Chapter 12 (Business Partnerships) pages 209-221
I must admit that I don’t quite follow North’s logic in limiting the relevance of Leviticus 19:11-12 to a discussion of present day business practices and, even more of a confession, I seem to have not quite grasped the implications upon society should his resultant teaching be enforced upon a rebellious and wicked generation who fail to want to deal righteously where advantage is a desirable commodity to have over contractors (though all the time their reflections of righteousness are desired to be shone into the society in which they find themselves - that is, they want to have an image of fair-trading but not necessarily the reality of it).
If the civilisation in which we live is to find reform into righteous dealing then there needs to be a real revival in the hearts and lives of individuals throughout areas and organisations - not just the strengthening and enforcing of Law upon the lawless and disobedient, but the transformation of lifestyle in those who seek their own advantage at the expense and exploitation of others.
For all the good points that are contained within this chapter, revival must come first and a wholesale return to the God who commands such honest and upright practices to be observed in business deals.
North makes the differentiation late on in the chapter between ‘covenant-breakers’ and ‘covenant-keepers’ and notes that there can be (page 220)
‘…no permanent harmony of interests between [them]. There can, however, be temporary cooperation in history based on mutual self-interest’
What the Scripture has to say on this point is a little less compromising (II Cor 7:14), Paul commanding the Corinthians
‘Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity?’
The apostle doesn’t envisage temporary agreements possible by his absolute statement (even though there certainly would have been righteous/unrighteous trade agreements between industries in the ancient world) and all who enter into such agreements must be careful that the bond that’s instituted between the two neither denies Christ nor opens them up to the destruction of material gain that could have been more wisely spent in different agreements.
That even christians deal unrighteously with their own is frightening - but it does take place - whereas non-christians dealing deceitfully should be half-expected. But, personally, each believer must be righteous in all his transactions and dealings no matter who he forms contracts with.
North uses both Leviticus 19 verses 11 and 12 to begin the chapter, his preamble harmonising (or, rather, attempting to harmonise) the verses as being interrelated. But, although there’s common ground on which the verses overlap, the two verses should really be regarded as separate and, as such, should have been dealt with separately.
Stealing, for instance, doesn’t necessitate the taking of an oath to substantiate a lie - even though it may, should a case be brought before the elders of Israel. Dealing falsely, also, doesn’t require that we understand an oath using YHWH’s name to have occurred but can envisage a situation that’s commanded in Lev 19:36.
The two verses, therefore, should be dealt with separately even though there’s common ground where both statutes would apply.
As I’ve previously said, though North deals with promises and contracts in this chapter and makes some good points, there are a few areas that need specific comment.
Fraud (page 212), according to North
‘...is false dealing’
This is correct. However, his next statement that
‘It involves giving a false report to a buyer’
is a limited application of the concept of fraud. Fraud is more often the situation where a declaration is made that’s knowingly incorrect or wrong in order that an advantage might be gained over a person or group of people - but it’s not necessarily limited to a false report being given to a buyer.
When North goes on to define fraud under three points, each one made doesn’t address the real issue of fraud and each one isn’t an absolute statement. He begins by saying (page 212) that
‘...fraud means a refusal to abide by one’s previous word to another individual’
This may fall into the category of oath-breaking, but it’s not necessarily fraud. The person who refuses to fulfil the intentions of his word would have to be shown to have had no initial intention of fulfilling his promise/contract before it could be considered to be fraud.
His second characteristic of fraud is that
‘...it means the deliberate camouflaging of one’s word: to appear to say one thing but in fact mean something else’
This may be nothing more than deceit and doesn’t have to be classified as fraud. There would have to have been an intention to gain an advantage over the individual deceived but words don’t have to be phrased to imply something which they don’t - they can be a downright lie.
Thirdly, North notes that
‘...false dealing is the outright defrauding of the individual’
which means, in fact, very little as it uses the word ‘fraud’ to define itself.
Fraud does have a variety of applications and interpretations but the bottom line is that there must be a misrepresentation of a material fact which then leads into an advantage for the individual which would not necessarily have been given without that misrepresentation.
When North writes (page 213) that
‘“Christian socialism” is an oxymoron’
the statement is only true for an extreme definition of ‘socialism’ - one which tends towards an absolute and pure form of communism where common resources are envisaged as taking the place of privately owned possessions.
‘Socialism’ - especially in the UK - has undergone some quite dramatic definition changes in this past 5 years and is certainly not the label that it once used to be.
But North’s previous statement that
‘...biblical economics rests on the ideal of the legitimacy of private property’
In summarising the type of economic set up that should be in existence within a christian economy, he notes (page 219) that
‘When the human actions of large numbers of the members of society conform to [God’s] law, the general economic results will be good, conforming to God’s promises (Lev 26:4-5,9-10). When men’s actions are rebellious, the economic results will be bad (Lev 25:20,22,26)’
The problem here isn’t the statements that have been made but the latter group of Scriptures that have been cited as justification for economic results being bad when men’s actions are in rebellion towards God.
‘And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?” ...When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating old produce; until the ninth year, when its produce comes in, you shall eat the old...If a man has no one to redeem it, and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it...’
The statutes here have to do with God’s blessing concerning the year of Jubilee and why, by observing the legislation, the Israelites wouldn’t suffer want. The real Scriptures need to be quoted here to substantiate North’s statement - even though his sentence is quite accurate without the citation.
As North goes on to point out (page 219 - bringing his teaching back into some sort of exposition of the Scripture quoted at the head of the chapter)
‘This system rests on the concept of the honest word [Lev 19:11]: the producer’s promise to buy, the seller’s promise to sell, and the oath-bound witness’ promise to tell the truth to the court [Lev 19:12 - sort of]’
North sees God as ruling over the trade practices and agreements, giving to man the right to trade and make a profit but also legislating to promote safeguards and fair working practices within the set up. This is quite accurate and needs to be fully accepted - God needs to be seen as the omnipotent overseer of all man’s transactions and contracts in order to prompt men and women to uphold honesty and sincerity, promoting the profit not just of their own businesses but, through their honesty, the profit of others’ businesses and the welfare of the work force employed.
But North’s exposition of the tares and the wheat (page 220) is reading too much into a simple parable that the Lord gave with application. He writes
‘The tares are not uprooted in history; neither is the wheat (Matt. 13:18-23,36-43). Their cooperation is based either on the willingness of the wheat to abide by the stipulations that are established by the tares or on the willingness of the tares to abide by the stipulations established by the wheat: biblical law’
The parable wasn’t spoken to His listeners to teach them how to cooperate with the evil dealers that traded around them - but to demonstrate that satan had sown evil seed amongst the good seed that God had sown - to realise that these plants that were growing (both good and evil) couldn’t be separated until the final harvest.
The application to economic structures is unwarranted.
Although commenting on the economic systems that God desires man to institute, the absolute statement by North (page 221) that
‘...men are free to do anything not specifically prohibited’
needs some qualification. In my notes under ‘Further thoughts and teaching on Leviticus chapter 18’, I noted that
‘...sexual relations between a father and his daughter are not mentioned as being forbidden in either this passage or chapter 20 which follows’
going on to note that it was a possibility that such prohibitions were already part of Israelite society and culture and I then gave the example of Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19:30-38. But, if we were to apply North’s statement here, we’d conclude that such sexual relationships within the family were permitted because they weren’t expressly forbidden.
Therefore, such a statement as North makes cannot be taken as an absolute without qualifying sentences - in fact, it’s best, because of the danger of misunderstanding, that the statement be removed totally if it’s not expounded sufficiently well.
Finally, in North’s statement (page 221)
‘...bureaucracy...a top-down system of controls in which a central planning agency announces goals and standards, modifies them repeatedly, and then evaluates the performance of subordinates in terms of the previous announcements. If all men were liars most of the time, this is the kind of system mankind would be stuck with’
I can’t help but see an application to the current British government’s set-up along with the EU. Perhaps it’s just me (or are there others out there who see the similarity?) but should this be a true absolute statement, then it does demonstrate just where our nation has backslidden to...
But it must be pointed out that bureaucracy can exist amongst a nation that finds itself impinged upon rather than as a result of it’s own corporate sin or individual sins. Therefore, although in the UK we see a bureaucratic state instituting decrees and controls that are burdensome, it may be no more than an imposition of authority rather than the outworkings of a government that’s come about as a consequence of deceit and dishonesty.
But I have my own opinions...
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