Levitical Economics: Multi-billionaires vs. Debt Slaves

Wilfred Hahn

Cancellation of debts became a common royal practice in the old Babylonian period. Hammurabi, who was the Babylonian king early in the second millennium BC (around 1800 BC … dating varies), is believed to have founded the basic principle of ruler-mandated debt cancellation in the renowned Code of Hammurabi. 

Debt cancellation was one of Hammurabi’s first acts when he came to power. He is recorded to have ordered debt cancellations on at least two occasions (likely more) in his reign. However, significantly, there has been new research on this practice in recent years. Prominent Assyriologists (archaeologists who focus on the Middle East) now take the position that “clean slate” policies were the norm in early times … very much counter to our modern practices, these being of Roman origin.

Announcing a “clean slate” was a wise practice. As in our time today, over-indebtedness was a major problem in Babylonian society. Citizens could easily become enslaved to the creditor class. Anyone falling upon hard times or who was unable to pay taxes, would be forced to borrow. Interest rates were onerous … commonly as high as 33% over the duration of the loan period (this sometimes being as short as a few weeks).

Once indebted, people were almost certainly doomed to even deeper debt or slavery. With such usurious interest rates, it would not take long for wealth imbalance and concentration of land ownership to become extreme, this potentially also threatening the power of the king.

It made sense to periodically decree an amnesty from all personal debts (this would not include commercial liabilities in the case of the Babylonian system). This wiping out of debts rejuvenated society and served to maintain a sustainable wealth and power balance. 

Biblical Foundations for Debt Cancellation
Down through history, philosophers and religious thinkers came to similar conclusions on the issue of repressive debts and wealth distribution. For example, more than two and a half millennia after Hammurabi, Islamic scholars began to develop principles that sought to achieve relief for the poor and a sustainable wealth balance. 

Their teaching of “al riba” served this end. It is the doctrine that money is not allowed to earn income through interest. According to Islam, gain and profit were only to be achieved through labor and trading. If money is allowed to earn income, though producing or risking nothing, eventually it would lead to an imbalance of wealth distribution (a large class of poor people).

Originally, Mohammed’s forbidding of debt interest was more likely rooted in the idea that a fixed rate of interest was an affront to Allah, as only he could determine and underwrite the certainty of future income, not mankind. Later, Islam further intellectualized its view on “al riba.”

But, much earlier than Islam (only some 500 years after the era of Abraham and Hammurabi), during the time of the 40-year wilderness journey of the Hebrews, God gave Moses the commands of the Sabbath.

Later, after entering Canaan, the Hebrews were commanded to observe the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee Year. (We will explain these policies.) Moses codified the rules of debt forgiveness and the restoration of wealth distribution … these being much more advanced than the general haphazard concepts of debt forgiveness of the Akkadians, some 500 years earlier. 

These Hebrew ordinances proved to be most wonderful for a number of reasons. Both the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee were an effective means of ensuring that a permanent poverty class would not emerge, where a society of a few ultra-rich could enslave everyone for perpetuity.

Creation and Multiplying Money
Today, this tendency of “wealth begetting wealth” is viewed by economists as a “flaw” of capitalism. They observe that over time, the competitive economic arena leads to winners who  become very large or wealthy, and in turn have the ability to suppress new competitors. This is sometimes referred to as the “winner takes all” syndrome.

This could be problematic. As such, for example, the US government would intervene. It chose to break up companies that were thought to have become too large …i.e., AT&T and General Motors). 

The point we wish to emphasize here is that the natural laws of money, compound interest, and relative advantage (everything else being equal) contribute to the tendency that the wealthy get wealthier, and the poor, relatively poorer. Over time, these very trends lead to instability and eventual wealth destruction.

Just such a “late stage” situation exists in America and many other nations today. An extreme state of imbalance between the rich and poor is a worldwide phenomenon. An ever-smaller minority is becoming wealthier. Recent actions in the US political sphere have signaled just how advanced and repressive this condition has become. Everywhere one looks in the world, a cry is heard for “debt cancellation.”

The world groans for a Jubilee Year, when all debt would be settled. As Apostle Paul says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). Something else is needed to liberate the world, to free the economic captives.

Debt Forgiveness and the Prophetic Plan
Jesus Christ quoted Isaiah’s prophecy about Himself (Isaiah 61:1-2a) when He said: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Christ deliberately did not read the rest of Isaiah’s prophecy, which further states: “[…] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:2b-3a).

Why? Because these were things that would be completed at His Second Coming, signifying the arrival of the “year of the Lord’s favor.” While our Lord proclaimed “the year of the Lord’s favor” during His first coming, it was not to occur until His second. The Lord did not rescue the poor at His first coming, rather the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3 from the Beatitudes). The rescuing of all poor (Luke 6:20, Sermon on the Plain) will be fulfilled in the Millennium.

Prophetic Parallels to the Jubilee Year
Just what is meant by the Hebrew word for “jubilee”? It refers to the continuous blast of the silver trumpets as the Year of  Jubilee was ushered in by the priests. 

“[…] Have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land” (Leviticus 25:9).

Ezekiel informs us that the “year of liberty” (year of freedom) will again be observed in the Millennium. He describes a procedure that will apply to a prince during that time: “But if he gives a gift out of his inheritance to one of his servants, then it shall be his until the year of liberty [the Year of Jubilee]; after that it shall be returned to the prince; only his sons may keep a gift from his inheritance [permanently]” (Ezekiel 46:17, AMP).

While it is indeed prophetic that the Jubilee Year will again be reinstated, it is the prophetic parallels and symmetry of the 50th year of Jubilee to salvation and the Millennium that are the most inspiring.

To begin, the number 50 is the year that follows 7 weeks of 7. Therefore, the Jubilee year was the 8th Sabbath in a 50-year period. The number 8 in the Bible signifies a new beginning. The blasts of the Jubilee trumpets parallel or foreshadow the final trumpet of the Lord—both for the Church, this being the final calling in the “Sabbath Rest,” and the last judgments in the Tribulation period, these being followed by the Millennium reign of Christ.

The precious year of the Jubilee can also be seen as the prophetic parallel of the Millennial “Year of our Lord.” That year is the Jubilee Year of the Lord. All sins and debts will be forgiven, i.e., canceled. 
We see that financial debt in the physical dimension is the parallel of spiritual indebtedness to our Creator. Both must be paid back; both can be forgiven. There is only one difference: While mankind may be able to pay back debts on earth, he cannot pay back his sin debt. Only Jesus Christ can make this payment.

Thoughts to Ponder
God has created the world for His purposes and glory. He made it so the world could not function righteously without the concept of “cancellation.” It is not a coincidence that we commonly refer to the cancellation of debts as a “forgiveness” of debt. 

God has designed a plan for both heaven and earth. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the debt mankind owed to God that he could not pay… a transaction that would be extended to all those who would believe upon Him. Just as in the Jubilee Year of ancient times, this opportunity to cancel all debt (sin) is open to all.

How wonderful then is “cancellation”! How many households today would dance for joy at the cancellation of their mortgage? Consider that the word origin of “mortgage” literally means “death pledge” … a state of affairs that those in foreclosure proceedings will readily understand. However, it is the cancellation of our sin and reconciliation with Jesus Christ that brings the greatest joy for eternity.

We have been given this great promise: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrew 4:9-11).

The trumpets of Jubilee are ever nearer for the world!

Midnight Call - 12/2023

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