These surprising ordinances would utterly remake the world for the better.
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“The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” the apostle Paul said in I Timothy 6:10 (NKJV). This is fact. But equally true in our times is the common saying that “money makes the world go round.”
Having a healthy, vibrant economy is key to success across the globe. Yet, no matter how hard humanity tries, widespread prosperity remains far from reach.
The economy is often described as complicated. But it is also something else: clearly broken. Today’s inequality includes a vast wealth gap that is difficult to comprehend. According to the United Nations: “In 2018, the 26 richest people in the world held as much wealth as half of the global population (the 3.8 billion poorest people), down from 43 people the year before.”
The world’s wealthiest individuals are worth $100-plus billion. According to one estimate, one of the world’s richest men makes about $468 million per day, which accounts for an astonishing $5,422 per second.
On the other end of the economic spectrum is this: Over half of the world lives on less than $5.50 per day, the World Bank estimates.
The economy—which Investopedia defines as “all of the activities related to the production, consumption, and trade of goods and services in an entity”—is a crucial indicator of how well individuals and nations are faring. This is why the current financial climate is often a major driver of political elections. Woe to the incumbent who is campaigning during lean times.
Economists bring no lasting solutions. Trends go up and down and up and down. Changing interest rates, printing more money and changing tax rates are three levers governments pull to even things out—but each has hefty downsides.
Yet there are specific laws that could actually fix the global economy—and they are found in the Old Testament. To modern ears, they could seem overly optimistic, even radical. They would be laughed out of the U.S. Congress. The UK Parliament would not give them the time of day. They would not be welcome in the Kremlin, the Reichstag or the Great Hall of the People in China.
Even so, these are laws God enacted for ancient Israel. If they were implemented the world over, they would change everything. Inequality would cease. Hard work would be rewarded. The rich would not just get richer, and the poor would not only get poorer.
When learning about these laws, realize they show God’s mind on economics. As you read, you can imagine what He thinks of what is occurring around the world today.
1. Years of Release
We start with perhaps the most revolutionary economic principle in the Bible. Every seven years in ancient Israel, all debts were forgiven.
Read the statute in Deuteronomy 15: “At the end of every seven years you shall make a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor that lends ought [anything] unto his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’ s release” (vs. 1-2).
God calls this His “release.” He emphasized this law’s crucial importance by stating that it belongs to Him.
The total world debt is a staggering $305 trillion. Imagine all worldwide debt disappearing in an instant. It would cause a hard reset of all economies. Currently, the U.S. has over $31 trillion in national debt. Of this, over $24 trillion is external debt, meaning money owed to foreign creditors. The UK has $8.73 trillion in external debt, France has $7.04 trillion and Germany $6.46 trillion.
Think also of the $1.75 trillion that Americans hold in student loan debt and over $88 billion in medical debt. That burden would be instantly erased!
Such a policy makes no sense in today’s world. Implementing it would require remaking the global economy—especially during the first round of debt relief.
This first Old Testament policy is one of forgiveness. Rather than allowing individuals and nations to dig deep financial holes, they would be given merciful relief every seven years—a clean slate to build something better.
In addition to the seven-year release, there was an even bigger reset that occurred every 50 years: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you” (Lev. 25:10).
At that time, any land purchased during the previous five decades was returned to the original owners. Also, anyone who fell on hard times and sold themselves as bondservants were freed from their charge. Both practices had an expiration date of the Jubilee Year.
Today, these automatic economic pressure release valves would tamp down on the ever-expanding chasm between rich and poor. Notice that this system allows industrious individuals to purchase land to expand their harvests—they were allowed to make money and be successful—yet it was not an ever-increasing amount of wealth that would be passed on to children and grandchildren without end.
Leviticus 25:14 shows an overall theme for God’s economic system: “And if you sell ought unto your neighbor, or buy ought of your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another.”
You shall not oppress one another. If only this were followed today, even a little!
2. Workers’ Rights
The next Old Testament Law involves how bosses treat their employees: “You shall not oppress a hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of your brethren, or of your strangers that are in your land within your gates: at his day you shall give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and sets his heart upon it: lest he cry against you unto the Lord, and it be sin unto you” (Deut. 24:14-15).
Again, God does not want human beings to oppress one another. This means He hates any exploitation or extortion of workers.
Today, employees rise up and protest when they feel mistreated. But corporations and employers often look for ways to increase profits, not caring whether it makes the lives of their workers miserable. While this is certainly the case in Western nations, think of even poorer working conditions such as sweatshops in nations with fewer regulations.
Notice what verse 15 calls such practices: sin. Economic systems today favor those who sin. Do not sugarcoat it!
Think of wage theft in developed nations. In 2017, the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute found that employers in the 10 most populous U.S. states stole $8 billion annually from 2.4 million workers. That means each was underpaid by about $3,300 per year.
Fair, regular payment was an essential worker’s right in the Old Testament. The verse mentions being paid every day, which would have been crucial in ancient times. Without refrigeration, food needed to be purchased almost every day. To eat, people experiencing poverty would need funds every day. If an employer withheld these funds, they would be sentencing their staff to go hungry.
The greater principle of this command is clear: God says not to take advantage of the poor and needy. While the verse uses the example of paying workers daily, it also reiterates not to “oppress” them. That word can mean to violate, extort and deceive.
3. Simplified Taxes
Ancient Israel had a straightforward tax system. God commanded everyone to give one-tenth of their income: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord” (Lev. 27:30).
Instead of the complex codes of today, God has a simple system: A tenth of your gross income goes to Him.
These funds were wages for the Levites, who served in both a religious and governmental capacity. They were the main teachers (Deut. 33:10) and musicians (I Chron. 15:16-22) for the nation, and integral in upholding public health (Lev. 13). The Levites were also Israel’s lead judges (Deut. 17:8-11).
This much power and influence in the hands of one family tribe could be problematic. To mitigate this, God limited the Levites’ inheritance to only their tithe wages (Num. 18:20-21).
An additional tithe-funded social program existed for the downtrodden. Every three years, Israelites would give an additional 10 percent for this purpose. More on that later.
Realize the Levites could not increase taxes or give tax breaks to the wealthy. This mitigated potential corruption. Whenever the Levites were caught exploiting the people, the consequences were severe. In I Samuel, the Levites Hophni and Phineas were stealing from Israelites, and they met an untimely end as a result (2:12-17; 4:12-18).
4. No Interest
The next law would again immediately implode the modern economic system. But it would result in a much fairer and more just world.
In ancient Israel, charging interest was forbidden: “If you lend money to any of My people that is poor by you, you shall not be to him as a usurer, neither shall you lay upon him usury” (Ex. 22:25).
God does not want interest paid out in nations that obey Him. In other words, He does not permit lenders to create a business around making money off other people’s debt.
Today, central banks adjust interest rates to manage the economy and influence individuals to buy or save. Banks and credit card companies lend to businesses or individuals with hefty interest attached. Interest is a way to amass wealth.
In an interest-free system, predatory lending of any sort would be nonexistent.
Despite outlawing interest, God still told the Israelites to lend to one another. Those who were more well-off were encouraged to help others as they could. They would lend funds with a reasonable payment plan.
Any lender today would think, Why would I lend if I knew a year of release is coming?
This idea is also addressed in the Bible. The longer passage reveals more of God’s mind on economics: “If there be among you a poor man of one of your brethren within any of your gates in your land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother: but you shall open your hand wide unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wants” (Deut. 15:7-8).
Verse 9 cuts through human nature: “Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked 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 unto the Lord against you, and it be sin unto you.”
God then promised blessings for those who did lend freely (vs. 10).
5. Programs for the Poor
Deuteronomy 15:11 summarizes a critical economic principle: “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide unto your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.”
The poor shall never cease out of the land. Life comes with ups and downs—and there will always be those who are blessed with more and those who have less. God wants those with more to give freely and willingly to the impoverished.
Do not misunderstand God’s laws. Yes, He wanted those blessed with more to give—yet He did not want the impoverished to lazily demand funds, showing no effort to manage their money better and improve their financial circumstances.
Such was the case with the next Old Testament law: On top of a flat 10 percent tithe, everyone gave another tithe every three years. This was to be distributed to the poor and needy in the land.
Deuteronomy 26:12 outlines this additional tenth and says it is for “the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled.”
The statute is restated in chapter 14 and adds that obedience will allow God to “bless you in all the work of your hand which you do” (vs. 29)
Ancient Israel’s social programs were not just “free money.” These benefits required work from the recipients as well. The New Testament Church followed this same tithe command in the first century. It had this qualification: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thes. 3:10).
Leviticus 23:22 shows how effort was required for the poor to receive benefits: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not make clean riddance of the corners of your field when you reap, neither shall you gather any gleaning of your harvest: you shall leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God.”
When harvesting, the landowner was to leave the corners of the field for those who needed it. Instead of getting handouts, the poor would gather their own food—they would work for it.
Also, recognize that God is knocking down the idea of getting every ounce of profit from a harvest. He is discouraging the single-minded goal of making as much money as possible.
God also gave instructions for the downtrodden in legal matters: “You shall not wrest [pervert] the judgment of your poor in his cause” (Ex. 23:6).
6. Honest Weights and Measures
Fairness in business dealings was another law in ancient Israel: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume” (Lev. 19:35, NKJV).
Honesty and integrity in business are incredibly hard to find today. Think of all the ways customers are cheated. There is price gouging during times of crisis. There is shrinkflation, where products are deceptively sold in lesser quantities with the same or higher prices or where the quality is decreased without notice. There are all the counterfeit products on the market—or all the ones that simply do not work.
Of course, this command cuts both ways. Consumers must also be fair and honest. The National Retail Federation estimated that shrink—what the industry calls the loss of inventory—amounted to 1.4 percent of retail value in 2021. That amounted to $94.5 billion. Most of that amount comes from shoplifting.
Leviticus 19:13 reemphasizes the importance of ethical business practices: “You shall not defraud your neighbor, neither rob him…”
“Defraud” here, similar to “oppress” from earlier, means to extort, exploit or deceive. And “rob” can mean to seize or plunder. Imagine a world where this was not happening.
Further making the point, the very next verse after being told not to defraud your neighbor is this: “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (vs. 14).
God puts cursing the disabled and purposefully tripping a blind person in the same context as being fair and honest with anyone with whom you do business.
7. The First Commandment
Let’s face it: All these Old Testament laws would never work in today’s world. The modern economy is based on getting and greed—while God’s is based upon giving and outflowing concern for others. Being entirely profit-driven is clearly not His Way!
This is where the last law comes into play, and it is truly the most revolutionary. God commands: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3).
These words are the first of the 10 Commandments. Without all individuals and nations believing in the same God and obeying Him, none of this would work.
God knows this too. His ultimate plan is to bring a globe-ruling supergovernment: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’ s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:2-3).
Daniel 2:44 shows that this Kingdom will “not be left to other people” and that God Himself will rule it and enforce it. Only then can we truly erase the gap between rich and poor, ensure that everyone has what they need, no one is drowning in debt and everyone is fair to each other.
But just because these laws are impossible to implement in today’s global economy does not mean individuals cannot reap the many benefits of applying Bible principles. God’s Word has much more to say about fairness, compassion and social responsibility. It explains the importance of hard work, ambition and industriousness—as well as the keys to success.
Read our booklet End All Your Financial Worries to dig more deeply into God’s economic instructions. You can apply them in your life and reap the blessings He promises.