January 2023 | The True Vine and The Soon Coming King

God's Manna Economy: Money and Wealth, and Old Testament Perspective

God's Manna Economy: Money and Wealth, and Old Testament Perspective

Pr. Jison Saju Joseph

God is the Owner of Everything

The Hebrew Bible clearly states that God is the sole owner and creator of everything. The theology of God’s ownership can be seen in many passages of the Old Testament. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” Some passages even reveal the specific items that God owns. Offspring are gifted to us from God. They are God’s. Psalm 127:3 says that, 

" Children are a gift from the Lord and they are a reward from him." In Leviticus 25:23, we see that God is the real owner of the land. Haggai 2:8 tells us that “the silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, declares the Lord of hosts.” And in Psalm 50:10, the Lord tells us: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”

1 Chronicles 29:11-12 says “Everything in the heavens and earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as being in control of everything. Riches and honor come from you alone, and you are the ruler of all humankind; your hand controls power and might, and it is at your discretion that people are made great and given strength.” Abraham was asked to give back his own son to God. By being ready to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham acknowledged that Isaac is God’s gift and God’s possession. Job lost all his possessions and even his children. Job also acknowledged God’s ownership and said “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked will I depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; May the name of the Lord be praised.”

Manna Economy- No Room for Need, No Room for Greed

Much before Communism or Marxism arrived on the scene, God’s economic principles were clearly revealed to the Israelites in the biblical narratives of wilderness wandering. God miraculously provided manna as food for them. After a dramatic escape from Egypt, the Israelites find themselves wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. They are free of their servitude to the Egyptian economy, but they are at a loss to know how they should now live. Just like the addict who is terrified by the unknowns of a new life, they begin to contemplate returning to the slavery of Egypt: “There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted ...” (Ex 16:3).It is here that the Israelites are offered a strange new economy, one based on ‘bread from heaven’ (v.4), and the perplexity of the Israelites is underscored by their naming the bread manna, meaning ‘What is it?’ (v.31). However, there are rules associated with this new system: Firstly, ‘Each one is to gather as much as is needed’ (v.16) - this is an economy based on everyone achieving enough rather than everyone pursuing unlimited wants. Not only is it important that none have ‘too little’, it is also important that none have ‘too much’. Within this framework, the provision of manna is abundant - there is no need to compete. Secondly, don't store it up - in the manna economy, stored wealth turns rotten (v.19-20).

The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day the exception being that stored the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered. This manna was not spoiled. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. - Exodus 16:18-20.Needless to say, the principles of the manna economy are the exact opposite of the Egyptian economy from which they have just been liberated. Not only do the Israelites have to learn a new way of living, they have to unlearn the old way, and as the story indicates, this is not easy for them. Israelites needed to learn the lessons of the manna economy before they came to Canaan. Israelites were trained as they wandered in the desert to learn to look at resources as a daily provision. Not to try and accumulate more than what is needed. Gluttony is not about eating too much food; it is about taking more of anything than you really need for today. It is a solid economic foundation. 

The lessons of the manna economy echo through the life and teachings of Jesus. When modeling prayer, Jesus addresses material needs by invoking a manna economy, asking “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is exactly what we find in the Sermon on the Mount which tells us not to worry about tomorrow as to what we will eat or what we will wear, but to look at the lilies of the field or the birds of the sky and see how God provides for them and learn how much better God will provide for His own children. Prophet Elijah, after he prophesied during the time of King Ahab about the stop of the rain depended on God for daily provisions. God used the ravens to give food to Elijah each day. Even in the house of the widow to whom the prophet went, we see that the dough and oil in the jar never finished. There was no abundance, but the daily needs were met at proper times. To take more than you need for the day is to rob someone else of their resources. The more and more people feel safe to only take what they need for the present, the more there is for everyone else. When we have more than we need, it begins to rot. Anyone who has cleaned out their fridge knows the wrath of leftovers. Money and resources are the same way. When wealth is hoarded it begins to lose its value. When wealth is invested back into a community, it grows more wealth. Sharing and investing are the staples of a rich and strong society.

Israelite Land Theology- Yahweh’s Land is Not to be Sold Permanently

The land and the state of Israel were intricately related, that one cannot examine the covenant of Israel with God, if no account is taken of the place of the land. The basic idea is that the land is Yahweh’s land (Psalm 24:1, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12). Leviticus 25:23 identifies God as the owner of the land. It says “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, with me but you are aliens and tenants.” In Genesis 1-2 chapters, we see how a relationship between God, people and the land develops. He is the creator who made everything from nothing and has ownership rights over everything He created. Throughout the book of Joshua chapters 13-19, land is first and foremost an inheritance given to Israel by Yahweh, gift to be passed on from generation to generation. The idea that God owns the land has not only theological meaning, but also sociological significance. The land in Israel was not to be considered as a private property instead, it was a loan administered by Israel on behalf of Yahweh. The land was divided for the tribes and the tribe apportioned the land to the families. Each family enjoyed their own rights to the use of the land, but never as a commodity that could be bought or sold for private gain. Deuteronomy 24:19-22 states emphatically that a part of the harvest of the land be left for the alien, the orphan and the widow.

God’s Economic Principles in Sabbath and Jubilee

Sabbath rest - everyone has a right, even a need, to rest from work and to stop and think about what they are doing. Not only is this a radical industrial relations policy in the ancient world, it is also a statement of the underlying abundance of God's economy - it is not necessary to work all the time. Perhaps, most importantly, it enforces recognition of the greater truth that 'man does not live by bread alone' (Deuteronomy 8:3). Shmita (literally “release”), also called sabbatical year, is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by Torah for the land of Israel. During Shmita, the land is left to lie uncultivated. Jubilee largely deals with land, property and property rights. In Lev. 25, the family land that had been lost was to be returned to the original owner in the year of Jubilee. The fiftieth year is sacred- it is the time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families (Leviticus 25:10). Jubilee was probably the development of the Sabbatical year. Rather than waiting for the 49th or 50th year, the Deuteronomic Code (laws set out in Deuteronomy 12-26), requires that Hebrew slaves be liberated during the 7th year of service as does the Covenant Code (laws set out in Exodus 21:1-22:16).

Approval of Wise Investing and Warnings against Illicit Profit, Interest and Bribe in the Old Testament

The Hebrew Bible however is not to be understood as standing totally against saving or investing for the future. The Old Testament contains several passages that emphasize investing for future. Nevertheless, that should not be done in a way that takes away our daily dependence of God. Our security doesn’t lie in money, but in God alone. Proverbs 21:20 says “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” Again Proverbs 21:5 says “Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” Because of their instinct for saving for future, ants are commended for their wisdom: “Four things on earth are small, yet they store up their food in the summer” (Proverbs 30:24). There is also warning against illicit profit. Proverbs 15:27 says “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house.” “Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it.” cf. Proverbs 21:6, 13:11. God had also given warnings for Israelites not to charge interest on loans given to another Israelite (Deuteronomy 23:19). A bribe is defined as anything given to a person to influence him or her to do something illegal or wrong. Bribes are sometimes subtly disguised as a gift. Only a deliberate evaluation of such offers may confirm whether it is bribe or not. Taking a bribe is clearly prohibited by Scripture: And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just (Exodus 23:8)

The Concept of Tithe and the Importance of Giving in the Hebrew Bible

If giving is merely to a church, a ministry or to a needy person, it is only charity. But when it is to the Lord, it becomes an act of worship. Those who have difficulty in understanding the concept of giving to people should recognize that each gift is actually given to the Lord Himself. An example of this perspective is found in Numbers 18:24: “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites.” Tithe, or 10 percent of a person’s earning was the requirement to be given in the Old Testament. When the children of Israel disobeyed this commandment, it was regarded as robbing God Himself.  This is what Yahweh says in Malachi 3:8-9 “You have robbed me of the tithes and offerings due to me. And so the awesome curse of God is cursing you, for the whole nation had been robbing me.” In addition to the tithe, the Israelites were to give offerings. Furthermore the Lord made special provisions for the needs of the poor. The real blessing lies in giving with the right attitude. Proverbs 11: 24-25 reads, “ There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, but results only in want. 

The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.”

Finally, the great challenge of our time is to rediscover what living by a manna economy might actually look like. We need to acknowledge that God is the owner of everything. We just need what we require for our growth and sustenance by the Lord. We need to learn to use God’s resources as a steward, because we are accountable for the way we manage God’s money and resources. We should learn to be content with our need satisfaction and not look for our greed satisfaction. How much is ‘enough’ and how much is ‘too much’? Our need to learn these lessons come into stark relief when we apply them to even the use of the earth's natural resources: contrary to being scarce resources (the way in which we normally think of them), can we learn that they are actually abundant for our needs, if only some of us can learn not to gather ‘too much’? 

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