A confession: I struggle with personal debt. It’s just a fact. At one point a few years ago, I was given the opportunity to basically take out more money than I should on credit, and through a combination of poor financial management and a few personal circumstances, it got out of hand. It’s a long way from good; but it’s been a lesson – the question is whether that lesson has sunk in or not.
What I can say, though, from personal experience is that having debt that’s outside your realm of ability to pay is perhaps one of the most oppressive and difficult things I’ve ever dealt with. You have creditors and collectors calling, not only yourself, but people you know, your family and others – and it just becomes that you end up scared to pick up the phone because you’ve got no answers.
I was unemployed for over a year, on Centrelink payments, barely able to survive on the meagre amount that comes from welfare; and every time one of those calls came, I still had no answers. Here these people are calling every third or fourth day trying to squeeze blood out of the stone that is your own personal financial situation. It doesn’t get better, it just seems to get worse.
God does not want us to be in this situation. He does not want us to be suffering from debt – so much so that he actually told the Israelites that they were to regularly cancel debts owed to one another.
When you think about the society that God was creating in the Israelites, it’s a wonder why we’ve had to develop any other system of civilisation – let alone actually continue to use them. As I read Leviticus and now read Deuteronomy, I see this picture of a society where they’re encouraged to work hard, to continue to grow, where they each own their own land and possessions, but not to the detriment of the community. He makes it very clear, both in talking about the year of Jubilee, and now here, that there are limits to individual accumulation.
Every seven years, they’re told here, to cancel any debts to their brothers. Interestingly, they’re entitled to ask for payment still from a foreigner, but within the nation of Israel, they are to cancel any debts. They are also told not to get selfish when it’s getting close, and withhold assistance from someone because the seventh year is near so they probably won’t get their money back.
Basically, what God’s saying is that he will bless them; but he wants to bless them as a people, not as individuals. No one should be suffering, when the favour of God is upon them. He’s giving them a mandate that says, in their financial and material prosperity, they are to look after one another. He’s placing the family and the community above wealth.
God didn’t want to have his people living with the oppression of debt hanging over their heads. He wanted them to be free. It’s unfortunate that our society is so dominated by money today; because it means that financial freedom is basically the key to most freedoms. It’s hard to feel free in any sense, if you’re feeling trapped by your financial situation.
We may not get our financial debts cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live in freedom though. Spiritual freedom is available right now.
Our debts for sin were cancelled when Jesus hung on the cross. He hung there, paying the price of death for each and every one of us. He was without blame, and yet he carried the price for all the world.
Why? Because he loved us. Because he didn’t want us to live with debt hanging over our heads. Because he wanted us to have freedom, and true freedom comes from one source: Grace.
Back in chapter 27, there was the story of this guy, Zelophehad who died after having only daughters. The ramification of his death was that his daughters were to inherit his property and so on.
Now that the Israelites are getting closer to the Promised Land, though, they’re starting to think about the land that people are going to inherit as well.
So God lays down the law – because the lands are going to be allocated by tribe first – basically dividing Israel into states – so there needs to be an assurance that the correct land will stay in the correct tribe. Zelophehad’s daughters can marry who they like, as long as they marry from within their own clan. This is the precedent for these types of situations for the future as well.
As I read this, I got thinking about accumulation and growth of wealth. “Prosperity” as some people would call it.
I’ve already previously written an article on prosperity, but today I was reading another article on the “Prosperity Gospel” also.
What I was got to thinking as I read this chapter, was how once again, what appears on the surface and what can be taken out of the text if you look beyond the superficial don’t necessarily always give the same appearance. On the surface, it almost seems a bit childish, it’s like there’s an attitude of selfishness coming from the people – that they can’t let someone else get hold of their land.
And perhaps there is, but as I look at it from the Heavenly perspective, another point comes out. That this is an element of fairness. The tribes are each going to be given an allotment of the land that they are going into, each tribe is getting as much as they are deserving for their size, capacity, etcetera.
Implementing a law that says these girls have to marry within the clan keeps the land in their own family, it also prevents people from other clans or tribes taking advantage of them. Remembering again that this was a highly patriarchal society and therefore they were likely going to have to marry at some point.
The entire Israelite society, whether it’s something like this that keeps the land held into the same family, or the year of Jubilee – also mentioned in this passage – where any land accumulated over the past fifty years gets handed back to the original owners, debts are canceled, etcetera all seems to be aimed at building a nation equitably and fairly. Prosperity, it would seem, wasn’t meant to be an individual thing. There’s an element in the picture that we see of God’s design for the Israelite society that says he didn’t want them accumulating. There was enough land for everyone, so everyone would have their fair share.
It’s a common mentality, these days, that life is a game and ‘whoever dies with the most toys wins.’
Through this, the idea of ‘Prosperity Doctrine’ promoted heavily by televangelists in particular continues to have people treat God like a vending machine. These people promote a give to get attitude, the more money someone gives to the televangelist’s “ministry” the more money in turn, God will pour out on that person.’
Money, wealth, physical prosperity, though is all a distraction from God. In the words of Jesus, it is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So it is worth letting go of an attitude that says we need to accumulate and collect the most toys, and instead let our focus be on God. He will provide us with as much land as we need through his inheritance in the promised land. We don’t need more than that.
So… Apparently I’ve actually caught and overtaken Stephen. Just noticed that today.
An extremely close friend was texting me today, and in amongst things, said she loves me. For a moment, my mind went to a reply along the lines of, “If you keep saying that, I might start to believe you.”
How much do we really believe that people love and care about us? I know that I’ve struggled with it, the thoughts of not believing that someone loves me wasn’t actually that difficult to conceive; especially in the mindset I was in at the time. I think that a lot of people actually struggle with being loved, even more than they struggle with loving others. It seems to be a human thing to actually think that we have to only receive what we deserve.
I remember being told in the past by a girl I liked, that she didn’t want to be with me because I deserved better than her. I was shocked, and totally confused. Why would that matter? Shouldn’t I be the one who gets to decide who I ‘deserve’? Since when does ‘deserving’ have anything to do with love and relationships? And even if she was right, shouldn’t it then be the case of just feeling lucky rather than saying no?
If we can’t accept love from other people, because we think we don’t deserve it; then how are we ever meant to accept God’s love in our lives?
I love the concept of the Year of Jubilee.
I really do. Just imagine how much freedom would be released throughout the world right now, if every debt was suddenly released. If all the governments of the world united together and said, “Right, in 2011 we’re having a year of jubilee. All property is to be returned to its original owner, all debt is to be cleared, and we’re just going to start over.”
Imagine the release. It really would be a year of jubilee. The entire population of the world would celebrate.
I’ve heard once before a claim that if all the money in the world was to be gathered up and distributed evenly to everyone, we would all be millionaires. However, I’ve also heard predictions that it would only take a few years for the money to be pretty much back in the same places as it was before. I’d be willing to take the chance though.
I think the point of the Year of Jubilee was, apart from the restoration of the land – both to the people and itself – was to just keep things balanced. If we actually applied some biblical economics to the world today, I think there’d be a major shift in the way the global community works. People wouldn’t be able to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth, and perhaps, if they couldn’t accumulate so much, they wouldn’t worry about it so much. Perhaps it could break the hold that money – and more importantly, greed – has over modern society.
On another topic that I just alluded to, comes the restoration of the land.
I’m no hippy, greenie or tree hugger. Not really, anyway, but I do care about the environment, about our land, about the animals and the trees and the plants that share this planet with us. I believe that when God gave us dominion over the Earth, he gave us responsibility over it as well, to manage and till the land properly; to care for it and raise it; to treat it like our own.
Again, greed took over though.
I read the first part of this chapter, about every seventh year not planting any crops and just letting the land fend for itself, and wondered just how different the world might be if we kept this particular idea also. The Earth itself doesn’t get a chance to recover from what we do to it, and instead of just letting the Earth take care of itself, humanity keeps trying to fix it. As though we know better.
God built this Earth, he built the laws of nature that surround the Earth and the universe. I think that chapter 25 of Leviticus is more than just a series of celebrations and inconsequential laws – I think this was God actually telling us how to take care of his world. How to take care of ourselves. How to live in harmony with the Earth and with each other.
God knows better than we do. We keep trying to fix things, but we don’t try to fix the problem – we keep trying to bandaid the symptom. Perhaps the solution to global warming and other problems that our planet is facing isn’t to try and fix it; but rather, to trust that God knew what he was doing. Perhaps we should just step back and try to integrate ourselves with the way God built the planet, rather than trying to integrate the planet with the way we’re building our society?