In biblical history, only one nation had the designation as God’s. Yahweh covenanted with Israel to become His nation (Ex. 19:5-6, 24:8). He chose Israel to be His people; they did not choose Him to be their God (Deut. 7:6); the choice had nothing to do with their population (Deut. 7:7) or character (Deut. 9:4-5). It was Yahweh’s purpose, driven by His love (Deut. 7:8) and desire that all nations would learn from Israel about God (Deut. 4:5-7) so that He could bless them too (Gen. 12:2-3).
He brought Israel into the land of Canaan to take possession of it as their own land (Jos. 1:11). He distributed the land to the various tribes of Israel to become their permanent inheritance (Jos. 14:1-5). His intent was that all Israelites would own land, but He did not intend that some would find ways to buy out or otherwise gain possession of others’ inheritances (Lev. 25:14, 23). Although He gave it to them, in reality they were tenants on His property, and He intended that all should benefit.
Yahweh intended that there would be no poor people in Israel (Deut. 15:4), but that could only be if the nation completely conformed with His law. Reality is that there would be poor people (Deut. 15:7, 11), and for those who became poor He established measures to help them through debt cancellation every seven years (Deut. 15:1-3), through temporary bond service (Deut. 15:12-15), and through the Jubilee year (Lev.25:10).
For those who were disadvantaged, Yahweh also made provision through Israel’s law. Included were Levites, because they did not have inherited land; aliens for the same reason and because they lived under various other conditions (for example: lack of tribal or family support, language and cultural limitations, and real or imagined second-class citizenship) that made their lives more difficult; orphans and widows (Deut. 26:11-13). Each third year one tenth of wages were to be set aside to give to those in these groups. This is a form of what we might call Welfare today. God’s law for Israel included it.
During this early part of Israel’s history, their type of government was Theocracy. Yahweh was their king and ruled the nation through the priests, judges, elders that He selected through the law. Israel’s laws preserved a type of capitalistic economic system with welfare provisions for the poor and needy, as well as socialistic-type distribution of the land.
Later, Israel’s government changed to a kingdom. Yahweh did not intend the type of system that resulted, but He allowed it (1 Sam. 8:6-8, 22). The human king brought about changes to the economic system that included government owned land, industry, and workforce (1 Sam. 8:11-18). Under them, large construction projects were undertaken (temple and royal property), armies were deployed, and national industries were instituted (naval) (1 Kings 4:20-28; 9:10-12, 26). Under the monarchy, the nation experienced a huge social and economic burden (1 Kings 12:4). Israel never recovered from the change in government. The years that followed only brought more and more social and economic disarray until finally they lived under occupation of foreign governments.
Those who look at the Old Testament as a guide to divinely-established economic system cannot find it in God’s chosen nation of Israel. In the next Blog post, we will consider the New Testament.