When Israel was first established as a nation in Palestine, it was a rural society. The people lived and labored on their own farms—as it was in the early development of America. The cities were given to the preachers (Levites) who were supported by the people. When there was a drought or pestilence in a particular region of Palestine, according to the law, other farmers would help to aid the unfortunate who were suffering because of the lost of their crops. The “gleaning law” was designated for those whose land was unproductive because of drought or pestilence. The year of Jubilee, when all land was to be returned to the original owners, was to guarantee that the society would not move into a “haves and have not” economic society. God’s civil laws of the Sinai law would guarantee that the society of Israel would never digress into a social order where the poor were marginalized by an elite.
A poor class did not exist in Israel until some citizens began to ignore the rules of the Sinai law that were established to guarantee economic equality among the people. Therefore, when inequality set in that produces a minority elite, but a majority who are exploited for the benefit of the elite, then God said it was over. Such societies cannot carry on indefinitely without a revolution by the underprivileged.
In the case of Israel, God built two foreign economies that were stronger than Israel in order to bring down judgment on Israel. Because Assyria and Babylonia became stronger economies with totalitarian governments that had stronger military forces, they were able to overpower a nation that depended on the power of the rich “corporate” owners in the cities (Samaria and Jerusalem). Because the upper wealthy class of Israel could not inspire patriotism from the exploited masses, Israel was doomed. The masses of the exploited saw no need to defend their poverty, even though it was against an invading power.
In the case of Israel, it was not a revolution by the poor farmers, but an invading force that brought the nation to a close. Ironically, when the outside invading force showed up at the city gates to bring down the rich city elite, the captors took the elite city survivors into captivity. However, the invading armies “left some of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and farmers” (2 Kg 25:12). With the final destruction of Jerusalem, “Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard [of Babylon] left in the land of Judah the poor of the people who had nothing. And he gave them vineyards and fields at the same time” (Jr 39:10; see Jr 40:7; 52:16).
The irony of both the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/21 B.C. and the Babylonian captivity of the southern kingdom in 586 B.C, was that the city elite of both Samaria and Jerusalem were marched off into captivity, but the poor were allowed to remain in the land to farm the farms and tend the vineyards. God’s judgment of the elite exploiters of the poor was just. The poor did not suffer the judgment that was due the elite. The poor who were left in Palestine, were thus sent restored as a rural society, as they were when they were first established in Palestine after Egyptian captivity.
The poor were again to institute the rural statutes of the Sinai law. The only thing that changed was that they became an occupied land, first by the Assyrians, then by the Babylonians, then the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. It was during the occupation of the Romans that they would be allowed again to have their own King. But this King would not reign on earth in Jerusalem. It would be it was before they cried out for a king on earth during the days of Samuel. As the Father was their King in heaven for almost five hundred years after they came out of Egyptian captivity, and when they were a rural society before King Saul, King Jesus would also reign in heaven over the spiritual Israel unto the consummation of the world at the end of time.
[Lecture series will continue.]