What responsibility does God give the government in economics?
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.Romans 13:1-7
As we have seen previously, God commands humans to enforce His law by punishing those who do evil. The people that we ask to carry out this duty are commonly referred to as “the government.” God allows human governments to collect taxes for the purpose of carrying out His law. These taxes would go to ensure that there is a judicial system in place that would include judges, magistrates, etc.
If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft be certainly found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep; he shall restore double. If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution. If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution. If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour. If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn. And if a man borrow ought of his neighbour, and it be hurt, or die, the owner thereof being not with it, he shall surely make it good. But if the owner thereof be with it, he shall not make it good: if it be an hired thing, it came for his hire.Exodus 22:1-15
“Thou shalt not steal.” The government has the God-given authority to punish theft. However, there is more than one type of theft. Borrowing something and not returning it is a form of theft. The government has the authority to fine or punish those who steal from their neighbors even if that theft is in the form of not returning that which was borrowed. However, notice that the fine is not paid to the government; it is paid to the victim.
When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge. Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee. And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge: In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.Deuteronomy 24:10-15
The Bible forbids what is commonly called predatory lending practices. People were expressly forbidden from oppressing the poor or those who were in debt to them. There were clear limits given by God concerning collateral on loans, confiscation of goods, etc. Also, God does allow human governments to enforce employment contracts. It is very important to point out that no specific wages are set. If a man is contracted to do a job and his employer refuses to pay him in a timely manner, that is theft and bearing false witness. This is a violation of the eighth and ninth commandments. The government would have the power to punish the thief, in this case the employer, because he lied and stole from a man.
Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.Deuteronomy 25:13-15
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.Leviticus 19:35-36
This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.Exodus 30:13
God also commanded that there be a universal standard of weights and measures for money. This standard is referred to on numerous occasions as the “shekel of the sanctuary.” Human governments have the authority to establish a national standard of weights and measures for the monetary system. This principle is also reflected in the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have Power… To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.Matthew 22:17-21
Jesus affirms God’s Law. It is lawful for human governments to create monetary standards and tax their citizens in order that they might enforce God’s Law. However, this does not mean that the power of human government can extend one iota past God’s Law and intrude into those things that belong to God. What about education, welfare, the poor, Social Security, etc.? God has never given to human government the responsibility or authority to enact any of these things. This does not mean that God does not care for the poor. God has ordained a far better mechanism for caring of the poor, disabled, and elderly than any human government has ever conceived. We will look at these mechanisms over the next few weeks.