Thursday, 9 August 2012

Awl for one

See what I did there?  It's a funny Old Testament word.  I actually heard a pretty good sermon on awls once, so good I completely forgave the preacher for it having zero to do with the context of Deuteronomy.

Actually, now I mention it, this post isn't about awls specifically, not at all, to be honest.  But hey, got your attention!

I'm reading through Chris Wright's commentary on Deuteronomy.  Not my normal Thursday night shenanigans, it's mainly due to an essay deadline coming up.  But man alive, is Deuteronomy more fun than I expected it to be!

Basically, God has made his covenant with the people, and they have to decide if they want to sign up to the Ts & Cs.  And it's not all cloven hooved abominations and genocide - they feature, but the great Ulsterman of the Langham Trust (Wright) suggests there are bigger, more relevant things to focus on.

Israel has to decide what kind of community it wants to be, and what values define them.

Just like we have to decide what kind of society we want to be, as we readjust to the new economic realities of spending less money (individually as well as a country).

When we claim we can no longer afford to protect employees, and care properly for the poor and the sick, then what we are really saying is that we don't believe in the God of Deuteronomy who promises prosperity and long life in the land to those who follow his command to act justly and mercifully.

Deuteronomy has lots of great advice that I'd love our politicians to read ...

1.  God's ways work best.  Just because we read them in a very old book, like Deuteronomy, that doesn't make them irrelevant.  And God says we are to have no other gods before him, or (just as bad) alongside him.  So, we have to consciously choose NOT to worship 'The Market'.  We are not blessed by, provided for, protected by or created for 'The Market'. 

2.  Slash-and-burn is a bad policy.  Agriculture, business, everything has to be done sustainably.  We should let things lie fallow sometimes.  It's not necessary to squeeze every last bit out of our resources.  It'll still be there on Monday.

3.  There should be provision for the regular cancelling of debts.  If you're stupid enough to talk someone on a low income into an unnecessary loan, then you should accept that one day the debt may have to be written off.  People in debt should get regular breathing spaces. For set periods of time, red letters should stop coming in, interest should be capped, and the debt-stricken should be allowed to remember what life is like free of debt.

4.  The nation's resources should be equitably distributed, so everyone has a home, food and family life.  Not everybody can work, and not all work grows the financial budget.  But value does not lie in economic contribution.  All sorts of people are valuable in all sorts of ways, and we have to organize things so we can provide for them all.

5.  God guarantees that looking after the poor will not adversely affect a nation's economy.  To avoid huge national debts in the billions and trillions, look after your poor.  Don't turn on them after you've gotten the country into a huge mess. 

6.  We're one big community.  'The' poor, we say in English.  In Hebrew, it's 'our' poor, 'our' widows, orphans and immigrants.  We're responsible for them.  People in God's covenant are not to be out for themselves.

7.  Hard work where someone feels like they 'belong' to an employer should be strictly time-limited and followed by a chance for rest.  Hard work is good, and sometimes long, exhausting days are part of the job.  But that's no way for anyone to live long term.  It's crazy for some to be stressed at having too much to do, when so many are depressed at having no employment.

8.  Social justice isn't an optional extra for fuzzy liberals.  It's legislated on in God's law.  Provision must be made for the most vulnerable in society, in a corporate, organized way.

9.  It's OK to shut up shop for a day.  The world won't end.  If people need it, they know where we are (or if we're at the beach, they can find us tomorrow).

10.  At festival times, everyone should eat and drink and be merry and have their fill.  Nobody should be miserable or left out on their birthday, or at Christmas, or any other big community event.  Scraping by is not a human(e) way to live.  We all need a good party once in a while.

If Israel follows the covenant Ts & Cs, then there should be no poor.  Sounds like something our elected representatives ought to read and take inspiration from!

Budgets are moral documents, as Jim Wallis says, and we have to decide what kind of society we want to be.  Things are tough for us all, but it is never the time to cut services needed by the most vulnerable in society. 

I've taken these 10 points from Deuteronomy 15 and 16, with the help of Chris Wright's excellent commentary.  Bet you can find more!


  1. Great stuff - how about a compare and contrast between the economics of Deuteronomy and of the early church in Acts?

    1. Great idea! And is Deuteronomy an idealistist or utopian plan, or descriptive of how how Israel actually acted at any point in its history? Some scholars say the very reason the church in Jerusalem waned and Antioch became the new centre was because Jerusalem Christians had bankrupted themselves by giving their belongings away!