Covenant Economics: A Biblical View of Justice for All

Richard Horsley

The Jewish-Christian movements have not always exemplified high moral standards.  Horsley points out that the American founding ‘fathers’ ‘not only took the land away from the peoples already living on it, but they slaughtered those peoples’ (p x).   Exactly what the Jewish people did in Canaan!  Horsley then articulates the framework of covenant economics that stood over against the Egyptian empire, tracing that covenantal society through the monarchy (and its economic centralization) and the prophetic condemnation when the covenantal perspectives were forgotten or ignored.  He then summarizes the Roman imperial economy, and sketches the framework of covenantal renewal that Jesus sought to bring; he finishes with a good summary of covenantal renewal emphasis in Mark, Paul and Matthew.

The Jewish economy was based on covenantal law codes:  the land belonged to Yahweh, land allocated was inalienable, the poor were provided for (gleaning, sabbatical fallow years, generous lending principles—no interest, realistic collateral, periodic cancellation of debts.  The Roman system subverted this economic perspective, with their repeated wars, their demand for tribute and their use of client rulers with no economic limits (e.g. Herod).

Jesus sought to restore the covenantal community (Matthew 5 and Luke 6 are covenant renewal speeches).  “Jesus and his envoys were building a movement village by village, not just calling individual followers” (p 109).  And Mark particularly articulates the characteristics of covenant community: marriage and family, children as models (westerners have romantic notions of children; for the ANE, children were the human beings with lowest status; for Jesus to declare that ‘the kingdom of G-d belongs to children emphasizes that the kingdom of G-d is present for the poor villagers, as opposed to the wealthy and powerful’ (p 119).  And Jesus’ declaration of principles governing community relations (leadership, Mark 10:42-45), constitutes a covenantal charter for the community of the Markan Jesus movement (p 123).

A wonderful book!

—Vern Ratzlaff, pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada