Blogging the Bible 33 – Leviticus 24-27 – God’s ‘reset’ button on inequality

I have a straightforward approach to high-tech stuff that’s not working – press ‘reset’ or ‘restart’. On a laptop or a wireless router, it just starts it again with all the electronic clutter that’s built up erased, and it’s amazing how often this will sort out a problem. For more drastic situations there’s ‘factory reset’. I did this on my phone a few months ago when (after about 18 months) the clutter of data and apps which I had installed and often uninstalled again had built up so much that the battery was just about lasting until lunchtime, and anything more than sending a text felt like it was taking almost that long to complete.

Pressing ‘factory reset’ wasn’t painless – it took a while to set up the phone as I had it and liked it again. But it works much better, and I’ve got enough memory space clear for it to do its job. I could put back the things I wanted, and leave the rest properly deleted.

Of these chapters, one stands out to me – chapter 25. It’s the chapter about the year of Jubilee – a ‘reset’ button for Israel’s economy. Every 50 years, all land is to go back to its original owner’s family. All who have had to enter slavery to keep themselves alive or solvent are to be freed. In fact, the sale of land or of oneself as a slave is only ever to be a last resort, when even the family can’t help. But these things can’t be sold permanently, and their sale value is only really for a ‘lease’ until the next Jubilee year. It goes with other laws about caring for the poor without making a profit out of them, about care for the land and so on.

After all the stuff about sacrifices, cleanliness and so on, it feels even more radical than it would otherwise do. In a society living under God’s Law, it is not good for some to prosper at the expense of others, at least not in the spiralling cycle of debt, poverty and bonuses that we’ve seen over recent decades in our society.

As I’ve said in the last couple of posts, I don’t think that we can take any part of God’s Law in the Old Testament and assume that it applies exactly as written today. (Though I haven’t noticed many of those who are keenest to quote the verse on sexuality being quite so adamant about this whole chapter, and it’s not a ‘ritual’ law as far as I can see…) But, again as I’ve said before, it’s still clearly showing us an expression of God’s will. The rich should not prosper at the expense of the poor. Even more so, the children of the rich should not benefit from their parents’ success in business if others have suffered poverty to make it possible.

The spiral of increasing inequality needs a ‘reset’ button of some sort to stop its acceleration.

I don’t think for a moment that our society could survive even one year of Jubilee, let alone two a century. But there must be some other way, which others wiser in economics than I can see, to recognise the fact that God says that unbridled inequality is wrong. I remember how this text inspired the ‘Drop the Debt’ campaign in 1999-2000, which achieved a lot – though less than we hoped.

I don’t know whether this was ever anything more than an ideal. I’ll be looking out for it, but I don’t remember ever reading of a Jubilee year ever being carried out through the rest of the Bible, and I can’t find one. Please let me know if you know of one!

Yet ideals are there for a reason – and I can’t help thinking it would be good if more of our energy was diverted from arguing about Leviticus 20:13 to working out how we can do more about putting into practice something of the spirit of Leviticus 25:8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17….53, 54 and 55.

God seems to think it’s important.

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