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B'resheet/Genesis 31:43 ... "the daughters are my daughters and the children and my children and the flock is my flock ..."
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Following Ya'akov's outburst against Laban, his somewhat unscrupulous and devious uncle, these words are Laban's response to the charges of dishonesty and deception that flowed from Ya'akov's mouth as he unburdens himself from twenty years hard work and constant struggle to build a life for his wives and children. Accused rightly of consistently attempting to defraud his nephew of a just wage for his work, Laban tartly responds that everything Ya'akov claims to own actually belongs to him. TheSforno helps Laban express his feelings: "Even if I changed your wage, or sent you away empty handed, I would not have been taking away anything from you since everything belongs to me; and whatever you possess is through fraud, not by right." But is this correct? Do Ya'akov's wives and children, his flocks and herds, tents and household belong to Laban after all? We know from contemporary history that it was unusual for the son-in-law to join his father-in-law's household; normally the new bride and groom would join the groom's family since that was the place of their inheritance. Although the bride would have a dowry provided by her father, that was a gift over which he would not be expected to retain control or ownership. So much so that Nahum Sarna dryly observes that "Now publicly exposed as a scoundrel, Laban lamely tries to cover his loss of face with empty rhetoric, that has no legal force behind it, only emotion."
In our times, wages once earned are very clearly the property of the employee and strict legislation governs the way in which it must be paid (and taxed, of course). Not paying wages on time is a criminal offence. The suggestion that the employee's house, family and savings were still in some way the property of the employer would be considered ridiculous. There are certain exceptions - such as tied houses, where accommodation belonging to the employer is provided either free of charge or at a subsidised rent, or share/stock purchase schemes - but these are clearly demarcated in the contract of employment, protected by law and often administered by independent trustees. Whatever has been paid to the employee belongs to him and that is that!
Doing an Internet search on Google for the words "It's mine! It's all mine" - what Laban meant and the words put into the mouth of the wimpish Prince John as he cuddles the bags of gold tax money in the cartoon version of "Robin Hood" - produces a staggering count of more than 52 million references. These range from song lyrics, to advice on divorce settlements, scientific reports on the behaviour of cats marking their territory and a few word-plays from the mining industry. Even a few seem to be from disgruntled employees, complaining about or trying to expose their former employers' activities! To one extent or another, however, they are all about claiming disputed ownership and usually in a fairly strident and forthright way. Human beings seem to have little difficulty staking their claims, with or without the help of the Internet.
Yeshua paints a very different picture of the way that life is meant to be lived in the Kingdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well! ... When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him" (Matthew 5:40,42, CJB). This sounds like a very loose way to hold your possessions. In fact, Yeshua goes on to explain just how "expensive" discipleship is: "If anyone wants to come after Me, let him say 'No' to himself, take up his execution-stake, and keep following Me. For whoever wants to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life for My sake will find it. What good will it do someone if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or, what can a person give in exchange for his life?" (Matthew 16:24-26, CJB); challenging words indeed. Certainly avaricious wealth-gathering for its own sake is not acceptable Kingdom behaviour, but what about normal people? After all, we are not all Russian oil magnates, buying up football clubs and businesses with the small change from our back pockets - how should we apply Yeshua's words in our lives?
Perhaps the key is in understanding that true ownership is not and never has been ours. The cry "It's all mine" is exactly the opposite of the truth: none of it is ours. We are stewards of all that G-d has made in this world; mightily blessed stewards, that is true, but stewards none the less. When our people were nomads without a home-land of their own in the desert on the way to Israel, while describing the sabbatical year and redemption of property.HaShem makes this clear: "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me" (Vayikra 25:23). Israel may hold the head lease on the Land, but they are still only lease-holders; HaShem retains the freehold. The Preacher in Jerusalem somewhat bitterly observed that we start this life with nothing and we leave it in the same way: "As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand" (Ecclesiastes 5:15, NASB). Job expressed the same thought but was able to makes sense of it because he correctly recognised the the hand of G-d: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The L-RD gave and the L-RD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the L-RD" (Job 1:21, NASB).
The early church was apparently not immune to those who accumulated wealth at the expense of others. James writes them a stinging rebuke: "Next, a word for the rich: weep and wail over the hardships coming upon you! Your riches have rotted, and your clothes have become moth-eaten; your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat up your flesh like fire! This is theacharit hayamim, and you have been storing up wealth" (James 5:1-3, CJB)! These are the last days, he tells them: they are abusing their power to collect wealth for themselves that is not only of no real eternal value but is already destroying both itself and them. He goes on: "Listen! The wages you have fraudulently withheld from the workers who mowed your fields are calling out against you, and the outcries of those who harvested have reached the ears of ADONAI-Tzva'ot. You have led a life of luxury and self-indulgence here on earth - in a time of slaughter, you have gone on eating to your heart's content. You have condemned, you have murdered the innocent; they have not withstood you" (vv. 4-6, CJB). It is not the possessions themselves, nor the possession of them that is the problem, but the attitude towards them and the way in which they are amassed and used.
The Kingdom of G-d has within in it great financiers and philanthropists who generate large amounts of wealth from ethical but efficient businesses and channel much of these monies into supporting the works of the churches, big and small. Many individuals who simply have normal jobs and incomes set aside a proportion of their income to give to the work of the Kingdom, be that in organised forms or often in spontaneous charity to other individuals and groups. The essence is that all these people see themselves as part of the Kingdom, as stewards or channels through which the L-rd is moving His finances to bless others. Finance, of itself, is a necessary medium for making things happen; you cannot run even a simple soup kitchen without money - someone has to buy the raw materials to make the soup and the mugs or flasks in which to give it away. We must all learn to hold the Kingdom resources that have been entrusted to our care less tightly, not to wrap our arms around them amidst cries of "It's all mine!" but to recognise that it is the L-rd who owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50:10) who provides and wants to direct all things that pass through our hands.
Further Study: 1 Chronicles 29:14-15; Hebrew 11:8-10
Application: Are you holding something too tightly, so that G-d is not able to use it? If He can't use it, you'll find that you can't use it either - you need to let go in order to release its use. Why not ask G-d today what you need to release to Him and then let Him show you how to use it.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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