Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sabbath or Slavery: Understanding the Banking Bailout

Most Christians understand the Bible to teach that God built cycles of death and rebirth into the natural world: winter then spring, decay enriching new growth. What most of us don’t realize is that He built the same cycle into the social and economic systems of man.

God’s Old Testament model of society, ancient Israel, included an economic reset button that must have felt very much like a self-imposed mini-recession. It was the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year. Every seven years, Israel was to allow the fields to lay fallow and to subsist on their stockpiled goods. The poor, who had no stockpiles, could glean from the fields that which grew up “volunteer”. On that seventh year, they were to cancel debts within the nation; the debts they owed to each other. They were also to free those Israelites whose debts had brought them into slavery. And after seven cycles of seven years, they were to observe a second year of Sabbath rest called the Jubilee, so that the complete economic cycle encompassed 50 years. (See Lev. 25)

The gracious purpose of God was to give the land rest and rejuvenation, as well as to limit both debt and tyranny. Though a man could be enslaved for repayment of huge debts, no one could obligate himself for longer than seven years. Only God owned the land, and He had granted it to certain families. A family might lease the use of the land to another family for a few years, but on the Sabbath year, the rights to the land returned to the original family. Under those circumstances, no rich man could enslave or oppress a fellow without restraint. No government redistribution plan could encumber a generation’s children or manipulate the redistribution for political gain.

The only exception to this radical freedom and personal responsibility was the man who refused the risks of freedom and preferred the security of being kept. Such men were allowed to choose permanent slavery. He was marked by having an ear pierced to signify that permanent subjection (Ex.21: 5-7). But his children were free.

This model has several implications pertinent to our current banking crisis in America, which I’d like to discuss over the next few days.

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