You Shall Be As God? – A Bible Study by Jack Kelley –

Since the dawn of the human race, man has tried to replace God in the equation of his existence to his own detriment.  A good example can be found in the comparison of God’s way versus man’s way as it concerns the quality of life.

"There should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (Deut. 15:4-5)

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deut 15:7-8)

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deut 15:11)

The contradiction in these quotes is obvious.  First, God told the Israelites that when they got settled in the Promised Land there shouldn’t be any poor among them, then He said if there are poor people to help them, and finally that there will always be poor people. Which is it?

Well let’s examine the conditionality of God’s promise, "If only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today."

God’s Plan

It was never God’s intention that there be poor people and He set up His laws to prevent such a thing from happening.  In the verses preceding Deut. 15:4 He explained that they must forgive all debts owed to them by other Israelites every 7 years.  In five different places, He forbade Israelites from charging interest on loans as well. Exodus 22:25 is an example.

In Leviticus 25:25 & 47-49 He commanded an Israelite’s family to satisfy his unpaid debts in case of a default.  But if a person did default on a debt and indentured himself to pay it off, he had to be released at the end of six years even if the debt wasn’t fully repaid.  If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free.  And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed.  Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. (Deut. 15:12-14)

Do not consider it a hardship to set your servant free, because his service to you these six years has been worth twice as much as that of a hired hand. And the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. (Deut. 15:18)

Then once every 49 or 50 years, depending on what commentary you’re reading, there was a Jubilee year.  During that year all debts were forgiven, all slaves were set free, and all land was given back to its original owners. (Lev. 25)  The slate was wiped clean once in every generation and everybody got a fresh start. God blessed the ones who had prospered for their obedience in returning land and forgiving debts by making them whole, and He blessed the ones who hadn’t by giving them another chance.

So if someone suffered a set back, his neighbors were to help out by lending him whatever he needed to get back on his feet. The lenders couldn’t get hurt because as long as they willingly followed the system that God set up, He would make up the difference if a debt forgiveness year came along before the debt was repaid.  With that in mind, He cautioned them not to consider the time remaining until the next debt forgiveness year when loaning money to a neighbor in need. (Deut. 15:9)  

Such A Deal

It was an incredible program.  They could lend to or borrow from each other with no interest costs and no fear of being ruined by crushing debt.   They could also lease land to or from others as their needs required, but there was no chance that it would permanently wind up in the hands of others, because it had to be given back.  No one was ever permanently wiped out.  Their own families were to help if possible by redeeming them or their land in case of a default.  But if the worst happened and they had to sell themselves into servitude, the maximum term was six years and they’d receive a generous stake toward a fresh start when they were freed. And if they lost their land, they would know that at the next Jubilee they would get it back.

In addition to this God also promised to keep their enemies at bay (Prov. 16:7) to keep them from disease (Exod. 15:26), to give them favorable weather (Deut. 11:14), healthy children and livestock, and more than enough food on their tables (Deut. 28:1-8).  Every spring, mid-summer, and fall, they got a week long vacation to celebrate a feast, and once every seven years, they got a whole year off in order to give the land a rest.  In the sixth year, God provided a harvest sufficient to see them through the coming vacation year and the first year of the new cycle until the harvest came in.  All things considered, they had it better than any people before or since.  It’s no wonder the other nations came to inquire how they were doing this.

Of course, that was God’s plan.  He wanted the other nations to be jealous.  He wanted them to come and inquire how they too could be blessed in the same way.  It was His outreach program. (Isaiah 49:3) I’m convinced that He was prepared to extend His plan into the whole world.

How is it then that when Jesus came to Earth, He spent so much of his time healing their lame and their sick?  That the Israel He visited was even then only shadow of its former self, both in size and splendor?  And that He could state unequivocally that there would always be poor among them?  (John 12:8)
Faith And Obedience 

Remember the conditions, "If only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today."  (Deut. 15:5) Man’s desire for autonomy is such that even when offered an incredible package of blessings for following God’s way, he will eventually decide to go his own way and do his own thing.  The appearance of the poor on the landscape of humanity is man’s doing, not God’s, and it came about as a result of man’s disobedience, due to his lack of faith.  So there isn’t any contradiction in God’s statements.  He knew that man would disobey and predicted the creation of a class of poor.

The realization of this becomes clear as we learn the reasoning behind the 70 Year length of the Babylonian Captivity. Nearly 500 years earlier, during David and Solomon’s reigns, the people had experienced the high point of their blessed relationship with God and all the promises I’ve listed here were literally true in their lives.  Dignitaries came from all over the known world to marvel at the extent of God’s blessings.

But partly through Solomon’s influence, they had drifted into idolatry by the time he died and among their other acts of disobedience, like charging excessive interest, foreclosing on land, and forcing their own people into poverty (Amos 2:6-8 & Micah 2:1-2) they had failed to keep the cycle of resting the land one year in every seven.  This rest was called the Sabbath for the land, and was the reason they got one year off every seven, as I’ve stated. (It’s also the origin of our phrase, "taking a sabbatical" wherein some take a leave of absence from their work to pursue other interests.)

Finally God said that they owed Him 70 Sabbaths, and since they had been unwilling to give them to Him one at a time, He determined to take them all at once. (2 Chron. 36:21) The judgment came as a result of their general disobedience, but its duration was based on their failure to observe the Sabbath for the Land.  Having experienced the most satisfying, fulfilling lives ever seen on Earth, they chose to go their own way though it cost them everything. 

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Almost every major civilization of man has tried to establish a semblance of God’s plan by replacing Him in the equation with human government.  The intent is to make the government the object of man’s loyalty instead of God.  Carried to extremes, the man at the head of the government became the god they worshiped, as in Egypt, Rome, and others. Or even worse, the state itself replaced God, as in the various communist ideologies.  But since even the most powerful governments can’t begin to amass the resources of God, and since man is inherently corrupt, this always results in the exploitation and therefore perpetuation of the poor.

Man’s need to become as God is so strong in us that even though we can see the evidence of its failures repeated over and over in history, we can’t wait to try it again.  The biggest proof of this will come during the Millennium where natural man will destroy God’s kingdom on Earth even though it will take him 1000 years to do it.  Satan will be bound, there will be no unbelievers at the outset, and the Lord will personally head the government.  You couldn’t imagine any more favorable conditions for success.  But with each succeeding generation there will be more unbelievers among the population until finally, when Satan is freed, they’ll mount up one last rebellion against God.

Imagine That
Try to imagine if you can, how different your life would be if mankind had embraced this plan of God’s and ordered the world around it.  There would be no stress to speak of, no disease, no fear of loss, no children born to misfortune, no threat from enemies foreign or domestic.  We would be enjoying the utopian life that we can currently only dream about.    

There’s just one thing that prevents this from happening.  It’s our sin nature.  Not until God relieves us of our sin nature and completes our transition from corruptible to incorruptible will we be able to enjoy such blessing.  Until then we’ll always have a sub-conscious desire to rebel against God’s perfect rule, even when doing so means losing everything.  It happened when the human race consisted of just two people, and it’s happened countless times since. We can’t be as God after all, until He makes us so.