The curious economic innovations of Deuteronomy

Articulated below, with reference text. Based on the list Walter Brueggemann gives on p.23 of Hope Within History.

A year of release which would seem to undermine all conventional economies.

“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance— only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.

“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ (Deut. 15:1-11)

A prophetic word instead of religious technique

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’

“And the Lord said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut. 18:9-22)

A king, but one who merely reads the torah

“When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.

“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:14-20)

Cities of refuge to curb unauthorized violence

“When the Lord your God has cut off the nations whose land the Lord your God is giving you, and you dispossess them and dwell in their cities and in their houses, you shall separate three cities for yourself in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess. You shall prepare roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, that any manslayer may flee there.

“And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past— as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he shall flee to one of these cities and live; lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past. Therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall separate three cities for yourself.’

“Now if the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you the land which He promised to give to your fathers, and if you keep all these commandments and do them, which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and to walk always in His ways, then you shall add three more cities for yourself besides these three, lest innocent blood be shed in the midst of your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and thus guilt of bloodshed be upon you. (Deut. 19:1-10)

Collateral for loans returned to the poor at night

“When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God. (Deut. 24:10-13)

Hospitality for runaway slaves

“You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him. (Deut. 23:15-16)

Payments of wages to the poor on the day earned, to prevent exploitative use of the money belonging to another

“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you. (Deut. 24:14-15)

The barren one will have children

Below, I’ve simply taken a passage from some excellent commentary on Isaiah 54 by Walter Bruegemann and added in the scripture references. A few additional comments are at the bottom.

Genesis 11:29-30

Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai… but Sarai was barren; she had no child.

Genesis 25:20-21

Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren.

Genesis 29:30-31

Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years. When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.

1 Samuel 1:1-2

Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

Hebrews 11:11-12

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

Isaiah 54:1-3

Sing, O barren,
You who have not borne!
Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
You who have not labored with child!
For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
Do not spare;
Lengthen your cords,
And strengthen your stakes.
For you shall expand to the right and to the left,
And your descendants will inherit the nations,
And make the desolate cities inhabited.

The barren one will have children. The barren one is Sarah (Gen. 11:30), Rebekah (Gen.25:21), Rachel (Gen. 29:30), and Hannah (1 Sam. 1:2). ours is a community of barren women and unproductive men (Hebrews 11:12) with no possibility of creating a future of their own. The barren one in this poem is exiled Israel as well as the church whenever it reaches the end of its resources, which is often and soon and surely now.

-Walter Brueggemann, Hope Within History, p.94

We often lament that the church is barren – unable to reproduce faith in our own children who are leaving the fold, entranced by the world and uninterested in being a disciple of Jesus. Now, whether this is actually the case is not so clear-cut, but I will save that for others to discuss for now. The point is, when the church is at the end of it’s resources, when it is barren, then we are in good company.

The patriarchs were as good as dead and their wives fruitless wombs. And yet they were given an incredible multitude of children, by the power of God. If we look for renewal within the church, we must look for it in the person of the Holy Spirit, not in our own cleverness or technique or pedagogy or persuasiveness or savvy mobilization of talent.


On Love taking shape

In an essay titled ‘Love and Need: Is Love a Package or a Message?’, Thomas Merton has the following to say:

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. And if this love is unreal, the secret will not be found, the meaning will never reveal itself, the message will never be decoded. At best, we will receive a scrambled and partial message, one that will deceive and confuse us. We will never be fully real until we let ourselves ‘fall’ in love – either with another human person or with God.

Hence, our attitude toward life is also going to be in one way or another an attitude toward love. Our conception of ourselves is bound to be profoundly affected by our conceptions – and our experience – of love. And our love, or our lack of it, our willingness to risk it or our determination to avoid it, will in the end be an expression of ourselves: of who we think we are, of what we want to be, of what we think we are here for. (Love and Living, p.28)

Who we are, what we want to be, what we think we are here for – those things will determine the shape of our love. Who we think God is, who we think we are – these things drive it. And it can take many different shapes. The reverse is true – our idea of loves changes to match our own context. When we hear a love song, we automatically see if we can make it about ourselves. If not, then it can be heard only at a distance.

One of the albums I listen to in the car on occasion is the self-titled 2000 release from Nickel Creek. I was thinking about the beautiful piece “Out of the Woods” and how excellent a love song it is. My oldest daughter likes it too. She was asking me a couple days ago why it’s a good song. It seems that much of the very best song-writing produces something both meaningful enough to be full of power/content, and vague enough to be highly personalized and (through a quick stretch of the imagination) internalized. It’s one reason why many of U2’s songs are so good. Are they about God or about a girl? The answer is sometimes one, sometimes the other, and often the artist himself cannot say where the cut-over is, or if there even is one.

Walker Percy, in his treatise on language (a good summary here), says:

The poet, has a double-edged task: His metaphors must ring true, but they must be flexible enough to reverberate with his audience and for them to gain a new understanding of the things to which they refer. The poet must refer to things we already know, but he must do so in new ways; in this, he gives his audience access to their own private experiences.

So why is Out of the Woods (originally written by Irish singer Sinead Lohan), so good?

I wish you out of the woods
And into the picture with me.
I wish you over the moon,
Come out of the question and be.

If this going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming.
Run round in my head

I rollercoaster for you.
Time out of mind
Must be heavenly.
It’s all enchanted and wild,
It’s just like my heart said
It was going to be.

If this going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming.
Run round in my head

I wish you out of the woods, and into the picture with me…

I know it’s dangerous (or even silly) to hold this sort of thing up to analysis, but I’ll briefly give it a shot in defense of my assertion that this is an especially good song.

It works for a young person (a teenager), hoping that the person they love notices them. It works for the young person, in a relationship with someone, but wondering about the future – wishing for commitment and stability. It also works for a couple long married – with one wishing the other out of their stress and trial and maybe disillusionment. The second verse can be about the current excitement of youthful infatuation, or the distant memory of it. What is running round your head? The joy of possibility? Or confusion and uncertainty? It can go many directions, and it DOES, depending on the context of the person listening to it.

The arrangement of the music (it was produced by Alison Krauss) is also especially good. Why not take a listen?