taking the words of Jesus seriously

EDITOR’S NOTE: This excerpt is from Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give, by Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt, and Brian Fikkert. Used by permission from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2018.

The prophet Micah looked forward to the great day of the Lord, when Yahweh will judge the nations and God’s people will melt down their swords and spears and turn them into gardening tools. He also prophesied that in that day everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and “no one will make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4). Micah saw that when God’s kingdom is fully established, each person will have an economic stake, an economic place to stand, an economic portion to steward.

This won’t be some scrappy subsistence garden used for survival; vineyards and fig trees will be used to create wine and delicious food that can be sold or shared or used for celebrations. The result of everyone having such equity in the community will be nothing short of revolutionary: no one will make them afraid. Micah grasped deep in his bones that the King’s peace will be not only an end to violence but also the establishment of an equitable community in which every person has access to the factors of production, the stuff that makes stuff in the economy.

Micah’s prophetic vision wasn’t some sort of left-wing innovation. His end-time vision of everybody having access to ownership in the community has roots that run all the way back to Mount Sinai. And to understand Sinai, we have to go back even further, back to the “house of slavery.”

Out of the House of Slavery

It’s easy for us to forget that Israel was enslaved to the economic superpower of its day. Since Pharaoh believed he was god, he also believed he owned everything. His hierarchical political economy combined with Egypt’s incredible natural resources created unprecedented wealth. This wealth, though, went mostly to the very rich and was created on the backs of Israelite slaves. The god of Egypt required the sweat of the Israelites’ brows and the blood of their children.

The early chapters of Exodus give us a picture of a contest between this would-be god, Pharaoh, and Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Exod. 3:6). Up through the plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea, this contest was pretty straightforward: Yahweh heard the cries of his people groaning under Pharaoh and responded by rescuing them in might and power and glory. Yahweh lifted up the good guys and zapped the bad guys. What could be simpler?

Once Israel left Egypt and entered the wilderness, though, Yahweh battled not so much with the king of Egypt on his throne as with the Egyptian way of being enshrined in his peoples’ hearts. Apparently, even slaves got occasional access to the “pots of meat” created by Pharaoh’s empire (Exod. 16:3). So while it’s likely that the Israelites only ever enjoyed the meager scraps from the Egyptian economic table, almost as soon as God got them out of Egypt, they wanted to go back!

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exod. 14:11)

The Israelites said . . . “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.” (Exod. 16:3)

They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exod. 17:3)

As the old saying goes, “It only took a day to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel.” Even after their bodies were liberated from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites’ economic imaginations carried “Egypt’s disease.”

The Wilderness School of Economics

Yahweh responded to his people’s sickness by welcoming them into his Wilderness School of Economics. In this school, manna was Econ 101. In response to Israel’s longing for the flesh pots of Egypt, the Lord rained down bread from heaven so that the community would “know that the Lord [had] brought [them] out of the land of Egypt” and to test whether the Israelites would obey his commandments (Exod. 16:4–6 NET).

Yahweh’s manna lecture worked on two levels: first, they would know that the Lord brought them out of Egypt. In other words, their experience with manna would tell them something important about the heart of their God: Yahweh was a God who rescued his people from slavery and welcomed them into the promised land. But second, they would also learn that they had been brought out of the land of Egypt. Manna shaped not only Israel’s view of God but also their view of the world. Manna taught

Israel that they were in new territory now. Egyptian rules didn’t apply on Yahweh’s turf.

Yahweh instructed the Israelites to gather only enough bread for their daily needs Sunday through Thursday. On Friday, the sixth day, they got to collect enough for both Friday and the Saturday Sabbath day of rest. Of course, some Israelites broke both rules. When they tried to store up manna overnight during the week, the manna was full of maggots in the morning, and the Israelites who went out on the Sabbath found none to collect. Wilderness School of Economics Lesson #1: God’s economic gifts rot when hoarded, and workaholism gets you nowhere.

Each morning, the Israelites went out and worked for their daily bread. Some gathered more, some less. But when it got to quitting time and they tallied up their take for the day, “the one who gathered much had nothing left over, and the one who gathered little lacked nothing” (Exod. 16:18 NET). Wilderness School of Economics Lesson #2: When God gives, he provides enough for everybody. In Egypt, there was economic excess—pots of meat and bread in full (see v. 3)—because Pharaoh took control, grabbed up all the land, and squeezed every cent out of his slave labor. In the wilderness, Yahweh’s abundance came in the form of daily bread equally available to all and absolutely impossible to hoard. “This surely is bread from an economy Israel did not know or understand, bread given and not planned, received and not coerced, bread on someone else’s terms.”

These wilderness economy lessons challenged every assumption Israel held about economic security. But because Pharaoh, the chief economist of Egypt, claimed to be god, Exodus economics isn’t just “A Tale of Two Economies.” It’s “A Tale of Two Gods.” Experiencing God’s manna economy gave the Israelites a glimpse of the character of the Lord of heaven and earth, reminded them they were no longer in Egypt, and invited them to embrace a new economic kingdom (see vv. 4–6).

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