The tree of American economy is rooted in the toxic soil of unbridled materialism, a culture that extols greed, a false standard of values that puts short-term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character, integrity, and generosity.
— Jim Wallis (God’s Politics)
Samuel warned them.
These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. . . . And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. (2 Samuel 8:11-14, 18)
God didn’t want Israel to have any other king than Himself—but they wanted to be like the other nations. After Samuel gave his warning, the people cried out against him. They basically didn’t care what he had to say about the future—they were too preoccupied with the present.
God told Samuel to give the people what they wanted. He did. Now, centuries of history following that decision, the people have learned their lesson. They have seen what even their own kings could do to them. In mercy, God limited what the “princes” could do when it came to land appropriation.
. . .
It was simple, really:
- If an inheritance is granted to a son, the son will keep the land.
- If a gift is given to a servant, it will be his until the year of jubilee, when land reverts to its original owner.
- No one could be evicted from their own property by a prince (therefore, gifts of inheritance had to be given from the prince’s own land).
It makes perfect sense to us, but in a culture where the king has virtually unlimited authority; this was a major curtailing of his perceived rights.
. . .
The idea behind all of this is: whose land is it, anyway? Israel knew that Yahweh was the creator and owner of the land. He had given the land to Israel to tend as a homeland. But even though they were living on the land, and titles were given in the names of different tribes and families, the land was still ultimately God’s. Israel was tending God’s land for him.
That notion is quite foreign today. Especially in the Western world, ownership of land is almost a rite of passage. There is a rush of satisfaction that accompanies ownership.
(A brief aside: I was hiking the Alleghany National Forest in Pennsylvania when my wife and I received the keys to our first home. When I returned, she promptly informed me that I could never go camping when our first house was purchased ever again.)
We love to own things. Take television DVDs for example. Many of us feel a compelling need to own copies of shows that are broadcast for free! Why? I can understand a little when it comes to comedies—they have rewatchability (my spellchecker just informed me that I made that word up). Why by copies of dramas? You know how it ends!
I just think we would be better to cultivate that attitude that God instilled in Israel: God is the ultimate owner, and we are the tenants—of everything. Would we treat things differently?
. . .
Lord, thank you for blessing me with the ability to buy and own things. Keep me mindful of your ultimate claim on all of my possessions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.