Bible Studies
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Thursday, 18 August 2005

By Jim Jordal

Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.

The prophet Daniel's advice to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4:27 (NASB)

At their recent summit conference in Scotland, the wealthy, industrialized G-8 nations (United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, and Russia) promised $50 billion in aid to poor countries--most of them in Africa--by the year 2010, thus doubling present assistance. As another part of the package, debt forgiveness of up to $40 billion was promised to 18 nations (not the poorest, but those meeting the conditions prescribed for relief), 14 of which are in Africa. The world's leading nations also pledged $9 billion spread over 3 years to aid the Palestinian economy, hopefully leading to renewed peace talks, and discussed various strategies to lessen the impact of fossil fuel use on global warming.

Since the basic thrust of the summit involved African poverty and its disastrous effects, the commitment to increased economic aid and debt forgiveness is good news. The bad news is that it's not nearly enough. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had previously called for wealthy nations attending the summit to commit 0.7 percent of national income to world poverty relief by the year 2015. (In the case of the U. S. that would equal $70 billion from a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $10 trillion). While President Bush did agree to double U. S. aid to $8.6 billion by 2010, that increased amount still represents much less than is needed. The United States today contributes only 0.16 percent of our GDP, the smallest amount in percentage terms of any G-8 nation. By way of contrast, we're presently spending about $140 billion a year fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What fails to appear in reports on African aid and debt reduction is the number of strings and expectations attached to such programs. Seldom is debt simply unilaterally forgiven. Usually, governments benefitted by debt reduction are required to pledge increased governmental austerity, higher interest rates, tariff reductions, anti-corruption controls, privatization of industry and resource extraction, and other conditions designed to create a more export-oriented capitalistic economy. In many cases these often-draconian measures further increase poverty and human suffering among the poorest of the poor.

But the idea that poverty can become history is beginning to permeate Western thinking. The mental compartmentalization that allows us to separate our personal and national welfare from that of others is breaking down. We are reluctantly realizing that poverty is a moral issue ignored only at the loss of our own integrity and decency. And we now begin to visualize a world, not of total equality of income and living standards, but of enhanced opportunity and economic justice for all peoples.

With bombings and turmoil occurring almost daily, world attention is again drawn to protection against terrorism. But what we fail to realize is that we cannot effectively protect ourselves against terrorism so long as poverty, oppression, and injustice grip over half of the earth. Extremism breeds in conditions of privation and hopelessness, and we can never build enough walls or hire enough police to protect us against the outcome of such injustice. We're finally comprehending that it's in our own best interests to deal effectively with economic and political conditions that spawn unrest and terrorism in some of the poorest and most least-developed areas of the world.

It's interesting to consider that Daniel's advice to heathen king Nebuchadnezzar (quoted above) has a modern-day application. Daniel, who at that time was one of the Hebrew captives in Babylon, had come into favor as one having the gift of interpreting dreams. Nebuchadnezzar, who thought himself above all other mortals, called upon Daniel to interpret several troubling dreams. Daniel's response was that, in spite of the doom coming upon the king, there was a possibility of his reign being lengthened provided that he humble himself by doing righteousness and showing mercy to the poor.

The application for us today concerns God's displeasure with our Nebuchadnezzar-like arrogance, pride, and selfishness regarding God's expressed desire that we do righteousness and show mercy to the poor. If you remember, Nebuchadnezzar failed to heed Daniel's advice concerning his treatment of the poor. Because of his continued arrogance, God brought upon him the curse of insanity, and he was driven from human society into the wilds to eat grass like the beasts. When his period of humbling was concluded, God restored him to his kingdom, but with a great difference: The king now blessed and honored God as sovereign in the kingdoms of men.

As we see the United States today suffering the "insanity" of consumerism, affluence, destruction of the earth, pervasive greed, corruption and falsehood in government; and the seemingly unlimited power of rich and powerful persons and corporations to get whatever they wish, let's remember Nebuchadnezzar and what happened to him because of his arrogant refusal to recognize God's will in human affairs. God now demands that we humble ourselves before His word, and that we "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness as a mighty stream (Amos 5:24).

Ignoring the devastating economic plight of half the world's people is no longer a viable option for the West. We cannot sit idly by while 50,000 people a day die, most of them children in Africa, from nothing other than being poor. Our very humanity, as well as the clear directives of God, mandate that we act to end such conditions. The wealth is already there, but the will to act is only recently becoming evident.

Last Updated ( Friday, 18 November 2005 )