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The Biblical Case For Limited Government And Low Taxes

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By James Arlandson

Liberalism, generally, favors a bigger government and higher taxes to pay for it, while conservatives advocate moving in the opposite direction: limited government and low taxes.

Let’s face it. The government since FDR’s New Deal has gotten bigger. LBJ instituted the Great Society. (I want my Game Show Government, no matter the cost!) By now conservatives would say Uncle Sam is morbidly obese. But liberalism is still winning, and liberals claim the moral high ground.

But do they have the right to it?

Not if we follow what the Bible recommends.

I have to admit from the outset that I get nervous about applying the economic and political specifics of the Bible to the modern era. But maybe we can draw general principles from the ancient theocracy of the Old Testament, which eventually evolved (or devolved) into a royal theocracy.

Of course, we don’t — nor should we — live in a theocracy. So let’s proceed with caution as we look at the Bible.

The main principle here in this article is one that goes wrong: from simplicity to complexity. We need to reverse the process.

From Simplicity

As for political power, Deuteronomy 17:16-20 reads:

16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself … he must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law … and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers[.]

So the king must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver, he is to follow the law, and he must not consider himself better than his fellow citizens. Lean and simple.

As for the flow of the material resources, we don’t need to go into the details about taxes and tithes and offerings in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). And I’m certainly not advocating going back to the Old Testament specifics on those policies.

Instead, as we notice that the resources flowed to a centralized place (the tabernacle), we just need to look at the same principle of simplicity.

There are three tithes (a tithe is a tenth) commanded in the Torah. Numbers 18:20-32 provides the tithe for Levites and priests: “It is your wages for your work in the tent of meeting” (v. 31). Second, the ancient Hebrews could bring their tithes, either in kind or in silver, and buy what they needed after they got to the tabernacle and celebrated the harvest. They could have a feast on their own tithe in God’s presence (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Third, every three years, they were to set a tenth of their produce for the Levites who lived in their towns but were not allowed to have land to farm. This tithe was also for the poor and helpless and foreigners (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

Next, the ancient Hebrews were to “redeem” their lives because God redeemed them out of Egypt (Exodus 30:11-16). This yearly payment, a kind of tax, was to go to the temple. In Jesus’ day, the temple tax was two drachmas, or about two days’ wages of a day laborer (Matthew 17:24-27). That’s low. Incidentally, Jesus paid that tax.

Finally, the people were required to bring sacrificial animals to the tabernacle (Leviticus 1:1-7:21). The well-to-do brought more expensive animals, while the poor could bring in less expensive ones or even grain in some sacrifices (Leviticus 5:7-13). The priests and Levites could share in some of the offerings, as their provision for food.

We don’t need to calculate how much these tithes and tax and offerings would cost today (one tithe was eaten by the giver, so how do you calculate that?). These laws were given in an agrarian society, which followed the rhythms of the harvests and animal reproduction.

The main point is that the Torah, which sets the standard, was reasonable, requiring low “payments” flowing to the central tabernacle. Lean and simple.
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