Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Godly Economics 101

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

The familiar children’s rhyme might better be applied to our current economic woes, “All work and no REST, makes Jack broke!” Economies, like people, require periods of rest. Without rest, an economy, like you and me, will collapse of exhaustion. Periodic economic REST is essential to a vibrant and growing economy. Unfortunately, that which is essential, that which is beneficial and that which in necessary to propel us to future success is seen as painful, antiquated and detrimental in our current post-modern mindset here in America.

Now, you must know a couple of things before I go on. I never studied economics in college. In fact, I have trouble balancing a check book! However, for nearly fifty years I have studied the Bible. The Bible, though not a book on economics per se, contains basic economic principles that are easily identified.

Of course, we are “no longer under law but under grace.” We are not part of the Mosaic economy. However, “…whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4 – KJV) In these times of great uncertainty, what principles might we learn from the ancient Israelite economy that can be applied today in 21st century America?

Did you know that God, through Moses, established a national economy for Israel? Did you know that God never intended for faithful Israel to suffer depressions, recessions or an economic crisis? Did you know that faithful Israel had a rock solid currency, a fair and unchanging tax policy and a debt free balance sheet? Did you know that there was an inherent linkage between faithfulness to God and economic prosperity? Finally, did you know that REST was a key component is all of this?

Unfortunately, Israel was faithful only rarely. In fact, after the division of the kingdom, Israel was never faithful and Judah was faithful only in bits and spurts. Both nations were, for the most part, habitually unfaithful. Unfaithful Israel and Judah ignored God’s covenant and economic principles, and as a result, suffered foreign domination, inflation, deflation, recession, depression, drought, war and finally, at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians…destruction.

By listening to God’s Word we will come to understand that all of Israel’s woes were avoidable. Unfaithfulness has consequences, including economic collapse. When we look faithfully to God to direct our lives, including our economy, we will be blessed. When we look pragmatically to Washington and Wall Street to direct our economy, we load ourselves onto a boom and bust roller coaster that will, in the end, dump us all violently in the abyss.

Yes, “It is not within man who walks to direct his own steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23b – NKJV) Man cannot pragmatically “plan,” “direct” or “manage” economies for guaranteed outcomes! When God created the world he created it with ebb and flow. Seasons go from winter to summer. Night becomes day. The moon waxes and wanes. The tides come in and the tides go out. There is flood and drought. There is global warming and then global cooling. From dust we are created and to dust we return. The winds blow and then calm returns. Temperatures rise during the day and fall at night. All life is cyclical…including economies. We call our economic cycles “expansions” and “contractions.” We LOVE expansions and loathe contractions. Surprisingly to us, God looked at these economic cycles quite differently for Israel. He looked at them simply as “work” and “rest.” Unfaithful Israel often came to economic ruin by ignoring the relationship between the two.

To begin with, God rested on the 7th day after creating the world in six days, setting precedent. (Genesis 2:2) In the law of Moses, God dictated a day of total rest one day a week to bring refreshment to all. (Exodus 23:12) Even the cooking had to be done the day before. God gave the Israelites, in addition to a “day off” each week, seven feasts. These feasts were grouped together in the spring and fall. Passover (Exodus 12:1-14), Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20) and First Fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14) came during the month of Nisan in early spring. Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:9-12) came in late spring during the month of Sivan. The month of Tishri came in early fall. During this month came Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32) and Booths (Nehemiah 8:13-18). All males twelve and older were required to travel to Jerusalem for the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Booths, These feasts drew the people back to God spiritually while giving them far more REST than we today can possibly imagine! Not only did God give the Israelites rest one day a week, two weeks of Feasts in the spring, a week of Feasts in the fall…God gave BOTH the land AND the people an extended REST every seven years! Listen to the Word of God in Leviticus 25:3-5:

”Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn REST for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of REST for the land.” (NKJV, emphasis – RM)

Not only did this year of “solemn rest” cause the Israelite to rely totally on God, in faith, for an entire year…it SLOWED normal economic activity to a crawl. There were no crops to harvest and no crops to sell. We would call it a “contraction” but God called it a REST! What is “painful” to us was “restful” to them! Quite a different perspective…

Finally, there was the “Year of Jubilee.” The Israelite economic clock was “reset” by God every fifty years. During the Year of Jubilee, every Israelite repossessed his ancestral inheritance with no debt. The “owner” gave it back and returned to his own ancestral inheritance. All personal debts were canceled in the economy and all slaves were freed. Imagine, a new slate, a new beginning and a new book every fifty years! You can read all about the “Year of Jubilee” in Leviticus 25:8-34.

In conclusion these Godly systems provided a spiritual purpose of allowing the Israelite to refocus on God and His goodness during these times. Secondarily, these Godly systems built into the Israelite economy, much needed REST. With regular rest, the ebb and flow of the economic cycles had no effect at all on ancient Israel…as long as they remained faithful to God. What then are some principles we can garner from this ancient economic model and apply to our day and time during these days of economic crisis?

1. America needs to know that it is God who is in control of the economy and not we ourselves for “it is He who gives you the power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NKJV)
2. America needs to know that it is God who owns the land and not we ourselves for “…the land is Mine….” (Leviticus 25:23 NKJV)
3. America needs to know that a vibrant and healthy worker must rest completely one day a week for maximum productivity, well being and happiness…phone off, pager off, computer off, Blackberry ® off, T.V. off…just be still!
4. America needs to know that three to four weeks of vacation a year is GOOD! Take them!
5. America needs to know that an extended “leave of absence” every seven years or so is GOOD! Take it!
6. America needs to know that the family based self-employment model is the BEST model!
7. America needs to know that “recessions” or “contractions” are GOOD! They will give us much needed rest AND refocus on the realization that God is in control and that we are beholden to Him for all things! Take advantage of the “down time!”
8. America needs to know that a society should not borrow more than it can repay in the current generation.
9. America needs to know true wealth is land and asset based and not based upon, or acquired by, indebtedness.
10. American needs to know that usurious interest rates are evil and sow seeds of moral, spiritual and economic poverty.
11. American needs to know that the combined tax rate should always be 30% of gross income and never changed for either political or pragmatic advantage. The rich pay more and the poor pay less…but everyone contributes something.
12. America needs to know that land passed down from one generation to the next brings stability to the family, to the community and to the nation. Constant moving around from place to place brings instability to the family, to the community and to the nation.
13. America needs to know that family, friends and acquaintances are responsible for taking care of the poor among them, not the government.
14. Finally, America needs to know that faithfulness to God is the key to ALL things, including a productive and healthy economy.

Father in Heaven;

Great and hallowed is Your name! We praise you for creating all things with cyclical regularity. We pray, oh Lord, for our leaders in this time of crisis. May they turn to Your Word for guidance. May they determine to leave behind those things that are self serving and self promoting. May those in the financial markets understand that rest is good for an economy and a thing not to be feared. May our economy return once more to a just and stable foundation. May we as individuals place our faith in You and not in ourselves, our leaders or in our economy. Finally, Father, may MANY turn to You in these uncertain times and may WE be ready always to “give an answer to those who ask of the hope that is in us.” Forgive us of our sins and short comings. In Jesus Name - AMEN

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