The Mystery of Babylon
A LURID light is cast upon the luxurious opulence of great Babylon as though it were displeasing to Yahweh. Is there anything wrong with riches? Is it a crime that one family, for instance, has an income of about one hundred thousand dollars a day? Our answer to this will depend largely upon our viewpoint. We must not look at this condition from the standpoint of modern institutions, where anything and everything is right if it is legal, but from the divine vantage of conformity to His holy law.
Under the law, as set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures, the subject of property and wealth is clearly presented. In the later Greek Scriptures, the laws pertaining to property are often indicated by means of certain technical terms. These are so variously and loosely rendered that the whole subject has been effectually obscured and the point of many a passage is not apparent. In order to obtain a clear apprehension of Babylon's sin, it will pay us to linger here a little, and consider those admirable laws and institutions which Yahweh gave His people which effectually prevented the extremes of labor and luxury, of poverty and opulence which is one of the most distressing symptoms of the world's malady today.
One single law, taken from the statutes of ancient Israel, would revolutionize modern society. We refer to the taking of usury or interest. It was written in the law, "If thou lend money to any of My people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury" (Ex.22:25; Lev.25:36,37; Deut.23:19). And to this, we may add the provision that every seven years "Every creditor that lendeth aught unto his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called Yahweh's release" (Deut.15:2).
That this law was sometimes broken only accentuates its beneficence while they were in the land. In David's day those "in debt," oppressed contrary to the law, rallied around him (1 Sam. 22:2). Isaiah distinguishes between the "lender" and the "taker" of usury (Isa.24:2). Nehemiah dealt with this evil effectually. The nobles and rulers were taking interest from their distressed brethren, but he put a stop to it (Neh.5:1-12). Jeremiah complains "I have neither lent on usury nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me" (Jer.15:10).
The Psalmist sings:
He that putteth not out his money to usury
Nor taketh reward against the innocent. (Psa.15:5).
And the wise man adds his couplet in the same strain:
He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance,
He shall gather it for him that will pity the weak.
That this was the light in which our Lord looked upon the taking of interest may be seen from the two occasions on which He referred to it. In the parable of the unprofitable slave (Matt.25:24-27; Luke 19:20-23), there is a foreign note which we are slow to apprehend. After quoting the slave's calumny that He reaped where He had not sowed and gathered where He had not scattered, He proceeds: "Therefore thou oughtest to have put my money to the bankers, and then, at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury."
The insinuation is too plain to escape us that He considered the taking of interest as a reaping without having sowed and a gathering of that which he had not scattered. Was not this the secret of His opposition to the "money-changers?" In Luke 19:23 the word "banker" is the same term as that applied to those who were making His Father's house a house of merchandise. They not only changed large denominations into smaller coin, but also conducted a banking business.
But, someone will protest, were not these restrictions limited to His people? They were allowed to take interest of those who were not of their nation. Quite true. But are they still entitled to be called His people? Are they not Lo-Ammi "Not My people?" And are not the other nations quite as much His during this period of grace? At the time they are using this legal yet lawless means of extorting the wealth of nations, the latter are the special objects of His grace.
If we, the ecclesia which is His body, were concerned with the earth or the restoration or inauguration of ideal conditions, one of the most pressing and profitable reforms would be the abolition of interest. It might destroy the whole fabric of our present political economy, but it would settle the controversy between Capital and Labor. But we must leave all these good things for Yahweh's day when the world will no longer be out of joint.
In the meantime, we can even profit by this evil. In Israel, debts were contracted only by the poor. Now most money is borrowed by the rich. To buy their stocks is perilously near a partnership. To loan them money on interest does not involve the believer in their business and makes a cleaner cut from the world. Neither can we look upon a mortgage as the Israelite looked upon an incumbrance on his heritage. His allotment came from Yahweh. It was His gift. No man should take it from him. But today, our only real estate is found in the celestial spheres.
What has this to do with the mystery of Babylon? Very much, indeed. For it is by their combined efforts in commerce and finance that the Jew will secure their ascendancy over the nations. They ought to sow the world with blessings and scatter the seeds of the kingdoms, but, instead, they are reaping what they have not sown and are gathering what they have not scattered. Dispersed among the nations their influence over the governments may not seem great, but once they are syndicated in the ancient capital of world empire their combined "capital" will be able to dictate the financial policies of every state on earth.
The land laws which He gave His people still stand without a parallel in the history of jurisprudence. After more than three thousand years of tinkering no country on earth today has produced a single statute which can compare with the provisions regulating the enjoyment of the land of promise.
When Joshua assigned the lands to Israel by lot, it seems certain that they were allotted, not to individuals, but to families or clans, each of which made a village or community. These held all the land allotted to them in common. The land belonged to Yahweh. All that they had was the right of sowing.
These lands were not permanently apportioned to each farmer, so that each man would cultivate the same land year after year, as with us, but the whole area of arable land was divided into as many strips as there were plows and oxen to cultivate it. These strips were grouped together corresponding to similar groups of farmers. The groups were first allotted and afterward the lot was cast for each farmer in each group. In this way, the land was freshly allotted each year.
It will throw a flood of light upon many a passage if we only remember that the land could not be alienated. No title could be given; no transfer from one owner to another. The sole owner at all times was and is Yahweh. The title was vested in Him and cannot be conveyed. All that His people had was the right to use and enjoy the allotment which fell to them. This privilege is described by a special term in the Greek scriptures. It is kleeronomia, usually translated "inheritance." With us, an inheritance consists in the absolute right and title acquired by due process of law in the administration of an estate, the owner of which has died. But in the Scriptures, in accord with the law He gave them, an "inheritance" was not connected with death at all. Neither did it convey title to any property. It consisted in the right to use or enjoy an allotment. It corresponds somewhat to our tenancy. For the rent of the land, Yahweh was given a tenth.
While the land was not subject to sale (except in walled cities) the privilege of using it might be conveyed to another for a limited period, subject to redemption at any time before the jubilee. At the jubilee, all land automatically reverted to the original tenant.
The effect of these laws was to keep the land in the hands of those for whom it was intended, and prevent the oppression of the poor by rich land owners, such as is the case in many western lands today. There are no land laws on the statute books of any nation which will compare for a moment with the land laws of Israel.
The lot was eminently Yahweh's way of signifying His will in any matter. "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of Yahweh" (Prov.16:33). This was the "scape goat" chosen (Lev.16:8-10); thus was the land divided (Num.26:55; 33:54) by Joshua. The lot caused contention to cease (Prov.18:18). On man's side it was all "chance," for he had no motion in the matter: on Yahweh's side it was all His choice, it was in His hands because it had been taken out of man's, and this is preeminently the case with God's blessing in this economy. We have received an allotment in Christ (Eph.1:11). Just as the Palestine farmers, before casting lots for the individual allotments, divide the common land into a few large divisions, and group themselves into corresponding parties, each with a chosen man at its head, who casts his lot for all in his party, so Christ's lot has become ours. The farmer's individual allotment is always found somewhere in the large field of the one who represented him. So we find our allotment in Christ.
Our Representative is Christ and all who find their allotment in Him are saints. In Israel only those who belonged to the village and could prove their pedigree had the privilege of an allotment of the land. In the antitype, only those of the circumcision are entitled to the kingdom. The other nations are their subjects. But now, in contrast to this, the Father has qualified us for a portion of the saints' allotment, in the light, and we have a place in the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col.1:12-14).
We have two instances of the casting of lots in the Greek scriptures. The most immediate benefit of His death was the parting of His garments among the soldiers. But His tunic could not be divided, as it was woven, and of one piece throughout. So for this, they cast lots. Is not all this a miniature which presages the blessings which that death will bring? The garments were for all, but the inner tunic, the nearest to Him, is allotted to a special one. So that death brings blessing for all, but there is a special gift allotted to His saints during the eons (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24).
The second example of the casting of lots is in line with the first. Judas had obtained a "part" or lot in the ministry of the twelve, but fell from it. So the lot was cast again for one to fill his place. This is the second instance in which the blessings flowing from the death of Christ are distributed by lot.
How far the Jews had departed from the spirit of their laws is evidenced from the various terms which indicate a departure from the law of land tenure which Moses gave them. The same term is applied to some of their holdings as is applied to a freehold among the nations, who had no land laws such as they had been given. The "possessions" of Publius, the "chief man" of Melita (Acts 28:7) were undoubtedly freeholds, which were his own, to which he held a title, much as land is held amongst the western nations today.
The term here employed is choorion, and is allied to a verb which means to separate, as "who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom.8:35). It is closely related to chooris, apart from, as in the passage describing the gulf between the nations and God "without God in the world" (Eph.2:12). It is a technical term applied to land separated from other land (as was not the case with Yahweh's allotments). This does not seem to have been understood by our translators, for they used a different term on every occasion. Once they call it a "parcel of ground" (John 4:5); Gethsemane is called a "place;" Judas buys a "field;" the Pentecostal believers sell their "land," and Publius' property is called his "possessions." There is no reason why these should not all be called by some common technical term which will remind us that the title to the land in question was incompatible with the law of Moses, and gave them possession undisturbed by the jubilee.
It is instructive, in this connection, to turn to the transaction by which Jacob obtained the "parcel of ground" (Gen. 33:18; John 4:5) which he gave to Joseph (Gen.48:22) and where Joseph's bones were laid to rest (Joshua 24:32). He paid a hundred pieces of money for it. It was ever after recognized as his and he willed it to his son Joseph.
Gethsemane takes on an added interest when we see that its name not only suggests an olive press, but it was a separated place. There it was that He endured the Divine pressure which drew from His holy brow the bloody sweat. There was His place of retirement, where for a season He could separate from the unresponsive crowd and enter into communion with His Father.
It must be borne in mind that, when the true jubilee, the kingdom, comes, the land will revert to its true owner, Yahweh, and will be allotted in harmony with His holy law. No freeholds will abide that day. No one will be able to take from his neighbor the right to enjoy the allotment which he receives from Yahweh.
In this light we must interpret the action of Judas in buying a freehold ("field," Acts 1:18,19) and the contrary course of the pentecostal disciples who sold their freeholds ("lands" Acts 4: 34) Judas had no faith in the coming of the kingdom or he never would have bought the bloody field, only to find its title invalid when the land was reapportioned to the tribes in that day. The disciples, knowing that freeholds were not in line with the law and that they would be forfeited at the setting up of the righteous rule of the Messiah, put the means obtained from their sale into the common fund for the use of the apostles. They not only believed that the kingdom was coming but proposed to do their share in hastening its advent.
In this light, we are able to understand the action of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:3,8).
Another term, which throws light upon a number of passages, claims notice in this connection. It signifies, to acquire, obtain by purchase. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew name Cain. "I have gotten a man from the Lord" (Gen.4:1) fails to give a true index of the name of Eve's first son and of the salient point in his character. It should read, "I have acquired (or purchased) a man, Yahweh." It is the first symptom of salvation by works. She reckoned herself as having paid a price for Cain who was to be the promised seed who would bruise the serpent's head. And Cain's whole religion followed out this idea. He brought to Yahweh the fruit of his own labors, but found that Yahweh had no blessing for sale.
Before considering the use of this word in relation to land, we will find a clue to its meaning in the case of the Pharisee (Luke 18:12). Our version reads "I give tithes of all that I possess." But this was not the case. He gave a tenth of all that he acquired. There is a vast difference between the tenth of an income and a tithe of all one's possessions.
The chiliarch (Acts 22:28) told Paul that he had purchased his Roman franchise or citizenship with a great sum. Here we are left in no doubt but that "obtained" includes the payment of a price. Paul's citizenship, both in Rome and in the heavens, cost him nothing.
The case of the rich youth (Matt.19:22; Mark 10:22) must be understood in this light. "He had great possessions--that is, acquisitions. He had purchased the allotments of his poverty stricken brethren, for, when the land had all been allotted no one could acquire more without encroaching on the land of others. The "possessions" he had could never be carried with him into the kingdom. And this is why our Lord added, "Verily, I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." The figure of the camel entering through the eye of a needle shows how little chance there is for such riches in that day.
Simon, the sorcerer, thought that the gift of God could be purchased with riches.
It is notable that Judas purchased the freehold with the price of blood (Acts 1:18), but the pentecostal disciples sold their possessions and "goods" (Acts 2:45). Let us not suppose that this refers to their allotments or means of living, but rather what they had added to or acquired beyond their necessities.
Another expression, usually translated be, have, or possess, has a peculiar and special significance which it is hard for us to grasp because the idea of things belonging to us is so common that we do not contrast it with the things which we enjoy without proprietary rights.
To us there is no significance in the act of Barnabas, who, "having land" or rather a field, sold it. The allotments of the Levites could not be sold (Lev.25:34). Did he break this law? Not at all, for the field belonged to him, not as a Levite, held under the law of Yahweh, but as his personal property. On the contrary, his act was a recognition of the fact that, in the Kingdom, his allotment would be given him in the portion of the Levites (Ezek.48:13,14) and that could not be sold or exchanged or alienated in any way. What in our versions seems an infraction of the law was inspired by obedience to it and by faith in the promises of the prophets, in view of the proclamation of the kingdom.
The pentecostal assembly were all actuated by the near approach of the kingdom. Those to whom possession of freeholds and houses belonged, sold them and brought the price to the apostles.
The things they possessed (Acts 4:32) were shared in common. Let us not imagine for a single instant that they parted with their allotment or their means of livelihood. They did not "possess" what Yahweh had allotted to them.
This term throws light on a number of passages which seem difficult otherwise. Our Lord's answer to the rich young man who had great "possessions" is based on this distinction. After all the land had been once allotted, it is clear that the "possessions" of the young man consisted of that which he had beyond the allotment of Yahweh, and above what he needed for himself. In contrast to this the "poor" lacked the sustenance which Yahweh's allotment was intended to provide for them. Hence He said, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me." Alas! this was too much to ask the poor rich man.
On another occasion, the Lord gave the same advice to His little flock. "Sell that ye have and give alms;..." Again, this does not include their allotment which was their means of support but what they had gained over and beyond these necessities (Luke 12:33). This was the test of discipleship. "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:33).
Zaccheus gave half of his goods to the poor. That is his personal property, quite distinct from his allotment.
In view of the coming kingdom in which the law of the jubilee would restore all to their God-given allotments, the Pentecostal believers proceeded to arrange their affairs accordingly. Such as had acquired a property interest in freeholds and houses (which alone could be sold) disposed of them and contributed to the common fund. Ananias' sin arose from this laudable desire to prepare for and hasten the coming of the kingdom.
Again you ask, What has this to do with Babylon? Very much indeed! We have seen from the vision of the Ephah how, after the Jews have returned to their own land, the apostates despise Yahweh's allotment and leave the land for the plains of Shinar. Instead of turning all their earthly freeholds and purchases and possessions into heavenly currency and waiting for His allotment at the redistribution of the land at the opening of Yahweh's day, like the disciples at the Pentecost, they sell their souls for gain and acquire freeholds in a strange land and heap together treasure for the last days. No wonder the apostle warns them, "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments have become moth-eaten" (James 5:1-3).
Do we not begin to see why it is that Babylon comes into judgment when the tabernacle of the testimony (the law) is opened? According to the law, they should be in the land He gave them, satisfied with His allotment, waiting for the Messiah and His righteous rule over the nations. But we find them holding an imperious and hateful sway over the world, a curse instead of a blessing, and at the same time like Esau, despising their birthright for the luxuries of their souls.
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