Moses’ Economic Law

The economic “Land Law” has five distinct parts: Equal Rights, the Sabbath rules, the rules for the Sabbatical Year, the Jubilee, and the tithe.

Equal Rights.  All members of society were under the Law.  No one, not even a king or a priest, was above the Law.  Because of this there could be no governmental grants of unearned privilege.  The Law, therefore was immutable and available to all.  From this came what we today call the rule of law.

The Sabbath.  Every seventh day was set aside, dedicated to God.  No unnecessary work was to be done on the Sabbath.  This was the day for public worship.  Such worship subtly reminded the community of the sovereignty of God, not of man.  But it was not only a day for public worship, it was also a day of rest.  It was a day when husbands talked to wives, when mothers sang to the children, when fathers showed their sons how to fish, when the children had a lot of playtime.  Also it was a day of study and discussion.  More deeply, it was a day to remember that God was at the heart of the community and the family.

The Sabbatical Year.  The land of ancient Israel belonged to God and God set the rules for its occupation and use.  One of these rules stated that every seventh year the land got a Sabbath.  The land was to be given a rest and nothing was to be planted.  God assured the Israelites that there would be enough harvested in the six years previous to carry the people over for the year without planting.  This was not a year off for the faarmer, just for the land.  The farmer and his family probably worked very hard during the Sabbatical year, repairing, building, and expanding.

Also in this year, all debts were cancelled, so the Israelites could not contract long-term debt.  For any normal debt they did take on, land could not be the collateral, because the individual families did not own the land – God did.

I include another stricture under the Sabbatical Year regulations even though it was not directly tied to the seven-year cycle.  An Israelite could have a slave for no longer than six years.  So in this economy, debt and slavery could never become important.

The Jubilee Year.  After seven Sabbatical years had passed, the next year, the fiftieth year, was declared the Jubilee.  Like in the Sabbatical year, during the Jubilee, the land was not worked and all debts were cancelled.  Also all slaves were freed, regardless of the six-year term.  But the biggest economic event of the Jubilee year involved the land.  All land was returned to its original possessor family, free and clear.  If land had been leased out, the lease could not go past the next Jubilee.  The Jubilee kept the means of production in the hands of each individual family.

The Tithe.  The land of Israel belonged to God.  He wanted his people to use it and prosper through it. However, included in the other “Land Law” rules was rent.  God charged each family rent for the land they were possessing.  The rent was called the tithe.  The rent level was ten percent of the land’s return.  Before money made its appearance in the eighth century BC, the tithe was paid in goods.  After the use of money became widespread, the rules were changed so that the money equivalent could be paid instead of the goods themselves.

Only the families in the tribes that possessed land paid the tithe, so the Levites, who were given major towns and not land, paid no tithe.

The best ten percent of the tithe went off to support the religious establishment at the site of the Ark of the Covenant.  The other ninety percent of the tithe stayed “home” and supported what we would today call civil governemnt.  So there were no other taxes or fees that the Israelite families had to pay.  They were very prosperous and prior to the kings, there was no governmental superstructure to squeeze them further.

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