We are comparing two very different economies – the first is the modern global economy which was rocked by investor fears when China devalued its currency in late August causing global stock markets to plunge. Some politicians in America called for the nation to somehow detach from China, which is not only impossible but it contradicts the wishes of Americans who are buying goods made in China and would revolt at paying higher prices. Likewise, American’s retirement accounts and other investments have been driven by the growth in emerging markets. One feature of today’s economic reality is its connectedness, causing markets everywhere to respond to events in one nation. Greece’s imminent default and the impact that would have on the Eurozone (and beyond) is another good example of the interconnectedness of today’s economy.
We are comparing this massive global economy to the small agrarian nation of Israel in 875 BC. They are connected because Elijah links the two. This prophet stood before Ahab and deliberately crashed the king’s economy, plunging it into recession by declaring that it would not rain (1 Kings 17:1). The two events – Elijah’s drought and the global economic meltdown – are virtually the same thing. God is dealing with economic conditions in our day just as He did when He sent Elijah to speak to Ahab. The two events share five key parallels, the first of which is:
Parallel #1: A Crisis of Values that Manifest in the Economic Realm
The drought in Israel manifested as an economic crisis but it was based in deficient values and compromise. Elijah lived in a day of social breakdown, spiritual corruption and moral impurity. The people idolized material gain and worshipped the god of mammon, otherwise known as the god Baal. Baal was worshipped as a god who could bring increase to crops – he was thought to be able to control the rain. There are ancient drawings of Baal holding a lightning bolt in his hand, ready to create storms / rains on the earth and increase the harvests and thus improve the financial condition of the people. Baal worship was economic idolatry; people put money before God.
The drought in Israel manifest as an economic crisis but it was based in deficient values and spiritual compromise. Before God brought His people into the land, Moses reminded them that there is a link between values and economics. The land was one that God tended and looked after Himself, and it prospered by rain from heaven. God was vitally concerned about the economy of His people, and He promised to look after them by providing rain if they obeyed Him:
The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. 13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul-- 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. 16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the LORD's anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you. Deuteronomy 11:10 (NIV)
That is pretty clear. The people were told in advance that God would shut the heavens so it would not rain if they refused to obey Him. There was a direct connection between economic life on the one hand and devotion to the Lord on the other. The idolatry God warned them against was fundamentally financial. For 40 years God provided for them financially, sending manna every day to teach them that He was their economic supply. Several important macro and micro-economic principles were embedded in the system of supply:
✔ God is the One who supplies and He does so daily; manna fell every day except for the Sabbath, when people gathered enough for two days to indicate that rest is part of the cycle of economic productivity in the Kingdom of God.
✔ Provision was tied to needs, not to wants or to greed. The people were instructed not to gather more than they needed (Ex 16:16). If one family had five children they gathered much but didn’t have too much, and if another family had two children they gathered little but they had enough. In God’s economy there is something He defines as “enough” and also something he calls “too much”.
✔ Even with Divine warnings to not gather more than they could eat and the promise the food would rot if stored overnight, some gathered more anyway. The desire to accumulate made no sense – it couldn’t be eaten because they already had enough to eat, and it couldn’t be sold because there was no market. But still some took more than they needed and hoarded it, indicating a root problem with economic systems – no matter how well designed by God – is the greed of the human heart.
✔ The gathering of manna was a process of learning a new economic system in which people learned to trust God and not their own ability. Every day for 40 years they gathered manna so that the patterns of dependence on God would be grooved into their psychology when they entered the Promised Land. Yet when they entered they promptly forgot the economic lessons of 40 years of manna and they refused to let their land rest every 7th year, and they changed their allegiance to Baal who promised economic increase. It’s the same way today – people don’t want a system of restraint and limitations, so they forsake the basic laws of God for a healthy economy and choose the god of greed and lust for more instead.
Moses warned that God “Will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce” so it shouldn’t have been a shock when Elijah turned up in Ahab’s court and declared “There will be no rain or dew except at my word.” God was assaulting the idolatry of the economic system, but the crisis in Elijah’s time and in our own is not economic in origin, it is values based. The values of greed and the lust for more manifested in the 2008 meltdown which started in the U.S. housing market when many wanted to extract monetary value from their homes. Housing prices were increasing and people bought or refinanced homes with very low interest rates. In 2005 alone American households extracted more than $750 billion against the value of their homes through re-financing based on increasing property values, 2/3rds of which was spent on personal consumption (cars, boats, vacations, etc.), home improvements and credit card debt.
Greed wasn’t limited to individual consumers – banks made tremendous amounts of money on the loans as they urged people to take out mortgages and buy more house than they could afford. In this market a bank that didn’t reduce their lending standards would lose business, so fraud became rampant. They loaned money to borrowers who were not qualified to repay it. These were called subprime mortgages or “liar loans” because no verification of the loan application was required – people lied or simply fabricated their income status. At one Washington Mutual office, 42% of loans reviewed showed signs of fraud.
The mortgage racket exploded as subprime mortgages increased 292% from 2003 to 2007. Financial institutions issued $1.35 trillion in subprime loans in 2005-06 alone1. To illustrate the sheer size of that number of unqualified loans we have to learn how to think of a trillion, which is helped by this fact: a million seconds is 12 days ago, a billion seconds is 31 years ago, a trillion seconds is 31,688 years ago. In 2008 when the housing market stopped growing and people began defaulting on their loans the global crisis was initiated and spread across the earth – more on that in the next issue.
The crisis is moral and spiritual at its core, not financial. This was expressed well by a prominent banker nearing retirement age who said “As a banker, you have no lack of opportunities to look into the human soul. This entire nation, the entire world, is ultimately running after money. The amount of influence money has on people has always fascinated me. You forget almost everything while in its shadow.” Asked if he had lost his illusions regarding humanity in general, the old banker said “Completely. I used to think that the world was shaped by love. I'm sorry, but that's nonsense. It's shaped by money. Money, avarice and greed -- these are the three main constants.”2
The banker is describing a world that exists by the same values as Ahab’s kingdom that worshipped Baal and the productivity they thought he could bring. Elijah targeted the false god of money at its place of greatest strength – Baal said he could bring rain and productivity and Elijah broke its power by pronouncing drought. Today God is targeting a global economic order that believes it has the power to create wealth through trade, manipulating interest rates and urging consumerism. In one day stocks plunge and the earth panics, and with a small recovery everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But the crisis will continue, because the events that move us to the End of Time cannot be fixed by the efforts of man
Our Required Posture
The turmoil in the markets will continue in an ebb and flow until it reaches the place of ultimate harvest described in Revelation 18 where the entire global economy crashes. God is steering the earth towards ultimate fulfillment, and the requirements for believers is clear:
"Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…20 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! Revelation 18:4
First, we must be separate from Babylon. Elijah’s strength in the face of rampant idolatry demonstrates that it’s possible to live in an environment of intense greed and financial idolatry yet remain pure. The solution is not to withdraw from all economic life – that is a physical impossibility. We have to go to work, pay the mortgage, put our kids through school, etc. It is not evil to earn money or to participate in the economy – Elijah ate and drank and he survived quite well in the midst of God assaulting the agrarian based economy of Israel. But he stood out and was different from the rest. He valued the voice of God more than money, and the hallmark of his life was obedience, not wealth. He was aware that God was dealing with the economic system and that empowered him to walk with God in partnership.
Secondly, we must rejoice when markets fluctuate and plunge and the only way to do that is to recognize that the economic crisis is part of the pathway towards ultimate redemption. Our rejoicing is not a carnal joy or a disregard for human suffering, but a recognition that beyond the crises God is moving to bring things to fulfillment. The fall of Babylon occurs with the full participation of a powerful Church which is in complete alignment with the laws and commands of heaven. When heaven rejoices they also rejoice; the saints, apostles and prophets view Babylon’s judgment as a time of victory and gladness. The crisis is redemptive!
- The global economy did not arrive at the place of instability overnight. For a prophetic perspective on how the global economy evolved to its present condition, see the Case Study of the global economic meltdown in the book A Developed Prophetic Perspective.
- Next issue will cover the second parallel between Elijah and the economic meltdown: The Drying up of the Money Supply.