Last week the Fed announced it was leaving the interest rate near zero based on the fact that the “recovery” is still fragile. The low rate has been in place since late 2008 in an attempt to stimulate spending and recovery after the meltdown. But we have to go back far beyond the meltdown to find out what is happening. We are citing key parallels between Elijah’s presence in Israel in which he initiated a drought that plunged the national economy into depression, and the modern economic meltdown. The Bible states clearly that Elijah will be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, and Elijah crashed Israel’s economy and created patterns for what financial life would be like at the end of time (Mal 4:5-6).
In the previous article we looked at how Elijah closing the heavens was the equivalent of shutting off the money supply, which happened when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and banks stopped lending to each other or buying one another’s financial instruments. But Elijah also said there would be no dew, and drying up the dew is the equivalent of wealth “evaporating”. Not only did the money supply get shut off in the meltdown, but wealth evaporated before the eyes of the whole world – the value of traded stocks declined $8 trillion from 2007 to 2008. We are living in the days of Elijah, and Parallel #3 states that there was an Evaporation of Wealth.
Elijah is Both History and Metaphor
The Divinely ordained drought caused by Elijah actually happened during Ahab’s reign. It was a historic event; if we could somehow look at Israel’s GDP we would see the steep drop off and the depressed economy for 3 ½ years of Elijah’s prophecy. The figures would then reflect the financial upsurge when Elijah opened the heavens again. It actually happened, but it is also a metaphor for how life will be at the End of Time. I wrote in The Arc of Empires that the Bible is filled with metaphors – they are one of the primary ways the prophets conveyed God’s mind to His people. For example, God instructed Hosea the prophet to marry a harlot, and he compared her to His people who broke covenant and were like an unfaithful wife to Him (Hos 9:1). In another example, as Israel prepared to invade the land of Canaan, Moses reminded them that in a previous encounter the Amorites chased them "like a swarm of bees", but now they could be assured that God was going ahead of them "like a devouring fire" to drive out their enemies before them (Deut 1:44, 9:3).
Jesus used metaphors extensively; when he saw crowds who were aimless he had compassion on them and described them as being “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). People are not literally sheep. But the need for protection and leadership is brought to life by comparing us to weak and defenseless animals. He continued with the sheep metaphor when He told His disciples they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves.” They were innocent and pure, and their mission thrust them into a spiritually hostile environment. Therefore they should be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves” (Mt 10:16).
At one point Jesus said openly that he was looking for a way to describe those who refused to hear John the Baptist: “ To what can I compare this generation?” he asked, indicating he had thought about it and searched for an apt comparison. Having found a perfect parallel, He then said “They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: we played the flute for you and you didn’t dance; we sang a dirge and you didn’t mourn” (Mt 11:16-17). Of course they weren’t actually children, nor did they play a flute or sing a dirge, but when Jesus used metaphoric language everyone understood these religious leaders were like spoiled, immature children and implying they could have used a good spanking!
God talks through allegorical language and He expects us to understand: An unfaithful wife…a swarm of bees...a devouring fire…sheep without a shepherd…wolves…serpents…doves…children demanding that adults respond to their actions – each is part of the rich metaphoric language of the Bible. We can add to that list “Elijah”, because Malachi declared that the prophet would come during “the great and dreadful day of the Lord”. When China devalued its currency and the stock market wobbled on Black Monday, August 24th, we have a Biblical imperative to look at Elijah to find out what it means. To not do so is to neglect a pattern God put in the earth in order to make us ready to live in the Time of the End.
Parallel #3: The Evaporation of Wealth
The third Parallel between Elijah’s drought and the economic meltdown is that there was an Evaporation of Wealth. Not only did rain stop in the meltdown when credit / liquidity dried up overnight, but wealth evaporated also. Before the meltdown the world of finance was filled with liquidity. Money was incredibly easy to get and accessible to all, and credit markets were booming. Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) flooded the markets with money and produced fantastic returns:
- One CDO produced annual returns between 13-40% from 2004-06.
- By mid-2005, there were $12 trillion in CDS contracts alone in the market. That isn’t the total value of labor, small businesses, manufacturing, exports, other stocks and trades, etc. – it was the value of one type of financial instrument, and that was equivalent of the size of the entire U.S. economy that year.
But then the days of Elijah were thrust back into the earth and the meltdown happened, and $6.3 trillion in home equity evaporated almost overnight. Other financial measurements that reflect the metaphor of both rain and dew stopping include:
- At the start of 2007, when the market began to move towards trouble and liquidity was being sucked out of the system, around $80 billion worth of notes were sold every month. By August 2007 it was near zero.
- On September 29, 2008 – just two weeks after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy – the market lost 777 points and $1.2 trillion in market value vanished – in one day.
- There was an additional $2 trillion in estimated losses by American banks during the meltdown.
- The decline in the markets and in banks translated directly into loss of value in people’s retirement accounts and individual investments – wealth vanished.
The Bear Stearns Buyout
Former Bear Stearns office in NY1
The sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan is another illustration of the evaporation of wealth. Bear was founded in 1923 and was a global investment bank and brokerage firm. They were known for being independent and maverick. They had survived the 1929 Wall Street crash without laying off any employees. Before the meltdown their share price traded at about $131, but they had heavily invested in mortgage debt and were caught in a lack of liquidity. Everyone was looking for capital, and Bear did so by seeking a loan guarantee from JP Morgan.
Instead of loaning them money, JP Morgan bought Bear. The buyout was a clash of cultures and management styles; Bear was known to be hard and fast and its brokers “ate what they killed”, while Morgan was staid and conservative. One wag commented that two completely different corporate cultures was like “the Boy Scouts taking over the mob”. To make matters worse – at least for Bear – JP Morgan bought them for $2/share, just 2% of the value of their stock six months before.
In a symbol of the loss of value, the purchase price of Bear made the entire global investment bank worth less than the value of one building it owned on Madison Avenue. The buyout infuriated managers at Bear, many of whom had their personal wealth tied up in Bear shares that, after the meltdown, were worth next to nothing. They taped a $2 bill to the front door of their (former) headquarters as a symbol of their disgust. The evaporation of wealth that Elijah declared thousands of years earlier manifest in the steep drop of a major international bank in 2008 – the Biblical metaphor of drought crashed into the earth with force. Wall Street executives and people generally might dismiss talk of Elijah and Biblical metaphors, but they felt the effect of it in the same place Ahab and all of Israel did – in their wallets.
Obedience is the Key
When thinking about Elijah we are awed by his spiritual power – he closed the heavens, called down fire, raised a boy from the dead, etc. But God does not empower disobedient people. The secret of Elijah’s strength was his obedience. He was walking in obedience to God when he crashed the economy, and after pronouncing the drought, God told Elijah “turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine…so Elijah did what the Lord told him” (1 Kings 17:2). God sent birds with bread and meat twice a day and the brook provided water so the prophet ate while the region was in famine.
When the brook dried up God told Elijah “Go at once to Zaraphath and stay there, I have commanded a widow there to supply you with food, so he went to Zarephath” (v 9-10). I have heard this being used in churches to raise offerings. One prophet I used to know would say in every meeting that the people should “make me a cake first” – he wanted their money and he used his prophetic gift to extract it. He was walking in oppression, disobedience and self-indulgence while quoting a story of sacrifice, purity and obedience to God. I finally told him “Elijah said it ONCE”, after which we stopped being friends. The financial system God is judging is disobedient as it embraces the values of greed, competition, extraction, and the only way to avert the consequences of God moving against it is to be pure and obedient.
Elijah didn’t just walk in the blessings of obedience in his own life, he brought the widow into the power of hearing God and doing what He says. He told her “Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.'" (1 Kings 17:13-14).
Our response to God’s commands must be just like hers was: “She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (v 15-16). It is obedience to all that God is saying and doing in the earth that will pilot the people of God through the crisis.
1 "BearStearns" photograph, original uploader was David Shankbone on Wikipedia