God, Creator of heaven and earth, gave humanity responsibility for ruling the material creation on earth (Gen. 1:26). He “took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). Here there is no suggestion of how humanity would manage an economy. But God intended that humans would populate the earth (Gen. 1:28; 9:1), becoming tribes and eventually nations and migrating to various places on earth (Gen. 10:32).
In one early attempt to establish a city, humanity worked in a cooperative way (Gen. 11:3-4). The attempt to build the tower of Babel was not a private venture; there is no indication of slavery or employment; instead, humans pooled their resources “to make a name” and “not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). This seemed to be a united action of resistance to free humanity from the Sovereign rule of God over the earth. God intervened, and the plan didn’t work (Gen. 11:5-9). Although this passage does not discuss the economic ramifications of the effort at Babel, capitalism does not appear to have originated or influenced it; if anything, as the cooperative effort suggests, it had a socialistic-type appearance.
Later, Paul summarized God’s activity with early humanity in these words: “The God who made the world and everything in it… made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times and the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:24, 26). Earth’s resources were in the land, which belonged to God, who exercised His prerogative to distribute to humanity.
Sometime after populations grew and nations began to arise, God sent Abram, later named Abraham, to the land of Canaan that it would become the land of his descendants (Gen. 12:1-2). At that time, Abraham and others had “possessions they had accumulated” (Gen. 12:5), through which in time he became “very wealthy” (Gen. 13:2). This was a form of capitalism. There, Abraham’s descendants grew into several small tribes, one of which had Isaac and later Jacob as patriarchs.
The land of Canaan was not a settled nation under a central government. Instead, it, and nearby lands, were home of many “kings” of city-states (Gen. 14:1-2) as well as large unsettled areas. At the same time, Egypt was a nation under one ruler, Pharaoh (Gen. 12:10, 15; 39:1).
When Jacob’s family grew to about seventy people, a severe famine in Canaan led them to relocate to Egypt to survive. This move, orchestrated by God, was preceded by a series of events that led to the ascendancy of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, to become Governor in Egypt’s government under Pharaoh (Gen. 41:39-43; 42:6). Joseph administered a plan for national food-production and storage that not only provided for the survival of the people of Egypt but also for surrounding countries (Gen. 41:56-57). Through this plan, Jacob’s descendants, the tiny tribe of Israel, survived in Egypt. God told Jacob that the move was Providential and that there Israel would become a nation (Gen. 46:2-3).
Here we see more a form of socialism than capitalism. Joseph administered a government-run food distribution program. God directed Israel to participate and gain its benefits. As the story went, the famine resulted in complete dependency of the Egyptian people on the government (Gen. 47:13-19). Joseph established a system of taxation that funded the government (Gen. 47:23-26). The pyramids and other extensive building of infrastructure and monuments in Egypt are evidences of the wealth and power of the government drawn from the citizens. When new government leaders replaced Pharaoh and Joseph, the people became victims of severe abuse (Ex. 1:8-11), which we probably should conclude is one of the hazards of such a system. What can we conclude about a God-ordained economic system from the Genesis account? Clearly, there was none. In the next Blog post we will continue to explore the Bible on this matter.