticus 23:15-22. Basically, the Israelites were commanded not to harvest all of their crops, but leave the corners of the field and the fruits in the hard-to-reach branches and vines. All that grain, all that fruit, was to be for the poor of various natures; whether wives who lost their husbands, children who lost their parents, or someone from another country relying on the generosity of the people of God. Deuteronomy 16:9-12 commands that an entire feast be thrown at the expense of those who could afford it so that the poor could have their own personal holiday. Boaz is portrayed as a godly man who followed this law in the book of Ruth, see Ruth 2 the entire chapter.
This is hilarious to me. I see all these “you can’t tax a nation into prosperity” or “they are putting this burden on the backs of the working class” or “tax the rich” or whatever your view is type of post on social media. Many times these posts are by people who claim to be Christians. Yet do they understand the fundamental nature of the socioeconomic structure that God commanded in the Bible? God commanded for anyone who was working to set aside a portion of what was growing so that others could come along and take it, just like that. I can hear all the objections now. But that’s my property. Shouldn’t they pay some kind of access fee? They are in a situation of their own making and now I have to foot the bill. I can’t believe they are really out of work in this economy when everyone is hiring. Can you imagine the griping if there were a national holiday whereby the poor got to celebrate at the expense of the rich (or working class) and it would kick off the entire growing season by stating that during this summer, a portion of all these crops will go to help the poor, needy, and foreigners? Like it or not, this was the law. God commanded that you will help the poor.
There was a strict law that ten percent of all crops that grew belonged to God, see Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Leviticus 27:30. All these crops, or if it was exchanged for money according to the text, what was it used for? The text states that it was for the Levites (people dedicated to serving God), foreigners, fatherless, and widows. Therefore, one tenth of everything that they had was to support a system of people doing God’s work, and the rest goes to the poor. This was above and beyond the crops left in the field for the poor. This is one tenth of everything that gets harvested, also known as a tithe.
You wonder how these people could survive by giving their stuff away for free like that. But there is a principle at work here that many overlook. God blesses when we are generous to others. Let’s look at some of these verses in the passages I have cited up to this point. Deuteronomy 14:29, [the poor] “shall eat and be satisfied that the LORD Your God may bless you in all the work of your hand.” Deuteronomy 15:10, “You shall surely give to him (the poor) and your heart will not be sad when you give to him because for this thing the LORD Your God will bless you in all your work.” Deuteronomy 16:11, “Celebrate with your servants, with foreigners, and with widows, and remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 25:54-55, “He will go free in the year of Jubilee because the children of Israel are My servants that I brought forth out of the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 15:5-6 seems to be an overarching principle for all these economic laws. “Only if you carefully listen to the voice of the LORD Your God and obey all these commandments, for the LORD Your God blesses you as He promised You. You will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from them.” Global prominence was promised, but only if they treated the poor and foreigners generously. And all of this is linked to the very character of God.
Kindness to Foreigners
This is the one that is currently being thrown around in the media. If I added just one word and put “illegal aliens”, what would your reaction be? Most of us would probably have a kind heart toward the fatherless or orphans. These are kids with no parents and this is a situation beyond their control. They didn’t cause their parents to die. And now they’re stuck with no one to care for them. Our hearts go out to them. It’s the same with widows. When a wife loses her husband, and in those days the husband was usually the provider of the family, our hearts go out to these ladies. A good portion of New Testament scriptures are dedicated to how we treat widows, see James 1:27 (fatherless are included in that one), I Timothy 5:3, Acts 6:1. But illegal immigrants? Suddenly we hear chants of “Go back to where you came from!” “No one wants your kind here!” or everybody’s favorite “Build a wall!”
The laws concerning the poor specifically name foreigners in all of them. So thus far, all of these laws to be generous and give to the poor include foreigners with God naming them in those passages. I hope you have been noting each reference. Deuteronomy 24:14-22 is another passage which concerns being kind to the poor, but a very special emphasis is placed here on the foreigners, or illegal aliens, which should not be overlooked. Note: I don’t know whether these aliens were there illegally or not. I just know the scriptures commanded generosity toward them. Verse 14: You will not oppress a poor person or a foreigner. Verses 17-18: You will not pervert the justice due to a foreigner, an orphan, or a widow, but remember that you were a slave in Egypt. Verse 19: When you gather your harvest and remember one sheaf in the field, don’t go get it but leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Verse 20: When you shake your olive tree, only do it one time and leave the rest for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Verse 21: When you gather grapes, only go through one time and leave the rest for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 is another straightforward passage. Love the foreigner by giving them food and clothing. Why? Because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. In this passage, it’s actually God who is loving the foreigners first! Then after He loves them, then He commands us to love them. Leviticus 19:33-34 commands that harassment toward a foreigner is illegal. Instead of harassment, love is the command. We remember the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, especially since Jesus quoted it. But our neighbors are supposed to be people like us of the same nationality, right? But this command states to love foreigners as we love ourselves. Why? Again, because you, the children of Israel, were foreigners in the land of Egypt. This should be in our minds when we recite the number two command, to love our neighbors (even if they are foreigners or illegal aliens) as ourselves.
What if our laws favored immigrants and commanded generosity toward them? I already see this every election cycle. It’s the big scare. People are afraid of foreigners coming to USA and changing who we are as a nation. People are already upset about illegal aliens getting money for nothing. In the news, members of a certain political party are sending illegal immigrants to other parts of the country instead of caring for them in their state. Children of undocumented immigrants who were born here on foreign soil still have their status in question. What if the law toward all these people was love and generosity? What if we were commanded to give to them and expect nothing in return? That was the law for the people of God. Here are some common objections: But they look different. But they are probably criminals escaping their country. But they should come here legally. But our country is being overrun. There are so many excuses not to incorporate God’s laws to be the law of our land. The next time you look to the scripture for guidance on the subject of immigration, please read Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, 24:14-22.
Leviticus 19:29 is pretty straightforward. Do not prostitute your daughter. Deuteronomy 23:17-18 also spells out that this behavior of money for sex is simply not allowed. That money is detestable to God. The fact that this command is there shows that this practice of money for sex was an easy way for families to get ahead. If a poor family had a beautiful daughter, or sometimes just any daughter, the temptation to get ahead was there. God had to forbid this. The marriage relationship as outlined in the law was the only place where sex was allowed. The minute you place a price on sex, you have cheapened God’s design for marriage, and the woman to whom you just assigned a money value.
You may find this odd that I include this in what God’s plan for socioeconomics is for a nation. The truth is that sex is a way for women to find security. Whether they get paid cash for sex in outright prostitution, or if they are in a relationship with someone whom they feel can provide safety, either way, it’s trading their body for something of monetary value. Sometimes they feel as if they have no other choices. Their parents have made it clear that they are not welcome back. Their only choice is to work in a society that favors men, or use what they possess (their bodies) to provide for themselves. Abusive relationships are a harsh reality for women who have no economic means to provide for themselves. “Why don’t you just leave him?” It’s not that simple. I hope my overall post has made one thing clear. The economic state of a nation should be such that a woman should not have to tolerate an abusive relationship or resort to prostitution. There should be enough financial assistance available for women to avoid this altogether. Sometimes I get so disenfranchised with both Republicans and Democrats that I look around for another political party. The Libertarians were intriguing at first, but they want to legalize virtually everything including prostitution. I can’t support that.
What if this were the law? What if any time a woman’s body were used to make money that it was declared illegal? This could shut down more than just prostitution. It could shut down all pornography, including websites, movies, magazines, and other literature. Instead of capitalizing on the image of a woman, the government would shut down all such revenue. A whole bunch of people would be out of jobs for starters. If you wanted sex, you would have to get married. Within the marriage relationship this would have to be the law as well. Wives could not entice their husbands to do favors for them in exchange for sex. That would be putting a price on sex. Husbands could not pressure their wives either. Do you realize the socioeconomic implications for incorporating this law into our laws? Women would be valued and not cheapened. All that money, billions of dollars per year, would not be spent there, but somewhere else. Remember the great reset, the year of Jubilee? This would have been an opportunity for women everywhere, no matter what their situation, to go back to the family estate and start over again. The prostitute could have a new beginning.
All Human Life Is Sacred
The Noahic Covenant was where we first see the value of all mankind demonstrated by the decree of God. Israel considered the book of Genesis to be just as much a part of the law as everything presented on Mount Sinai. After Noah got off the ark, God made a covenant with Noah. Part of that was a declaration that all mankind is created in the image of God, and therefore anyone who shed man’s blood is guilty and must have their blood shed. In essence, if you kill, it’s the death penalty for you. But what is the definition of a life? Genesis 9:1-7 explains that flesh with blood in it has life. We are not allowed to eat that because it is the image of God. Beginning here, each civilization has the command from God to keep evil in check. If someone kills by shedding blood, they are guilty and we are to execute them by God’s command. This is spelled out more specifically in the Mosaic law which was given on Mount Sinai and preached in the book of Deuteronomy. All life is sacred to God.
What if our laws were framed this way? First, before we get to the sticky stuff, the death penalty would be the law for anyone who murdered anyone else. Now, there were other laws concerning jealous husbands, accidental deaths, a city of refuge, and there always had to be two witnesses; so there were exceptions. But the general rule was the death penalty; no overcrowded prisons, but a death row type of situation. Numbers 35:29-34 outlines the consequences for not following this command. There is a blood guilt which must be fulfilled otherwise the land is polluted. Now let’s get to the controversial part. Any shedding of blood is taking a life. Unborn babies have their blood shed through abortion. It’s the taking of a life. Also, a pregnant woman is a life. If there is a procedure that would save her life, and prevent a death, this is something we should be in favor of. Then there are situations where doctors have to choose. I don’t envy them. According to these principles, the socioeconomic system of a nation should place a high value on every single human life, born or unborn, because the image of God is there with proof that there is blood flowing through that flesh. When life gets cheap, the socioeconomic structure of a nation begins to falter. Human life should be of the highest value within that system. The reason why it should be of the highest value is not because we are so valuable in and of ourselves, but because we are made in the image of God. We were created by Him to bring glory to Him.
To close this post, if you want additional study in the word of God, I suggest reading Psalm 112, which is a short read. It talks about the characteristics of a godly person in relation to their treatment of the poor. Another recommendation is the book of Amos. It is a scathing rebuke against the rich during a time of prosperity in the northern kingdom of Israel. The ironic thing is that Amos was a wealthy businessman. He’s speaking from experience. He knew the oppressive tactics used by his fellow upper-class merchants.
My whole point is this. Before you form your opinion on whether or not God is in favor of your particular political point of view, why not study some scriptures from an objective viewpoint? Maybe your view could be adjusted. Instead of thinking that God would never be in favor of this type of behavior, study God’s word to discover the true character of God.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman