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Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Friday, 30 November 2007


By Jim Jordal

The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me….If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it, then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession. But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession.

Leviticus 25:23-28 (NKJV)

Last week we discussed the recent book by libertarian researcher and writer Charles Murray in which he proposes a Guaranteed Annual Income of $10,000 to every American citizen over the age of 21 and not in jail. What Murray proposes is actually quite close to what the Hebrew Year of Jubilee proposed some 3,000 years ago.

Jubilee and its requirements signified nothing less than God's provision for the deliverance of Israel from hunger, poverty, ecological despoliation, landlessness (lack of access to productive resources), debt, usury, homelessness, and slavery, including that of waged workers. As the Bible passage above indicates, the land belonged to God, and could therefore not be permanently sold. Since most Hebrews of that time were farmers or herders, land was the essential productive resource; without it, a family would likely be doomed to debt, poverty, indentured servanthood, and possibly other forms of social and economic oppression.

Because possession of productive land was necessary for family and even national security, God mandated a law of redemption under which either the debtor or a relative could redeem land sold for debt. And even if the now-landless debtor or his relatives could not redeem the land, it still returned to his possession at the 50th Year of Jubilee. Thus permanent estrangement from productive resources was prevented in Israel. Every family had access to enough of the God-given productive resources to earn sustenance for themselves and to avoid any permanent state of poverty or destitution.

Today, modern urban society would have great difficulty implementing such a proposal. But there is a viable alternative--the Guaranteed Annual Income. In this manner all Americans could share fairly, but not necessarily equally, in the nation's wealth. There would still be differential rewards for innovation, risk-taking, and diligence; but the entire economic pie would not go to people with sufficient power to claim it. Everyone would have at least an equitable share sufficient to ensure a decent living standard and opportunity to gain further wealth should they so choose.

Jubilee laws relating to redemption dealt mainly with land, since back then land was the major productive resource. But today we must ask other questions: What of minerals and substances lying under the land? What of water flowing through the land? Who owns these things? Who gets to develop these resources? What rewards accrue to owners or developers?

It seems obvious that if the land belongs to God, then so does the planet and all its resources--air, water, minerals, and even the now-coveted oil and natural gas. If the principle of the land being distributed fairly to the people so they can earn their sustenance is just; then so should justice today require that the blessings of nature be distributed and used for the benefit of all people.

But now we run head on into the entrenched capitalistic view that private property belongs exclusively to those who own it, and that resources become the property of those discovering and developing them. This view is in direct contradiction to what God ordained at Jubilee. But how could a modern industrial society with a complicated economic structure ever accomplish any useful redistribution of private property and natural resources?

Perhaps it can't be done through widely disseminated personal ownership, but it can be done through taxation of those allowed to own and able to develop resources, and a distribution of the resulting public funds in the form of a national dividend payable to all citizens. So the principle holds true, although the strategies for implementation may change. That's one of the beauties of God's law, if we only could drop our traditions and rigidities long enough to see it.

Last Updated ( Friday, 30 November 2007 )