A Happy, Prosperous Nation Under God’s Law
“The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous.”—Ps. 19:9.
1. What, to some extent, measures the justness and righteousness of the laws of a nation?
A LAW, in order to hold a nation together for long, must be just, right and strong. So, to a great extent, the prosperity and duration of a government or a nation is a measure of the justness and righteousness of its laws. The United States, with its fine Constitution and Bill of Rights, has become a great and prosperous nation, but it is already having difficulty after less than two hundred years because it is being assailed as imperfect, unjust and partial in many respects. In fact, governments the world over are having the same trouble.
2. What was the only nation ever given a law code by God, and what speaks well of this Law?
2 These nations are established on man-made law, borrowing a statute occasionally from the Mosaic law as given to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai in Arabia. The only nation that ever was given a complete set of laws from God was the nation of Israel. This law was given in 1513-1512 B.C.E. in the wilderness of Sinai. Even though Israel experienced many vicissitudes due to its continual deviation from that law, 905 years elapsed before Jerusalem finally fell into subjugation because of Jewish apostasy. So, in Nehemiah 9:36, 37, Governor Nehemiah wrote: “Look! We are today slaves; and as for the land that you gave to our forefathers to eat its fruitage and its good things, look! we are slaves upon it, and its produce is abounding for the kings that you have put over us because of our sins, and over our bodies they are ruling and over our domestic animals, according to their liking, and we are in great distress.” Israel’s existence during this long period as an organized nation under its own government speaks well of the strength and rightness of those laws.
3. How will an examination of the Law given to Israel benefit us?
3 However, because the Bible shows us that the Law condemned the Jews because of their violation of it, we may tend to get an improper view of the value of that Law, and to feel that it was extremely restrictive and hard to live under. But an examination reveals that it was immeasurably superior to any law code ever constituted, and operated to the greatest well-being of its subjects. A consideration of the Law also clarifies how Jehovah views matters and the principles by which he deals with his creation.
4. Describe how the government of the nation of ancient Israel was unique.
4 The administration of the government of Israel was unique in that Jehovah was its supreme and absolute Sovereign. He was the King and, additionally, God, the Head of religion. And the state of Israel was unlike other governments, which usually have separate executive, legislative and judicial bodies. Jehovah himself made the laws and was also the judicial Head, interpreting and applying them. Thus Isaiah 33:22 says: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King; he himself will save us.” Idolatry, or the worship of any other god, was at the same time lese majesty. Likewise, to stand up against the laws of the land was standing up against the Head of religion, amounting to apostasy or blasphemy. Hence God said to Israel: “One who sacrifices to any gods but Jehovah alone is to be devoted to destruction.” “And it must occur that if you should at all forget Jehovah your God and you should actually walk after other gods and serve them and bow down to them, I do bear witness against you today that you people will absolutely perish.” (Ex. 22:20; Deut. 8:19) Obedience to the laws was also a part of true worship.
5, 6. Were there civil rights problems under the Law? and why was Israel no welfare state?
5 There were no civil rights problems under the Law when its judges and rulers obeyed God. It protected the native, the alien resident and even the foreigner staying temporarily in the land.—Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33, 34; Deut. 24:17.
6 Under the Law the poor man was not deprived of justice because he was poor, nor the rich man because he was rich—there was no “take from the rich and give to the poor” ideology. (Lev. 19:15) The welfare state was impossible under the Law. Nevertheless, the poor were amply cared for, yet still keeping their self-respect, for they had to work for what they got. Compare this with Genesis 3:19, and with 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where we read: “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.”
CONSIDERATION FOR THE POOR
7. What provision was made for the poor, and how did it benefit both the poor man and the landowner?
7 The economy of Israel was mostly agricultural, each man having his own land inheritance. Some Israelites, through bad management or financial reverses, might become poor and have to sell their land; some alien residents might come into bad circumstances. In kindness to them the arrangement was that each farmer, in harvesting, should not reap the edges of the field; he should also leave behind any sheaves of grain accidentally dropped by the harvesters. (Lev. 19:9; Deut. 24:19-21) This was left as gleanings for the poor man. (Ruth 2:3, 7) Of course, it took work on his part, for gleaning was not easy. Consequently, there were no idle poor on the hands of the government. And this fine arrangement benefited the owner of the field, for it called upon his generosity as well as his obedience to God. It promoted brotherhood and unity.—Lev. 25:35-43; Deut. 15:11; Ruth 2:15, 16.
SLAVERY A BLESSING
8. If a man came into bad financial circumstances, what provision was made so that his family could be provided for, and how were such ones treated?
8 There was the matter of slavery, which in our day has a harsh sound. But when we examine the laws regarding it, we find that it was a blessing to Israel. If a man had been forced by financial circumstances to sell his inheritance, and there was no rich relative to redeem it for him, he and his family were not left to face starvation. In such case, he could sell himself and his family into slavery. (Lev. 25:47) Israelites who thus became slaves were to be treated, not as someone of a lower “caste,” but as hired workers. So in Leviticus 25:53 it is written: “He should continue with him like a hired laborer from year to year. He may not tread him down with tyranny before your eyes.”
9. (a) What did slavery provide for the poor man? (b) Could he ever get out of slavery, and did he have any opportunities while a slave?
9 Slavery benefited the poor man by providing food, clothing and shelter for the man and his family, yet at the same time they were doing honorable work to earn a living. An Israelite slave might be repurchased by a relative and be free. (Lev. 25:48, 49) If not, on his seventh year he was automatically to be set free, but not destitute. He was to receive grain, oil and wine as the master was able to afford. (Ex. 21:2; Deut. 15:12-14) Thus the slave had a start until he could provide for himself by labor or by business. Slaves also had opportunities. Some became quite well-to-do, for they were allowed to invest their money. (Lev. 25:49) Due to diligence and honesty many slaves rose to positions of great honor, in some instances managing all the affairs of the master.—Compare Genesis 15:2; 24:2; 39:5, 6.
THE SABBATH DAY
10. How did the sabbath day law promote industriousness, and in what way was the day to be spent?
10 The sabbath day was indeed a blessing. It provided men and domestic animals one day of rest out of seven. The other six days were for work, not for idleness. In Exodus 20:9 Jehovah God commanded: “You are to render service and you must do all your work six days.” The six workdays were beneficial in promoting industriousness, and contributed to the national prosperity. In our time it has been found that the five-day workweek has contributed to moral decay because the people tend to use idle time wrongly. Not so in Israel. The one day free from labor was one that could be set aside for a day of spirituality. It was declared a “sacred” day. (Ex. 20:8, 10, 11) Therefore it was not to be profaned, but used for sacred things. It was available as a day for discussing God’s law, teaching it to the children, thereby drawing closer to their King and Creator. Nicely fitting in here was what God said in Deuteronomy 5:15; 6:6-8, where we read: “And you must remember that you became a slave in the land of Egypt and Jehovah your God proceeded to bring you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why Jehovah your God commanded you to carry on the sabbath day.” “And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up. And you must tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must serve as a frontlet band between your eyes.”
THE SABBATH YEAR
11. What fine benefits were enjoyed during the sabbath year?
11 The seventh year was a sabbath year. The land was to lie fallow, not being cultivated or reaped. Soil conservationists recognize the value of this practice. (Lev. 25:1-4) The owner could eat from what grew of itself that year as he needed it. The poor of the land could also come and eat. Thoughtful consideration was here shown for even the beasts of the field, for they were allowed to partake of it. (Lev. 25:5-7) Since most Israelites were farmers, the residents of the land would not be so much occupied in work during the sabbath year. Again the freedom thus afforded was not to be misused but was to result in more time for spiritual association, upbuilding the family in the law of God. It was on every seventh year, during the festival of booths, that the entire law of God was read to the nation by the priests. Concerning this we read in Deuteronomy 31:10-13: “Moses went on to command them, saying: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the appointed time of the year of the release, in the festival of booths, when all Israel comes to see the face of Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose, you will read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident who is within your gates, in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law. And their sons who have not known should listen, and they must learn to fear Jehovah your God all the days that you are living upon the soil to which you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of it.’”
12. How did the observance of the Jubilee year call for faith?
12 Every fiftieth year was a Jubilee, where in the land must again be left uncultivated. (Lev. 25:8, 9, 11, 12) The same principles applied concerning the eating of produce from the land during that year. Keeping the Jubilee called for faith. They had to trust in Jehovah to provide in the forty-eighth year of each fifty-year cycle enough food to last until the harvest of the fifty-first year, the year after the Jubilee.—Lev. 25:20-22.
13. (a) What took place during the Jubilee year? (b) How was the Jubilee a protection for the people, and, because of the Jubilee, how was the price of land evaluated?
13 The Jubilee was in a sense an entire year of festival, a year of liberty, of happiness and thanksgiving for Jehovah’s provisions. All hereditary lands and possessions that had been sold were restored. Each man returned to his family and his ancestral possession. (Lev. 25:13) All Hebrew slaves were set free. (Lev. 25:10) Through this arrangement no family could sink into the depths of perpetual poverty. Every family had its honor and self-respect. Even if a man was a squanderer of his substance he could not forever forfeit his inheritance for his posterity, to disgrace their name in the land. By reason of the Jubilee law it followed that none of the land could be sold in perpetuity. (Lev. 25:23, 24) Actually, the buying of land amounted only, in effect, to a lease, the value of the land being calculated according to the value of the crops until the next Jubilee.—Lev. 25:14-16.
14. From a national viewpoint, what marvelous benefits did the Jubilee bring?
14 The wonderful provision of the Jubilee year can be better appreciated when one considers not only the beneficial results to the individual Israelite, but more especially the effect on the nation as a whole. When properly viewed, the Jubilee is seen to be a restoration to the full and proper theocratic state that God established at the beginning in the Promised Land. The national economy was thereby kept stable. God had promised Israel that, if obedient, “you will certainly lend on pledge to many nations, whereas you yourself will not borrow.” (Deut. 15:6) The Jubilee brought about a stable standard of land values and also prevented a great internal debt with false prosperity and its resultant inflation, deflation and business depression. The Jubilee also obviated the need for burdensome taxes.
15. How did the Jubilee prevent the condition that we see in many nations today?
15 The Jubilee law, when obeyed, preserved the nation from gravitating into the sad picture that we see today in many lands where there are virtually only two classes, the extremely rich and the extremely poor—serfs, sharecroppers, and the like. The benefits to the individual strengthened the nation, for none would be underprivileged and crushed into unproductiveness by bad economic situations. Today many valuable citizens cannot employ their talents because economic conditions keep them tied to some drab workaday job just to make a living. But in Israel the industrious citizen could contribute his full talents and abilities to the national welfare.
PROTECTION FOR WOMEN
16. Name some of the protections that the Law granted women in Israel.
16 Women were protected by the marriage laws. Although polygamy was practiced, God not yet acting to restore the original state of monogamy (Gen. 2:23, 24), it was regulated. The firstborn son of a man although by the less-loved wife could not be deprived of his firstborn rights. (Deut. 21:15-17) A man had to have valid cause to divorce his wife, and additionally was required to give her a certificate of divorce. (Deut. 24:1) This protected her from possible charges of adultery or prostitution later on. A Hebrew slave girl taken as a wife was guaranteed her sustenance, clothing and marriage due, even if the man favored another wife. (Ex. 21:7-11) One who seduced a virgin girl before marriage could never divorce her. (Deut. 22:28, 29) The soldier who married a captive virgin girl could not later sell her into slavery.—Deut. 21:10-14.
17. Name some advantages in the fact that there were no prisons provided for under the Law.
17 The criminal laws were far finer than those on statute books today. There were no prisons provided for under the Law. Only later, during the rule of the kings, were prisons improperly instituted in Israel. (Jer. 37:15, 16; 38:6, 28) No prison sentence being meted out for any crime meant that no criminals were being fed and housed at the expense of the hardworking people who obeyed the Law. If a man stole from his fellowman, he would not be put in prison, thereby being rendered unable to pay for what he stole, leaving his victim to suffer loss. No, he was required to pay double for what he stole, or more, depending upon the item stolen and his disposition of it. (Ex. 22:1, 4, 7) If he did not pay, he was sold into slavery, which meant that he would work until he had paid off the judgment against him for what he had stolen. (Ex. 22:3) This law not only helped the victim of the thief but also was a strong deterrent against stealing.
18. How did the Law emphasize that life is sacred?
18 Life was considered sacred under the Law. A deliberate murderer could in no way be exonerated. He was to be put to death without fail. Thus in Numbers 35:30-33 we read as regards fugitives to the cities of refuge: “Every fatal striker of a soul should be slain as a murderer at the mouth of witnesses, and one witness may not testify against a soul for him to die. And you must take no ransom for the soul of a murderer who is deserving to die, for without fail he should be put to death. And you must not take a ransom for one who has fled to his city of refuge, to resume dwelling in the land before the death of the high priest. And you must not pollute the land in which you are; because it is blood that pollutes the land, and for the land there may be no atonement respecting the blood that has been spilled upon it except by the blood of the one spilling it.” This removed such a wicked person from Israelite society. The accidental manslayer could receive mercy. (See Numbers 35:9-15, 26-29.) Even the unsolved murder was not allowed to go unatoned for. The city nearest the scene of the slaying was considered as bloodguilty and under a curse unless they performed the ceremony required, to receive removal of community bloodguilt before God.—Deut. 21:1-9.
19. How did the Law provide protection for one’s person?
19 One’s person was considered inviolable. Women were protected from assault. (Deut. 22:25-27) Kidnapping was a capital crime. The kidnapper in whose hand the person was found or who had sold the kidnapped one into slavery was to be put to death without fail.—Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7.
NO RIOTS OR DELINQUENCY
20. How did the Law eliminate delinquency and riots?
20 When the nation followed the Law, there was no problem of delinquency. Neither were there “sit-ins,” mob actions, riots or a popular taking over of any function of government. Exodus 23:2 says: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends; and you must not testify over a controversy so as to turn aside with the crowd in order to pervert justice.” This was because the essential unit of the nation was the family. Great respect for the rulers was taught, as well as for the parents themselves. (Ex. 20:12; 22:28) For example, whoever struck his father or mother or called down evil upon them was to be put to death. (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9) A son who was incurably rebellious, who, for example, became a glutton and a drunkard, was to be executed. (Deut. 21:18-21) Respect for the home and family resulted in respect for the nation’s rulers, particularly its Chief Ruler, Jehovah God.
RESPECT FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS
21. How was respect for property rights emphasized by the law on lost articles?
21 In modern times, the practice popularly followed in regard to lost items is “finders keepers.” But in Israel, anyone who found an item was required to restore it to its owner. If the owner lived far away and was unknown, then the item was to be kept until the owner searched for it. (Deut. 22:1-3) This indicates that the finder would report the matter officially to aid the owner in his search.
22. How was the right of domain protected?
22 Rights of domain were most highly respected. A man could not collect a debt by going into the debtor’s house to get what had been pledged as security. The creditor had to wait outside and let the man bring out the pledged article to him. (Deut. 24:10, 11) Neither could a creditor foreclose on one’s immediate means of living or one’s essential clothing. On this it is written in Deuteronomy 24:6, 12, 13: “No one should seize a hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge, because it is a soul that he is seizing as a pledge. And if the man is in trouble, you must not go to bed with his pledge. You should by all means return the pledge to him as soon as the sun sets, and he must go to bed in his garment, and he must bless you; and it will mean righteousness for you before Jehovah your God.”
KINDNESS TO ANIMALS
23. What regulations were given for the benefit of animals?
23 Animals were also given kind consideration. If a man saw an animal in distress, even if it belonged to his enemy, he was required to help it. (Ex. 23:5; Deut. 22:4) Beasts of burden were not to be overworked or mistreated. The threshing bull was not to be muzzled so that he could not partake of the fruits of his labor when threshing the grain. (Deut. 25:4) Wild animals were treated with kindness. A man was not to remove both a mother bird and her young, nor the bird and her eggs, thereby wiping out the family. (Deut. 22:6, 7) Neither was an individual to slaughter a bull or a sheep and its young on the same day.—Lev. 22:28.
24. (a) Wars of Israel were of what nature, and yet did military duty come ahead of everything else? (b) What were the exemptions from military duty, based on what principles?
24 Military laws were for wars of Jehovah, by his command and under his direction. But even so, the national defense was not considered so important as to supersede the rights of the family. A man who had become engaged and who had not taken his wife, and a man who had been married for less than one year, were exempt until, in each case, the marriage could be carried on for a year. This was based on the right of a man to have an heir and to see this heir; also, on the right of a woman to have a child by her husband. (Deut. 20:7; 24:5) When a man had built a house but had not inaugurated it, or if a man had not yet reaped the fruitage of a newly planted vineyard, he was exempt. (Deut. 20:5, 6) The exemption was based on the principle that a man has the right to enjoy the fruits of his work. Levites were exempt because they did service at the sanctuary. This law clearly placed the worship of Jehovah ahead of the military need.—Num. 1:47-49; 2:33.
25. How was the army’s religious and physical cleanliness ensured, and how did this work beneficially in connection with the siege of enemy cities?
25 Since wars were wars of Jehovah, soldiers were sanctified for warfare and cleanliness was required in camp. (Deut. 23:9-14) Also, there were no women “camp followers,” as in worldly armies, to provide sexual relations for the soldiers. This would be immorality. Moreover, sex relations even with a wife were abstained from during a military campaign. (1 Sam. 21:5; 2 Sam. 11:6-11) Thus the army’s religious and physical cleanliness was ensured. Accordingly, there was no raping of the women among the captured enemy. The law, being strictly enforced, worked beneficially in that it provided inducement to the enemy to surrender, knowing that their women would not be molested.—Deut. 21:10-13.
ZEAL FOR TRUTH
26. What statues with regard to legal cases promoted zeal for truth and justice?
26 A witness was required to testify to that which he knew. (Lev. 5:1) He was not to commit perjury, for this was lying “before Jehovah.” If accusations made against another were found to be deliberately false, the accuser would suffer the same penalty that would have been meted out to the accused. Accordingly we read in Deuteronomy 19:16-19: “In case a witness scheming violence should rise up against a man to bring a charge of revolt against him, the two men who have the dispute must also stand before Jehovah, before the priests and the judges who will be acting in those days. And the judges must search thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and has brought a false charge against his brother, you must also do to him just as he had schemed to do to his brother, and you must clear away what is bad from your midst.” No one could be put to death on circumstantial evidence. There had to be two eyewitnesses to establish the truth. (Deut. 17:6; 19:15) The witnesses against a man found guilty of a capital crime were to be the first to share in stoning the man to death. This law promoted zeal for righteousness in Israel. Not only the judges, but every citizen was thus required to demonstrate his desire to keep the land clean from bloodguilt before God. It was also a deterrent to false, hasty or careless testimony. Good was derived from the law in Deuteronomy 17:7, which reads: “The hand of the witnesses first of all should come upon him to put him to death, and the hand of all the people afterward; and you must clear out what is bad from your midst.”
FORBIDDEN MARITAL RELATIONS
27. What were some laws with regard to marital relations?
27 The laws governing marriage forbade marriage to any close fleshly relative. Thus Leviticus 18:6 says: “You people must not come near, any man of you, to any close fleshly relative of his to lay bare nakedness. I am Jehovah.” Such relationships are repugnant to human nature, and are genetically unwise. And the filthy act of deliberately having sex relations with one’s wife during her menstrual period “laid bare the source of her blood.” Both parties suffered the death penalty. (Lev. 20:18) The revolting practices of homosexuality and bestiality likewise were punished by death, according to Lev. 20:13, 15, where it is written: “Where a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman, both of them have done a detestable thing. They should be put to death without fail. Their own blood is upon them. And where a man gives his seminal emission to a beast, he should be put to death without fail, and they should kill the beast.”
28, 29. (a) How did the sanitary and dietary laws serve to keep Israel a separate nation? (b) What were some literal health benefits?
28 The sanitary and dietary laws served a double purpose. They served to keep Israel a separate nation, constantly reminded that they were to be a religiously clean people before Jehovah. These regulations also kept the people from having social intercourse with the pagans surrounding them. If you read the Bible book of Leviticus, chapters 11 to 15, you will see that the Israelites had to be scrupulously clean, religiously and physically. If an Israelite family should accept an invitation to go into a pagan home to eat, there would be innumerable things that might exist to make them religiously unclean or they might possibly be guilty of eating blood unwittingly. Then there was great danger of being involved in some idolatrous act, and, of course, the added peril of leading their children into marriage involvements with the pagans. Appropriately in Deuteronomy 7:3, it is stated to Israel: “You must form no marriage alliance with them. Your daughter you must not give to his son, and his daughter you must not take for your son.”
29 Then, from a medical viewpoint, the laws of sanitation and quarantine, along with the moral laws and the prohibition on blood, were marvelous protections from typhoid, typhus, bubonic plague, hepatitis, gonorrhea and syphilis, and a host of other diseases.
30. Why should we be diligent in finding out all that the Law foreshadowed?
30 The Law was so fine, yet was given for only a typical nation of God, and furnished a shadow of the good things to come. It is so stated in Hebrews 10:1, where we read: “For since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things, men can never with the same sacrifices from year to year which they offer continually make those who approach perfect.” Therefore, how diligent we should be to study what is foreshadowed, namely, the law of freedom brought in by Jesus Christ, mentioned in James 1:25, where we read: “But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.” And with what keen anticipation we can look forward to the righteous government of earth during the glorious thousand-year reign of Christ so near at hand! Then the needed righteous instructions will be imparted to earth’s inhabitants, even including the resurrected dead, as described in Revelation 20:12, 13, where we read: “I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds.”
[Picture on page 374]
God’s law provided for a day free from labor. It could be used for sacred things, such as teaching children God’s commandments