Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Debt In the Old Testament - Elisha and the Widows OIl - Lesson 2

The cultural parallels to young people today who are deeply in debt are stark and startling in the story of Elisha and a young widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7. Debt is as old as history itself and legally has had serious consequences, including enslavement of the debtor. The young widow's husband was in seminary in Elisha's "school of the prophets" he was under Elisha's authority and was Elisha's "servant or apprentice". She does not have any close family and comes to Elisha her pastor and as a stand-in for the role of "kinsman redeemer". He is not obligated legally in this role but he has a moral obligation as the young man's mentor and calls on God to help.

Israel had a revolutionary set of laws, given by God, about debt that were a much more civil approach than the oppressive laws of the countries around them. Let's take a look...

Leviticus 25:47-55

"If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother besides him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger's clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him (a kinsman). Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price for his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker...For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants who I brought out of the land of Egypt: I AM the Lord your God.

Normally the children and even the woman herself could be sold as slaves to satisfy the debt. This was pretty serious business. So when the Bible says in Proverbs 22:7,  "The borrower is slave to the lender." This was not some kind of word picture or fancy pros. They weren't kidding, the borrower was literally a slave to the lender until the money was paid back. The law was, "pay your loan or we will enslave your children".

Yes, I understand Proverbs hadn't been written yet but the wisdom of Proverbs is no less timely. The parents of this "son of the prophets" and even Elisha himself apparent wasn't doing any better job than the typically parent and church today at training the believer about dangers of debt. Proverbs 22:6 says "Train up a child in the way he is bent and when he is old he will not depart from it." These two verses are part of the same theme and a mandate for the church to train the "child of God" no matter what their age.

Back to Leviticus, in Israel, the law of the kinsman redeemer and the year of jubilee applied and overruled the oppressive rules that encouraged ruthlessness toward the borrower. Both of the Leviticus laws would allow for the debt to be satisfied and the slavery avoided. Note this wasn't some kind of divine charity, the debt was still paid.

Even in Israel, the lenders would sometimes still get carried away, though it was still legal, their behavior was out of whack with the needs of the nation or the spirit God intended. So God or his representative had to step in and bring some common sense to the situation. Nehemiah 5:4-5 describes a situation like this, where Nehemiah calls the lenders to account and asks them to relinquish some of their rights for the good of the community. That is not the situation with our widow, the lenders were just doing what lenders do and she owed them.

Were they going to sell the widows children because she was a bad mother or had her deceased husband done something wrong. No nothing illegal or morally wrong. Something stupid maybe but not wrong? This was a normal family. These were Godly people. The husband was in seminary seeking spiritual training in the Elisha's "school of the profits".

Scripture doesn't say, but maybe this husband and father had taken out student loans to attend the prestigious "school of the prophets" instead of attending the local "community college school of the prophets". Maybe he was living off loans instead of working his way through the "school of the prophets". Maybe they had bought a home with "nothing down" and they were underwater so they couldn't sell it to satisfy the debt, or a new chariot they really couldn't afford. What ever the reason, it was the debt that got them into trouble. His wife was now in trouble because of the poor choices he had made as the spiritual and financial leader in the home. Mistake #1 was debt.

The other financial mistake that was made was the husband did not have any life insurance or an emergency fund to care for his family in case of an employment disruption. Maybe they didn't have life insurance as we know it, but that principle is very applicable today. Some feel God is obligated to bail us out of any foolish situation we can get ourselves into and insurance is not trusting God. Proverbs says spread your risk among 7 or 8 investments, which isn't insurance directly. But the principle is to not take all the risk of death or a health issue or a car wreck yourself. If you share the risk among many the risk for any one person is small. Even when you are young you are not indestructible and the "son of the prophet" is a good example of the devastation that can occur when this principle is ignored.

In the next lesson we will look at Elisha's approach to this issue.

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