Israel didn’t know how good they had it.
In making covenant with God, God had declared: “And ye shall serve Jehovah your God, and he will bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. There shall none cast [miscarry -spw] her young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil” (Exodus 23:25-26, ASV, consider also Deuteronomy 7:12-15 & 28:5-8).
Freedom from disease, fertility among people, flocks and fields, plenty of food, healthy kids and families; a pretty good deal. And when we read the covenant realizing what it was offering, Israel was looking at a utopia only to be imagined in other cultures, right down to our own times. This was especially true in the time of the judges. There was no human king to rule over them, no government taxes, no conscription of young men to serve in the military, they were organized within their tribes, they had their own elders – who were kinsmen – to judge and lead them. Under the covenant there was no place for tyranny, and justice would be decided by those who knew them, lived among them, and were kin to them.
In the theocracy that was ancient Israel, there was a safety-net unparalleled in the ancient world. More a case of “workfare” than “welfare,” the poor and needy were allowed to glean in fields they did not own, did not plant, did not cultivate or tend. But come the harvest, the poor were allowed to share in the bounty. The law even prescribed that the corners of the fields be left for the poor and anything missed in the harvest, or dropped in the fields, could not be gathered up later, it was for the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:18-22).
The principle, “… thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am Jehovah” (Leviticus 19:18), was to rule the heart, families – immediate and extended – would take care of their own, and when greater resources were needed, the village or neighborhood would step in. Those vulnerable to oppression, such as widows, the orphan, the lame, even the sojourner (inclusive of gentiles) were covered in their need and carried a special place in the covenant.
Fairness in business was a covenant concern. Protection – even of slaves (Exodus 21: 26-27) – and limitations on punishment for those who broke the law (Deuteronomy 25:3, the punished is still “thy brother”) were also covenant concerns. Justice in the courts, when issues of fairness arose, or questions about the law, was to be rendered without reference to wealth or poverty.
Yet Israel threw it all away – freedom, and Divine guarantees of health, safety, prosperity – for what? Idolatry and acting un-justly toward one another. It is said, “life is tough; it’s tougher when you are stupid.” I would amend that to say: “life is tough; it’s tougher when you are sinful.”
I wonder what blessings and promises we throw away when we choose to break covenant with Christ failing to “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”