Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lesson 3. Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 1

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Role of the Church in the Community 
Lesson 3. Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 1

It's good common sense to remember. The Son of God identifies with the poor and oppressed all over the world, whether or not they understand the gospel. We may not be able to move all the governments and parliaments to do the right thing, but we can proclaim the news about the Son of God to the oppressed of the world. It makes sense to remember that before we spend on personal luxuries.
In Leviticus 25:13-17 we read that any property that was sold since the last Year of Jubilee would revert to its original owner, for the Lord wanted His land to remain with the tribes, clans, and families to which it had been allotted. For parents to care for their families, they had to have land to cultivate, and the private ownership of property gave stability to the economy. The Lord owned the land and only loaned it to His people. He wanted them to have a sense of proprietorship and responsibility in caring for His property. People usually take care of what they themselves own.
Whenever a piece of land was sold, the proximity of the next Year of Jubilee determined the price, for this determined how much produce the new owner could get from the soil. Since the buyer knew full well that the land would eventually revert back to the original owner, he certainly wasn't going to pay more for the land than what he would be able to get out of it. "The land shall not be sold forever" was God's law (vs. 23).
These laws made it impossible for ruthless real estate speculators to accumulate vast land holdings and thus upset the economy. Even the poorest Israelite family received its land back, and by working the land, they could gain enough wealth to meet their needs and perhaps the needs of others. The Year of Jubilee provided a new beginning for the released slaves and the landowners, and this kept poverty and inequality to a minimum. The people were not to oppress one another (vs. 17), but remember that the land was God's and they were only His tenants (vss. 23-24).
If a poor Jew had to sell himself or his property in order to stay alive, he didn't have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain either his property or his freedom (vs. 25). At any time, a kinsman who was willing and able to pay the price could redeem him or his land.
If the former owner of the land was too poor to redeem his land, then a near kinsman could do it for him. But if the former owner somehow acquired the necessary wealth, he could redeem it for himself. The price would depend, of course, on the number of years (harvests) until the Year of Jubilee. If the man had neither a willing kinsman nor the necessary wealth, he would have to wait until the Year of Jubilee to regain his property.
The classic example of the law of the kinsman-redeemer is recorded in the book of Ruth, where Boaz redeemed both Ruth and her inheritance and then married her. The "redeemer" who can redeem Naomi's (and now Ruth's) property has to be the "nearest of kin" (cf. 2:20; 3:9; 4:1). This idea inspired the 1888 "messengers."
Writes A. T. Jones: "Man has lost his inheritance and is himself also in bondage. And as he himself cannot redeem himself nor his inheritance, the right of redemption falls to the nearest of kin who is able. And Jesus Christ is the only one in all the universe who is able.
"He must ... be not only near of kin, but the nearest of kin. ... Therefore ... He also Himself ... took part of flesh and blood in very substance like ours, and so became our nearest of kin." [1]
"Boaz could not come in as redeemer until it was found that the one who was nearer than he could not perform the office of redeemer. The redeemer must be not only one who was near of kin, but he must be the nearest among those who were near. ... This is the precise point that is made in the second chapter of Hebrews [vss. 14-18]." [2]
The vast proportion of Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, think of Christ as Someone who belongs in stained glass windows in cathedrals. The popular "dogma of the Immaculate Conception" denies Scripture; it says that the Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother experienced a miraculous breaking of the genetic code that links all humans by our common DNA to the fallen, sinful nature of our fallen Adam, so that Mary was never tempted sexually, and neither was her Son, Jesus. There, with one stroke, we are denied the only Redeemer who can save us from sin and prepare a people who learn to "follow the Lamb wherever He goes," and stand "without fault before the throne of God." That is said of them only because it is true of them, thanks to their Redeemer, "nearest of kin."
The Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself sinful human flesh and became our "near kinsman" (Heb. 2:5-18), so that He might give Himself as the redemption price and set us free. Only He was qualified to do what had to be done, and He was willing to do it. Not only did He redeem us, but also He gave us a share in and made us a part of His inheritance!
It's unfortunate that the Jewish people didn't follow the laws given in Leviticus 25, for their selfishness and greed brought ruin to the land and their economic system. The prophets rebuked the rich for exploiting the poor and stealing their houses, lands, and even their children (Isa. 3:14-15; 10:1-3; Amos 2:6-7; 5:11). The local courts ignored God's decrees; the judges, enriched by bribes, passed down decisions that favored the wealthy and crushed the poor. But God heard the cries of the poor and one day brought terrible judgment to the people of Israel.
God is concerned about how we use the resources He's given us and how we treat one another in the marketplace. Both ecology and economy are His concern, and He eventually permits judgment to come upon those who exploit others and treat them in ways that are less than humane (Amos chapters 1 and 2). The church of Jesus Christ has thrived under many kinds of political and economic systems and isn't dependent on any of them, but the church must always champion the rights of the poor and the oppressed and use every spiritual weapon to defeat the oppressors.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way, pp. 30, 31 (Glad Tidings ed.).
[2] A. T. Jones, "The Third Angel's Message--No. 14," General Conference Bulletin, vol. 1 (1895), p. 265.