September 9, 2012
Liberalism, generally, favors a bigger government and higher taxes to pay for it, while conservatives advocate moving in the opposite direction: limited government and low taxes.
Let’s face it. The government since FDR’s New Deal has gotten bigger. LBJ instituted the Great Society. (I want my Game Show Government, no matter the cost!) By now conservatives would say Uncle Sam is morbidly obese. But liberalism is still winning, and liberals claim the moral high ground.
But do they have the right to it?
Not if we follow what the Bible recommends.
I have to admit from the outset that I get nervous about applying the economic and political specifics of the Bible to the modern era. But maybe we can draw general principles from the ancient theocracy of the Old Testament, which eventually evolved (or devolved) into a royal theocracy.
Of course, we don’t — nor should we — live in a theocracy. So let’s proceed with caution as we look at the Bible.
The main principle here in this article is one that goes wrong: from simplicity to complexity. We need to reverse the process.
As for political power, Deuteronomy 17:16-20 reads:
16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself … he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law … and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers[.]
So the king must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver, he is to follow the law, and he must not consider himself better than his fellow citizens. Lean and simple.
As for the flow of the material resources, we don’t need to go into the details about taxes and tithes and offerings in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). And I’m certainly not advocating going back to the Old Testament specifics on those policies.
Instead, as we notice that the resources flowed to a centralized place (the tabernacle), we just need to look at the same principle of simplicity.
There are three tithes (a tithe is a tenth) commanded in the Torah. Numbers 18:20-32 provides the tithe for Levites and priests: “It is your wages for your work in the tent of meeting” (v. 31). Second, the ancient Hebrews could bring their tithes, either in kind or in silver, and buy what they needed after they got to the tabernacle and celebrated the harvest. They could have a feast on their own tithe in God’s presence (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Third, every three years, they were to set a tenth of their produce for the Levites who lived in their towns but were not allowed to have land to farm. This tithe was also for the poor and helpless and foreigners (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
Next, the ancient Hebrews were to “redeem” their lives because God redeemed them out of Egypt (Exodus 30:11-16). This yearly payment, a kind of tax, was to go to the temple. In Jesus’ day, the temple tax was two drachmas, or about two days’ wages of a day laborer (Matthew 17:24-27). That’s low. Incidentally, Jesus paid that tax.
Finally, the people were required to bring sacrificial animals to the tabernacle (Leviticus 1:1-7:21). The well-to-do brought more expensive animals, while the poor could bring in less expensive ones or even grain in some sacrifices (Leviticus 5:7-13). The priests and Levites could share in some of the offerings, as their provision for food.
We don’t need to calculate how much these tithes and tax and offerings would cost today (one tithe was eaten by the giver, so how do you calculate that?). These laws were given in an agrarian society, which followed the rhythms of the harvests and animal reproduction.
The main point is that the Torah, which sets the standard, was reasonable, requiring low “payments” flowing to the central tabernacle. Lean and simple.
Later in Israel’s history, the people rejected God as king and insisted on a human king. Samuel the prophet, leading them in this transition, forewarns them that future kings would become oppressive.
11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:11-18)
So the king will take the harvests, turn the people into laborers, conscript them into the military, and make their own servants work for him. Becoming slaves of sorts to the centralized government, the people will cry out for relief.
We are far from the simplicity laid out in Deuteronomy 17:16-20.
Solomon fits the description of a king who broke the basic rules.
1 Kings 10:16-18, 21-25 says:
16 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred bekas of gold went into each shield. 17 He also made three hundred small shields of hammered gold, with three minas of gold in each shield. The king put them in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon.
18 Then the king made a great throne inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. … 21 All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s days. 22 The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.
23 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. 24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. 25 Year after year, everyone who came brought a gift – articles of silver and gold, robes, weapons and spices, and horses and mules.