Thursday, May 25, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Fifteen: Big Change, Economic Equality

Deuteronomy chapter fifteen centers on what might be called the economics of God, the sabbatical year where all Israelite debts are cancelled. Before we dive in to this section it might be good to define "sabbatical"--a basic definition would be: Of or relating to the Sabbath as the day of rest. In this context the sabbatical year--where Israelite debts are cancelled--has a congruence with the Sabbath, day of rest, where Israel was called to lay down its heavy loads (even economic loads). Part of this sabbatical year can be seen, not only as an opportunity to relieve personal economic loads, but also societal economic loads, so we read, "Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed." (Deut ch.15 v.2). So, part of v.2 can be seen as an opportunity to maintain a level of holistic equality among all Israelites, thus keeping God as the only sovereign.

As we go on we read, "However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless youif only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (v.4-5). What we see here is that while Israel has the resource capacity to have no poor among them (much like we do today) the manifestation of this hinges on "if only you fully obey the LORD your God." The sad reality of what will always happen in Israel is expressed in verse 11, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Even though they have the resources, they lack the moral resources, thus verses four and eleven belong together to remind us of our inherent selfishness and our overwhelming need for Christ's atoning sacrifice and the spirit's renewal of our hearts.

It is my thought--as alluded to in the above paragraph--that God, knowing the sad truth that his people will in fact not "fully obey [him]", instituted the sabbatical year as a point of renewal. Verse five is hopefull in one sense, and dim with hope in another. If God's chosen follow him, then-- among other things--there will be no poor among us. History tells us that Israel will fail, still there is the contingent "if" of verse five: "what if". Though, and in spite of the fact that we are plagued with Israel's failure throughout history, in Christ we have one who is truly faithful, in Christ the "if" becomes more than simply an "if" rather a promise (Romans 8:19-21, and let's not forget the Lord's prayer that it be "on earth as it is in Heaven"). So, on one hand we stand observing man's failure throughout history, on the other we wait in anticipation knowing the kingdom of God (with it's holistic reorchestration of society and individuals) to be a promise of new creation.

We hear this "if" in a lot of political discourse. "If" we do such and such, follow some ideal then things will go perfect. This is not a flimsy political ideal as is Marxism. No, Marxism will never work because it lacks the power to create new men; it tries to force the old man into an ideal, in which forgetting God is prerequisite and guilt is the motivation--in this light its eventual disaster is obvious. Again, in Christ the "if" of verse five is a promise--it is not contingent on our action but on our Lord's sovereign action. The Kingdom of God is a not a flimsy ideal, it is thick reality.

Along similar lines verse six reads, " For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you." The idea here is not one of superiority or depotism but rather one of stewardship. In Isaiah ch. Two we have a similar picture, it reads:

Many peoples will come and say,
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

In this light we see that rather than God giving Israel a promise of imperialism He entrusts them with choseness, and out of that sprouts the person of Jesus Christ and through him the kingdom of God; God's chosen our the ambassadors of true change.

The remainder of Deuteronomy Chapter fifteen is of great importance it gives imperatives to give liberally to the poor and sets down great rules for dealing with hired hands. Also it enters into more description of the requirements for sacrifice. I will stop the exegesis here though; partly because I'll be surprised if you even make it this far, but also because I am a bit tired and have a lot more to do today.

Love to hear any feedback.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryan! Just visiting today! Will visit again. Keep up de blog!
.... Andrew