The importance of land to the Israelites.

In Australia now-a-days we hear a lot about the connection of the aboriginal people with the land. The connection is a communal and spiritual one.

That was not the case with the Israelites, but land was very important in their economy. God gave them specific rules about dealing with land that I have found interesting.

The Israelites were generally a subsistence economy, thus land was important to each family. The Patriarchs had been pastoral people and for cattle or herds you need access to land, as was illustrated in the case of strife between Abraham and Lotís herdsmen (see Genesis 13:5-8).

In the world today the 20/80 rule is applied to capital. That is to say 20% of the people have 80% of the capital and 80% of the people have 20% of the capital. I suspect it is now a lot worse than that. The fact is that there are a few very rich and a lot very poor and some in the middle who have enough.

When we examine the rules that God gave to the Israelites while they were travelling under the command of Moses out of Egypt on the way to Canaan, many of them related to land.

God made special provision that when they came into the land it was to be divided by lots (see Numbers 26:52-56; 33:53-53 and chapter 34).

In Leviticus chapter 24 there is a series of provision to make sure that the land could not accumulate into the hands of a few rich people. A system of 7 years and 7 sets of 7 years was initiated by God. Land could not be sold beyond these times. If a man chose to sell his land, provision was made for a relative to buy it back, or it reverted to his family at the 50th year regardless. I see this as an attempt by God to keep the capital evenly distributed through the people of the land.

A very interesting special application of these rules was given for the daughters of Zelophaehad. As a result of their request it was stated that girls should inherit when there were no boys in the family, but that they then must not marry outside of their tribe because land could not pass from one tribe to another. (see Numbers 26:33; 27:11; 36:1-10 and the division of the land in Joshua 17:3-4).

God did not expect these provision to prevent people from becoming poor. In Deut 15:11 he told the people that there would always be the poor. Jesus repeated this (see Matt 26:11, Mark14:7 and John 12:8). God also made provision for the poor by allowing the produce from the edges of the field to go to the poor(see Lev19:9-10), and there were strict rules to allow gleaners to pick up what fell by the wayside during harvest (see Lev33:22; 24:23 and the story of Ruth). This is emphasised in a different way in that there was to be only one harvest each field to the owner and late crops were for the poor (see Deut 24:18-21).

Land was important and God gave these rules through Moses to keep capital (in this case land) evenly distributed.


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