So it was that a revolution took place within the form. Like the hagfish, the New Deal entered the old form and devoured its meaning from within. The revolutionaries were inside; the defenders were outside. A government that had been supported by the people and so controlled by the people became one that supported the people and so controlled them.
— Garet Garett, “The Revolution Was,” in The People’s Pottage, 1953, 1944, p 55
Nehemiah is one of my favorite biblical books because it is a first-person account of a public servant who is a true father to his people. This governor in old Israel is a model today to representatives in councils, commissions and congresses whose duty is the general welfare of the people in terms of God’s sovereign control of reality.
Two nights ago at family worship we read about a financial crisis among the Israelites. They have returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and many families have fallen into poverty. Nehemiah is alarmed at the chattel slavery that has crept in among God’s people. At the climax of the confrontation with the issuers of credit and holders of IOUs, he makes a terrifying threat on God’s behalf.
With plastic, unbearable burdens
Nehemiah is the retainer of King Artaxerxes who is given leave to return to his homeland to restore its broken-down capital, Jerusalem. As work begins to rebuild the walls of the city and restore order, Nehemiah hears a “great outcry of the people and their wives” against their Israelite brethren. A hasty interposition is called for.
Times are tough, rain scarce, grain scant and children among the poor are numerous (for so do poor men realize their wealth is in their offspring). Many in Israel are debtors. “There were also some who said, ‘we have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.” They have borrowed also to pay taxes to the king in Babylon (a reminder of their servitude). “[I]ndeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have or lands and vineyards” (Nehemiah 5:5).
Christianity is all about redemption, buying back — from the slavery of sin first, then other forms. Nehemiah “became very angry” at the outcry. After “serious thought” he says he “rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, ‘Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.’ So I called a great assembly against them.”
We have redeemed our brothers from bondage in Babylon, he declares at the conference, brought them here — and are we going to put them into slavery again? Such demanding usury in a poor loan is a sin, and it makes us a reproach among the heathen, he cries. “Please, let us stop this usury! Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them” (v. 11).
Under a terrible oath, the nobles agree to take a “haircut,” a loss on their interest payments. “I called the priests, and required an oath from them ***. Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said,
So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.”
He goes on to report that all the assembly said, “Amen!” and praises the Lord.
Americans face a long shakeout
Americans are much like the crying poor in Jerusalem, only they are as much perpetrator as victim in their distress. The United States is a debtor nation. Its people are a debtor people. According to Professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff, the national government has obligations past F$200 trillion. ‡ The national debt in actual legal IOUs today stands at F$11 .5 trillion, or F$11,571,499,323,932 and 43 cents, according to the treasury department.
Like the Israelite well-to-do, Americans in their political franchise have enslaved their fellow man — namely, future generations voted into debt servitude. Americans lack, however, public officials of the godliness of Nehemiah. Nehemiah worked at his own expense, refusing the governor’s pay, and daily fed 150 officials from his own purse (v. 17).
If we are to see any relief from the oppressions of national economy impinging upon us, it is to be in reformation among Christian men in our city, and courageous interposition by local and state officials against the despotisms ahead. The collapse of the national government will take years to unwind, and as we cough amid the dust clouds constantly being thrown into our faces we will be made poorer by half. Some of us will lose 80 percent of our livings and estates in the long-awaited meltdown. But that collapse — a massive write-down — is needed. It will rescue Uncle’s finances and perhaps spare the generator of ideasphere credit units, the Federal Reserve System, from a well-deserved marketplace destruction. It promises a genuine opportunity for reformation and liberty.
Chattanoogans cannot avoid desperate times and riveting newscasts from TV3. But with God’s grace and faithful attention to worship, support of the church, charity to others, self-determination and the liquifying our investment portfolios, we might reduce somewhat the most violent effects of our national benefactors’ tumble into humiliation.
‡ Dr. Kotlikoff explains: “The government’s total indebtedness – its fiscal gap – now stands at $211 trillion, by my arithmetic. The fiscal gap is the difference, measured in present value, between all projected future spending obligations – including our huge defense expenditures and massive entitlement programs, as well as making interest and principal payments on the official debt – and all projected future taxes.”