READ: Leviticus 25

THINK: Over the course of the last week and all of its patriotic 4th of July celebrations I happened to hear the song This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie and, while singing along because it’s a catchy tune, I began to think about this great and beautiful land of ours and about “The American Dream.” And I decided that The American Dream, at least in its current iteration, does not fit well with Woody’s words…or those of Leviticus 25. Ours is a society so focused on the accumulation of wealth and personal property that it borders on a national obsession. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and we are saturated to the core with the ethos of materialism. The old song, if remade today, would go something more like, “This land is my land, this land is my land, and I want more land, I want a private island…”

The reality of our world is that you cannot turn on a television set, read a newspaper, surf the internet, or check your mailbox in the United States without being bombarded by messages promising to help you accumulate wealth and property or to help you save for retirement – which is itself a concept less than a century old in practice…but we should want to accumulate so much stuff for ourselves that we can quit working as soon as possible because work isn’t something God created us for, right? And, for what it’s worth, you can even take classes where you’ll learn how to think, get, and remain rich at any number of American evangelical churches. Let that sink in for a minute…through the lens of what you just read in Leviticus.

The word Jubilee literally means trumpet-blast or rams-horn-blast, a reference to the sound which was to mark every 50th year, consecrated as special unto God. And there are some huge, if challenging, things in this chapter that I think we need to hear. First, it all belongs to God. Every single bit of everything. God built this cycle into Israelite life and practice so that they would be constantly aware and regularly reminded that what they had was a gracious gift from him. That none of it was owned but rather all of it was leased from the Creator and the Owner of all things. The question for us is: do we treat our stuff that way? And feel free to dispense with the Sunday School answer that all of us – myself included and highly guilty on this charge – give of, “Oh, yes. It all belongs to God, and I’m thankful for his blessings.” It’s one thing to say it. It’s another to actually believe it and to live like it’s his and not ours.

I don’t think most of us really do that because deep down we believe that we have earned that which we have actually been given. We’re enculturated to think that we deserve the material wealth we have and that our ingenuity, ambition, and work ethic have somehow merited it. I was recently confronted with just how mythological that idea is while visiting Haiti. As we drove by people who were suffering the deepest poverty in the Western Hemisphere one of the members of our team said, “What strikes me is that the single biggest difference between me and them – the thing that separates us – is simply where I was born.” This isn’t to say that hard work and effort aren’t important. They are. But not because they get us tons of money. They’re important because they’re a part of how God made us and who he made us to be and what he made us to do! But the cold, hard facts are these: we are all sinners who have rejected God and the only thing we have earned that we deserve to receive, no matter what our best efforts in this life, is death and eternal separation.

The second major theme of this chapter, very simply, is God’s deep concern for the poor and the disenfranchised. God literally sets up a system where generational poverty cycles are an impossibility. In the Ancient Near Eastern world land was the primary and most important source of wealth. And God ensured that nobody could ever be trapped in a cycle where land ownership became an impossible dream. Where generation after generation had no hope of escaping economic powerlessness and destitution. And this system also made it impossible to amass or accumulate great wealth. The generational accumulation massive amounts of property is precluded when that property must be turned over every half-century.

God wanted to make sure that everybody had enough. Always. In his love, because of his love, God provided for all of his people. And he made is clear that they were not to take advantage of one another or to profit off of one another’s misfortunes in times of desperation and need. Instead, they were to treat one another as God had treated them – with deep compassion, grace, love, and self-sacrifice. Is that the way we treat the poor around us today? Is that the way we treat those in need in our own communities and across the globe? Do we use what we have been graciously given to ensure that everybody always has enough? And if we have more than enough and there are others that don’t have enough, what does Leviticus 25 have to say to us?

The sad historical reality of the Year of Jubilee is that the nation of Israel never practiced it. Not once. Sometimes guys like the Pharisees did weird stuff to abide by the letter of law while finding loopholes around embracing the spirit of it, but the nation never actually instituted Jubilee. Instead, Israel was gripped with materialism and in the end it cost them everything. Literally. Their blessing was the land and they were forcibly removed from it. It makes me wonder what fate awaits our nation. We just celebrated our 237th birthday. How many more birthdays will God give us if we continue to treat him with contempt and continue to believe that all he’s blessed us with is ours – not his – and we deserve it and we should accumulate more and more and more of it? History – i.e. The Old Testament – indicates that God views that attitude none to kindly.

In Luke 4, when Jesus kicked off his earthly ministry, he quoted from Isaiah and said that he came “to proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor” – the Jubilee for all people. Jesus came to make things and people right. Is that what we are all about…or are we all about The American Dream?

PRAY: Confess your materialism to God. Thank God for the incredible blessings he has given you! Acknowledge that all you have is from him, and ask him how he wants you to use it to be a blessing to others, to make things and people right.

5 responses »

  1. Kelsey says:

    This is challenging, and I seriously do need to spend a lot of time thinking on this issue of money- and reassessing over and over again. However, I struggle with a few of your implications.

    I can’t seem to think that just because retirement is a “new” thing, it is evil. Once upon a time you and your kids all lived together, forever, until you were old and gray and then they took care of you. No longer the case. Once upon a time your education was learned from watching your mom or dad do what they do, no longer the case. Now an education cost dollars beyond counting. Should we not be storing up for the sake of the generations behind us, our children, so that we don’t leave them with a burden of debt, but rather the freedom to have and give and use money wisely. The freedom to give generously and save smartly? Is giving everything away right now the only way to live generously? Of course I believe strongly we should always give generously, no matter how much or little we have.

    I love your heart in this and ask these questions in all seriousness. I so respect you following the call God has laid on your heart as it comes to money, but struggle to know if that’s the call for all of us…

    • maddogs83 says:

      I agree that it’s challenging, especially within our cultural context and the realities of 21st century America. But here are a few answers and a few more challenges.

      Re: retirement. I don’t think that the concept of stopping work once you are no longer able to do it is evil by any stretch of the imagination. Not in the least. Or transitioning to a different working role (care of grandchildren being one example or expanding a volunteer ministry role another). But here’s the question: is that the big idea of retirement for most Americans? Is that the point? Or is our understanding and practice of the concept largely (or entirely) self-centered? In essence, “I want to get enough money to quit working so I that I can dedicate the later part of my life to the pursuit of personal happiness.” For many it may be the former. God bless them. And just cause they don’t live with their kids doesn’t mean that their families (and their church communities) shouldn’t take care of their needs when they can no longer work. The idea that they should is all over the Bible, including Leviticus. But if the idea is to stop contributing and live for me – which we all know IS the idea for countless many in our culture – then that’s evil. Nothing less. It’s a waste of the gift of life and breath and purpose that God has given you. That may be hard to swallow, but it doesn’t make it untrue. You got air running through your nostrils and a heartbeat and you know Jesus…then you better DO something. You better give your life if you wanna find it.

      Re: should we not be storing up for future generations…? This is tough, particularly in an affluent culture. But here’s my take: I think we REALLY want the answer to this one to be “yes, we should” because deep down in places we don’t talk about at church we really believe that our future is made secure by our wealth and not by our God. Our sense of security is wrapped up in our money and not in his sovereignty. We say the Lord’s Prayer proudly, but we have no intention (my confession is that I don’t anyways) of trusting him for DAILY bread. No sir. That’s not secure enough for us, because God might not come through. He might fail us. So we’ll line up our own ducks in a row – thanks very much – and ensure not only our DECADELY bread but that of our children as well. No God needed. And should it happen that God comes back or that we don’t have kids or that some other thing occurs so that the wealth accumulated for “future generations” is not needed, well, that really sucks for all the needs that went unmet (all the starving and underserved and undereducated and malnourished and disease-ridden and impoverished and orphaned and widowed folks who went without help) because we were being so “responsible.” James 1:27 paints a different picture of our responsibility as Christ followers.

      Re: Is giving everything away immediately the only way to live generously? NO! Not at all. And I think it’s important here to say that there is no guilt in having an abundance of stuff and being affluent. If that’s how this reading came across, I owe everyone an apology! It’s a blessing so thank God for it! And it isn’t about giving everything away right away always. That is certainly one incredible way to live generously. But I think God’s call is to acknowledge that it’s all HIS and not ours and so to treat it like he can do what he wants with it (instead of like we get to make that call.) This means ALWAYS being willing to give whenever he tugs at our hearts and give however much he tugs at our hearts for. If our hands aren’t completely open with all of it (and I mean SO COMPLETELY OPEN that we’re willing to give until it hurts and it’s terrifying and we actually have to start trusting for that daily bread) when God asks for it, then we don’t truly understand whose it is. We don’t truly understand how we came to posses it. We still hold, somewhere, the belief that we earned or merited what God has chosen to give. We are rich toward ourselves, but if we’re not willing – at any moment when he calls – to give it all to God then we are not rich toward God. Jesus had some thoughts on that. And they are exceedingly uncomfortable to read, at least for me. (Luke 12:13-21). The problem isn’t being rich. The problem is who we are rich toward, who we are rich for. The problem isn’t enjoying the blessings God has given us and enjoying them to the fullest. The problem is hoarding them in a manner that causes us to avoid sharing those blessings with others in a way that points them toward God.

      In the end, God is concerned with our hearts. How do we view our wealth and how do we view him? Which one do we really trust? And are we willing to let HIM define what “giving generously” means, or would we rather make that determination on our own?

      • Kelsey says:

        Totally agree with what your saying about retirement….as long as we have breath we should be working for the kingdom!

        And yes, the ‘what if’ question makes me wonder…. But I suppose I still feel called to care for my future generations by saving up- although I want to always be giving to the poor and widowed and orphaned…. Just knowing that as my money accumulates and collects interest I will be able to give even more later because I’ve been saving it now. However, I need to be so so careful to keep that open hand policy always! Which is why things like a budget are helpful- learning to live on less than what we make, so that I can be disciplined with money.

        Thanks for keeping the conversation going! I’m praying this morning that God would reveal any closed hand areas of my heart! It’s so easy to depend on money rather than on God- and I don’t want to do that!

  2. dbhoward6@aol.com says:

    Very convicting as always. I especially appreciated your point that we work hard, not to accumulate, but by God’s design and for his glory. Also, your connection to our society…..and in light of the sermon we heard last week on ecllesiastes…..all that stuff meant nothing!

  3. Cari says:

    Thankful for your wisdom. Confessing, praying, seeking in response.

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