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It's family business, not government.

Economics God’s Way (6)

“And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.’” And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the LORD commanded Moses.” Numbers 27.8-11

All in the family
In the economy of justice and love outlined in God’s Law, property—thought of principally in terms of land—was considered a familial rather than a personal or national trust. The inheritance of land from generation to generation was a family matter. Government only became involved when disputes arose as to the proper transmission of land to nearest family members.

All property was understood to have been bestowed by the Lord for the use of individuals in meeting their needs, serving their families, and contributing to their communities and the national weal. Property was passed on to one’s family upon one’s decease. Families would then continue the stewardship of their property in line with the requirements of justice.

In the divine economy, no role was envisioned for civil government in the transfer of property from one generation to the next, except to see that lawful heirs received what was lawfully theirs. Heirs could appeal to civil authorities to resolve disputes over inheritances, as we see in Ruth 4; but the idea that the powers-that-be could commandeer a portion of the proceeds or net worth of an estate for its own purposes, no matter how these may have been intended, would have been regarded as a form of thievery by ancient Hebrews.

We seem to know intuitively that it is not right for government to steal from the property of families. We pay lawful taxes to support our government’s needs in serving us, but, if the Law of God were followed, we would not allow government to include in such taxes a “take” of a family’s inheritance. The practice of estate taxes assumes that, by some means, government “owns” a portion of every person’s inheritance. In ancient Israel, this would have meant that government “owned” a portion of every family’s land. No family would have accepted that as in line with the Law of God.

In our day people rely on carefully crafted wills and trusts to keep the State from seizing part of the inheritance they leave behind upon their death. Estate taxes are a measure of the State’s sense of its ultimate authority to determine how best to allocate private property, whenever and wherever it can. They represent a usurpation by the State of the authority of families and, ultimately, of God. 

Preserving inheritances
Christians, to practice proper stewardship of the property entrusted to them, should seek out every lawful means for keeping their inheritances from falling into the hands of the State. They should also work for laws which will keep the hand of the State out of the estates which families build-up over time. Where laws and policies cannot be changed to preclude the State seizing a share of such family property, every lawful means should be employed to frustrate the grasping power of government.

The transfer of private property within the bounds of family should not provide the State an occasion for playing God. All property belongs to the Lord, not the State, and to the individuals and families to whom God entrusts it. The Law of God, interpreted into this arena of public policy, would provide what even nonbelievers would, I suspect, regard as a helpful restraint against the powers of the State over family treasure.

The State looms like a vulture over the rightful inheritances of families, awaiting the demise of property owners so that it can pick its portion from the remains before allowing any that is left over to pass to rightful heirs. This is not a practice which the Law of God would condone.

Generational stewardship
In God’s mind, the proper steward of property is the family, not the State. Since all the families of Israel were assigned to designated parcels of land, every family had a home and land upon which to provide for themselves. The land ultimately belonged to the Lord, and each family’s assignment was to bring the land to fruition, to work and develop the good potential of the land by using it to meet their needs.

In this respect, Israel’s stewardship of the land harked back to Adam’s assignment in the Garden, to serve the land by bringing out its potential and to guard it from anything that might inhibit or threaten its productivity (cf. Gen. 2.15). Children growing up on family property would learn how to make best use of the land and to conserve its value and productivity over time. The State was not permitted to tax either the land or the inheritance of its people, for this would interrupt the secure transmission and faithful development of the land over the generations.

Because we today have allowed the State to have the last word in economic matters, it is perhaps only natural that government should extend its tentacles as far and wide as they can reach. But unless government is stopped from pursuing such intrusive measures as estate taxes, soon enough we will find ourselves in a situation where private property no longer exists and every generation is increasingly dependent on the good will of government rather than the good work of economic stewardship.

And this would be a mockery of justice, and throw a blanket of fear and suspicion over the practice of neighbor love.

For reflection
1. How has our government come to believe that it can tax whatever it chooses, including estates? If you don’t know, see what you can find out.

2. If you were to die today, what percentage of your estate—land, home, other properties—would the State claim as its own? If you don’t know, find out.

3. What are some ways that you can protect the generational transmission of your property against the grasping practices of government?

Next steps—Preparation: Make sure you know what to do to keep your estate from falling into government hands.

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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