Economy. Is it the stock market or a household? Is the goal to accumulate money or decent living conditions?
News screams economy at us from every angle. We criticize the COVID-19 lockdowns because they put such a damper on the economy. We’ve closed stores, hotels, restaurants, stopped travel and tourism throwing millions out of work. We’re pitting quarantine against the economy to see which we damage the least.
The 2008 economy crisis, sparked by the subprime fiasco, made us rethink how economy works. The COVID-19 crisis has hit the global economy with such impact that it should cause us to think about our priorities. What is economy? How should we look at economy?
We are discussing this from a practical Biblical point of view. Why? Because most believe that the Bible is not written for the 21st century modern technology era with computers and stock markets. The posit of The Explanation is the Bible reveals practical wisdom about matters of economy. There are enough principles and details to show us where we should place the emphasis in the economy.
You can read about the four major economy systems here. I suggest you read it because it is an excellent short summary of the main points of view.
- Government control
- Supply and Demand or no Government control
- Mixed market. A mixture of 2 & 3, government and private sectors.
Let’s highlight the economy from two angles. First, a family must have a regular income to live. Second, to have national infrastructure, roads, bridges, communication, health, water supply etc., there needs to be financial and material resources to build and maintain such a complex network.
Note what the above article says about the traditional economy system, “the traditional system, unlike the other three, lacks the potential to generate a surplus. Nevertheless, precisely because of its primitive nature, the traditional economic system is highly sustainable. In addition, due to its small output, there is very little wastage compared to the other three systems.”
Interestingly, the article uses a 21st century buzzword, sustainable, to describe the traditional economy system. It also states the problem. It doesn’t generate a surplus to build and maintain the infrastructure. What if there’s a way for the traditional system to generate a surplus?
Modern 21st century citizens of a sprawling metropolis might tend to look down on the “primitive nature” of a traditional economy. In Audit of the Universe, describing body care I wrote this.
Consider a medieval farmer in Europe or in Asia. He woke up near dawn to tend his fields and livestock, working until sunset made it too dark to see. Besides farming and shepherding, each day required him to chop wood, carry water and walk for miles. Each calorie he took in by eating required hard physical labor to produce and earn. Those calories were fresh and largely unprocessed and included many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Excellent for body care. Our bodies are designed for movement and work.
Compare this to a modern executive’s relationship with food. He wakes before dawn and returns home after dark, but his workday consists of sitting in his car or sitting at a desk. His calories—oftentimes, of which he consumes more than he expends—are commonly prepackaged and preprocessed. His diet contains fewer whole grains, fruits or vegetables, and more fat, sugar, and salt.
Our relationship with food has changed significantly over the centuries. What used to require a thousand calories to produce now takes fifty calories to buy. Whole grain loaves from grain we grew have given way to soft, sugary bread we buy from a rack at the store, or a “Happy Meal” bought and consumed in the car. This imbalance, like the other imbalances we’ve examined in or audit, causes problems — in this case illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In developed nations worldwide, the cost of medical problems related to overeating far exceeds the costs of malnutrition.
The traditional way impacts far more than the economy. Please understand, I’m NOT suggesting we all become Asian farmers. The Bible, however, places the emphasis on economy, on land and what the land produces.
We do find the origin of the word economy in the Bible. In Greek it’s oikonomie, and in the New Testament about ten times.
And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward (G3623), whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
The steward is the economist. In this scenario, he is a servant given the responsibility of ruling over a household. This example contains the major elements of economy.
οἰκονόμος oikonomos oy-kon-om’-os; From G3624 and the base of G3551; a house distributor (that is manager) or overseer that is an employee in that capacity; by extension a fiscal agent(treasurer); figuratively a preacher (of the Gospel):
KJV – chamberlain, governor, steward.
Money and Resources
Our economy today is based on money and consumer goods. Money in the form of stock markets, dividends, savings, interest, gold… and cars, telephones, electronic gadgets… To boost the economy we watch the Government, Banks, in particular, the money policy makers. We increase of lower interest rates, discounts and incentives to get people to consume. It’s money oriented. We draw people into cities and put them behind computers to push buttons and print paper.
The oikonomos relies on stewardship to operate a house. This means providing food, shelter and clothing, the essentials. Those are the basics. True wealth is the capacity to produce what we need from the raw materials we possess.
The basis of economy is land and the human mind. Land because it alone supplies food, shelter and clothing. Mind, because it alone allows us to transform the produce of the land into sustainable and durable products.
In the 21st century, we have removed our economy from the land. We’ve ruined our arable food-producing fertile land and we’re exhausting essential raw materials via industrial extraction methods. These principles go for the oceans, which provide 40% of the world population with sustenance. We are squandering the wealth on which the economy lies.
Basic concepts of economy
This is practical Bible wisdom. The following writings assume you believe in God as Creator having a plan for humankind whom He placed on this Earth. It further assumes you believe the Bible is His Word and instruction to live our lives. Please review these points.
The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
All the land and resources belong to God, not to you and I. We may buy a plot of land to build a house or a farm, but we are not the ultimate owner. Here is what God states.[/box]
The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.
God’s instruction to the Israelites at they were to enter Canaan. That country, its land and resources were divided up and given to the tribes of that nation. But ultimately nothing belonged to them. Each one of us is an oikonomos, a steward, of that land and all that is in that land.
We can go all the back to Genesis 1:26 and see the fundamental law governing economy. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” That verse says we are stewards of the land and every other resource.
This is where appropriate agriculture practices come fully in action. We discussed agriculture in this post. How we treat the land and the oceans is the basis of economy. Unfortunately, today everything is moving in the opposite direction. There is a wake-up counter-swing with the realization we’ve gone too far. Whether we’ve passed the point of no return is another question. We are a long way from God’s economy guidelines.
Not anti-material, but anti-materialism
God placed all things into the hands of humankind. That’s the material world of which we can make good use. It is not His intentions that we adopt a philosophy of abstinence or hedonism. We should avoid both extremes of minimalism and maximalism. We have to wonder whether capitalism and stock markets have gone too far in that direction.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But you, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
Note that it does NOT say money is the root of evil. Money is necessary and useful as a currency and means of exchange. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with money. It is the abuse of it, the love of it that sparks dilemmas. This leads to questions of ownership and wealth.
Private enterprise and property
We find some of God’s most faithful servants possessed and acquired property and animals. To build the ark, Noah must’ve had access to tremendous resources. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were land and cattle owners. God blessed Solomon with abundant riches. The key places of worship like the Tabernacle and Temple were sumptuous constructions.
God is not against any of this richness. Remember, however, that it went to Solomon’s head and eventually got the better of him spiritually. One cannot put their desires and hope in the material, as 1 Tim. 4:11 aptly puts it.
There are many verses about the value of labor. We have forgotten the value of manual labor and relegated it to a lower level. Particularly manual labor associated with agriculture. Yes, it’s dirty and difficult and appropriate means should be taken to make all manual labor as reasonable and as safe as possible.
But we must remember the satisfaction and positivity that comes from creating something with your hands. Seeing the results of your hard labor. Harvesting the crops of the sweat of your brow. We must not forget the benefits for both the body and the mind.
The fourth commandment is that of the Sabbath rest, but it is also that of six days shall you labor and do all your work (Exodus 20:9)
Proverbs 10:16 The labour of the righteous tends to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin.
Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathers by labour shall increase.
Proverbs 14:23 In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tends only to penury.
Proverbs 21:25 The desire of the slothful kills him; for his hands refuse to labour.
Eccl 2:17-26 to read 24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
Labor represents about one-third of our working day. It is not a negligible quality. It has many benefits beyond that of remuneration. When done properly under the right conditions, it keeps the body and mind fresh with creative ideas as well as giving a sense of accomplishment, which is maybe the best benefit of all.
Without laborers, many things would never get accomplished. Some people aspire only to labor and they love it. We just had a patio waterproofed. The artisan was a professional, every gesture and how he organized the work showed that. He’d worked for his boss for over 12 years and was just happy to continue doing the type of work he did. It’s a pleasure to watch a craftworker doing what they love best.
1 Timothy 5:18 For the scripture says, You shall not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
I remember working as a technical writer and finishing a project for a mobile phone. Then having to write my employer umpteen times and wait for three months before he finally decided to pay my due.
You shall not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with you all night until the morning.
Unfortunately, people and businesses have to close up, not because they’re not viable but because they’re not solvent, buyers wait forever to pay their bills, putting suppliers and manufacturers in jeopardy. These are basic rules of Economy.
God reserved one of the tribes specifically for the purpose of serving Him and accomplishing God’s tasks in favor of the Israelites.
When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan (Joshua 13:33), the Sons of Levi were the only Israelite tribe that received cities but were not allowed to be landowners “because the Lord the God of Israel Himself is their inheritance” (Deuteronomy 18:2). The priests were to minister at the altar, burn the sacrifices, and teach the law.
8 And of Levi he said, …
10 They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar.
Teaching Jacob your judgments is not just teaching religion, things pertaining to God and the sacred, as some might put it. Teaching God’s judgments goes way beyond that. For instance, this blog post about economy is teaching God’s principles, His judgments on this subject. The bottom line of this statement is the Levites were the Ministry of Education including all the teachers.
They administered the cities of refuge where certain people who had committed certain misdoings like killing someone inadvertently were sent. I do not want to get into the very interesting details of justice here. That will be another blog post. Suffice to say, they had the key role in applying Justice in the nation of Israel. They were the impartial enquirers and judges. We would say they had the role of the entire Ministry of Justice.
Justice and Education are major segments for the welfare of a nation. What is important to realize, these public servants, that’s what we’d call them today, were totally independent from a financial point of view. Nobody paid them directly. They lived from the tithes, the 10% the people paid for the functioning of the Levitical Priesthood, of which they were a part.
Sabbatical year and land
In agriculture we discussed the seventh year land rest and the benefits for land and people rejuvenation. Every seventh cycle of Sabbatical years, there’s a Jubilee year. I don’t know of anywhere else but in the Bible that such a disposition is laid out. It has widespread repercussions for the inhabitants of the entire nation. Once every 50 years means you’d participate once, maybe twice, in your lifetime, so it was a very special event.
Debt is possibly the biggest enemy of an economy. Why? Because you have to devote more and more of your revenue to pay it off. You dispose of less and less revenue to feed your family and purchase needed goods. Debt causes the poor to become poorer and once they go beyond a point, they are on the streets. We shall discuss Biblical principles of aid for the poor and working conditions. The year of the Jubilee is the answer to debt and land loss.
8 And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
9 Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
10 And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
11 A jubile shall that fiftieth year be to you: you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
12 For it is the jubile; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
13 In the year of this jubile you shall return every man to his possession.
Every 50 years there is a moratorium on debt. ALL debts are wiped off the books, and ALL land is restored to the original family owner. The implications are far-reaching. Families are reunited, and it is a fresh start in life. Imagine if you were born into a poor family, your father could’ve been killed in an accident or died from ill-health or had a business setback for whatever reason. The property was sold and your family went from homestead ownership to salaried employee.
There’s nothing wrong with that latter scenario, but it is much better to be self-sufficient in your own home with your own fertile land and animals. Every fifty years that property reverted to its original homesteader. Remember, ALL the land belongs to God, we’re stewards for a time… up to 50 years. We can work that land and earn profits. But in the end it becomes a level field and everyone has the same departure. We might want to call this a second chance.
Some people who lost out because they mismanaged or simply couldn’t handle the load need time to learn. Working as an employee on someone else’s property not only gives you a stable salary, but especially a learning opportunity. It’s an apprenticeship in stewardship. Exactly the qualities you need with you return to your property.[/box]
Some might consider this unjust because you have to give up something you own. Remember, how much wealth do you need to live decently? In this area, of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer, Capitalism has much to be desired. Would it be impossible to apply today? Well, certain authorities have proposed setting aside the debt of some Third-World countries that will never be able to pay it back, anyway.
Could it be done on a private level? I doubt very much that it could be imposed on a national level. But consider, with the countryside becoming deserted, houses falling into ruin, villages being abandoned, in Europe, some mayors have offered homes for 1 Euro. It takes a big heart to take selfless measures, but that might be the only way to bring some sanity back to an economy gone wild.
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