Religious piety is bankrupt without justice.
— Richard Foster (The Challenge of the Disciplined Life)
Nothing’s more frustrating than sitting down in front of some mindless TV drama with a fresh bag of chips, only to open the bag and find it half full. I know they sell it by weight, not volume—that doesn’t matter. What matters is I expect a full bag and get half what I thought I paid for. The latest scam is 100 calorie chocolate bars. Anyone with half a brain knows they’ve just figured out a way to sell less chocolate for more money while making the dumb consumers feel healthy in the process.
Okay, my rant’s over.
Just imagine if that deceptive principle was in place in every area of commerce. Imagine if it was actually deceptive instead of just low-handed.
In the three sections of today’s passage from Ezekiel, God deals with princes. In vv. 8b-9, he demands that they be honest in their real-estate dealings. In vv. 10-12, the princes are charged to make sure their weights and scales are legitimate. Finally, in vv. 13-17, the tax rate on grain, oil, and sheep are set. In the future that God showed Ezekiel dishonesty would still be a temptation, so God set his standards in place from the start.
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In Israel’s history, the rulers would often exercise their right to take a commoner’s land. There’s a good example of this in 1 Kings 21, where King Ahab & Jazebel seized Naboth’s land.
God underlines his determination to deal with this by calling the people his own. Lest the ruler be tempted to think the people belonged to him, God reminded him that the people belonged to God and should be treated with respect.
When it came to weights and balances, it was very easy to deceive the poor. Today, there is no question how much liquid is in a litre (or quart). We know 100 centimetres make a metre, and 12 inches make a foot. In Ezekiel’s day though, standards were hard to come by. It was all too easy to put a false bottom in a clay measuring pot, or juice the weights in your favour.
The question of grain, oil, and sheep taxation is very similar to what the moneychangers were exploiting in the Temple, when Jesus showed up with a whip.
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I guess the question for us is, are we fair in our financial dealings. I don’t mean just legally fair, either. Are we Sermon-on-the-Mount-style ethically impeccable? I’ve seen otherwise good and generous Christians go crazy when it came to finalizing a car or a house deal! If we take Jesus seriously, we need to have the welfare of others in mind when we make deals. Isn’t it better to pay a fair price, then to leverage an under-pressure seller?
Whether buying or selling, the charter of the Kingdom of God demands that we strive to be just like the King himself.
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King of Israel, remind me throughout my day-to-day life to stand for justice. In Jesus’ name, Amen.