God and Money
How serious was God about the justice, equal opportunity, and humility of His economic system? Almost the entire book of Amos and much of Isaiah is a diatribe, condemnation, and prophecy about Israel's abject flaunting of God's system. Here are some examples:
On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished, declares the Lord.
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to you husbands, "Bring us some drinks!" The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness: "The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks. Amos 3:14-4:2
You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. (Amos 5:11-12a)
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)
Hear this, you who trample the needy and annihilate the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"-–skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
"In that day," declares the Sovereign Lord, "I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land-–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. (Amos 8:4-6, 9-12)
The prophet Isaiah's warnings about wealthy religious people are especially important in the context of the wealth that is possessed by evangelical Christians in the United States.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and until there is room for no one but you to live in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: "Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. (Isaiah 5:8-9)
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 'Why have we fasted', they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? "No, this is the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?...
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Is 58: 1b-7, 9b-10)
Isaiah's promise of future restoration is obviously a restoration of God's economic system based on Jubilee:
They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat... My chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. (Is 65:21-23)
The prophet Micah directly condemns those who violate God's Jubilee economic principles.
Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields (other's capital) and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. Therefore, the Lord says: "I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity. (Micah 2:1-3)
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, Oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
Jubilee and Sabbath year have profound implications for how Christians are to relate economically and socially to each other today and how we are to treat wealth. Israel was primarily an agrarian economy. Capital consisted of land, farmhouse, and farm animals. Each family had a limited amount of land and there was no land that could be purchased permanently because of Jubilee. The amount of wealth that could be accumulated was very modest because one could not accumulate large land holdings. This capital was passed on within the family from generation to generation.
The father's responsibility was threefold: to provide for his family from the produce (income) derived from working the land(capital), to maintain the value of the land by following Sabbath Year principles and farming industriously and intelligently, and to teach his children the skills needed to maintain the value of the capital for the next generation. The only capital he could accumulate and pass on to his children consisted of: the ability to provide for his family (hands on education), his family's portion of land, (capital), and the farmhouse.
The land could not be sold in perpetuity because the land belonged to the Lord, and He had given each family a portion of it as their permanent inheritance to be passed on from generation to generation. The equality of wealth distribution and equal opportunity were more important than the right to accumulate property. Returning the land at Jubilee was not a charitable courtesy. It was a foundation of God's economic system. God wanted each family to own the resources to produce its own livelihood. This speaks against the concentration of capital ownership amongst either the state or an elite few.
Continued on next page
More by Perry Bigelow
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- The Builder-Developer as a Steward of God's Resources
- Builder of the Year Acceptance Speech
- Building and Development Philosophy: Cultural and Environmental Sustainability
- 13th Annual Affordable Comfort Conference
- 1st Annual National Green Building Conference
- Bibliography - Neighborhood Planning, Community & Ecology
- The Spirituality of Sustainability
- Stewardship of Creation
- God and Money
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
- Excerpts from "Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community"
- Devotional - Listening to God Daily
- Bibliography for "God and Money" and "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger"