Reflections on the Statutes of Omri by economics professor, Jeff Degner
Something’s wrong in the economy. Everyone knows it. Despite the widespread pain felt through raging inflation, collapsing retirement funds, and rising wealth inequality, our politicians are locked in a finger-pointing death match. They have no answers about the actual nature and causes of these economic ills.
In the meantime, it’s the poor who suffer the most. The price of a gallon of milk or fuel means little to nothing to the elites, but the poor, and even the middle class, increasingly face the dilemma of buying groceries versus making the rent or mortgage payment. These rising prices arouse anger among many. And because these conditions are the direct result of corrupt policies by wicked leadership, God Himself will now “maintain the cause of the afflicted and judgment for the needy'' (Ps. 140:12, LSB).
For many Christians, solutions to these problems might seem as simple as getting the “right” people into office: those politicians who will force the clever financial engineers on Wall Street and at the Fed to solve the issues. But what if we are looking to the wrong “saviors” when the solutions are actually to be found in the Scriptures themselves?
The Prophets’ Warnings
The Old Testament gives us specific guidance for identifying the precise governmental policies that lead to such economic miseries—and it also gives us the cures. The lives of Micah and Isaiah overlapped from 740-700 BC, and both prophesied against unjust economic conditions. Micah specifically condemned the policies created by the notoriously wicked Omri and his son, Ahab—conditions that bear a remarkable resemblance to our current reality.
God warned Israel back in 1 Samuel about what life would be like under corrupt leadership, and it played out just as Yahweh had said it would. Their kings trespassed into every sphere of the people’s lives: family, property, and economic endeavors:
[The king] will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:10-22, ESV)
God warned His people that these tyrants would behave like the pagan rulers around them, rulers who were steeped in corruption, greed, and economic injustice.
Economic science directly links this passage to Micah’s reproof of the policies that originated with Omri and Ahab. Although we don’t know all the details of Omri’s trespasses, we do know about Ahab’s seizure of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 (an inheritance of land given to Naboth by the Lord). That wicked king received the just punishment for what was rightly considered an economic crime. Despite the decades that separated Micah from Omri and Ahab, it is clear that the policies, practices, and legalized abominations set forth by these rulers cast a long shadow, and that the impact of their unjust laws would not only contribute to unparalleled corruption but would also lead to the eventual demise of both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
Micah and the Statutes of Omri
Micah rebuked the people and the current rulers of Judah for keeping the “statutes of Omri and all the works of the house of Ahab” and for walking in their customs (Micah 6:16). However, most theologians are stumped as to the nature of these statutes. While Joseph Blenkinsopp has rightly noted that these wicked kings did in fact rebuild the “high places,” he and others fail to recognize the “statutes” that allowed their construction in the first place. The first clue into the nature of these unjust laws is that the construction of such houses of false worship was only possible through a forceful reallocation of wealth and resources. In other words, the nature of the statutes was economic. There was simply no other way for these wicked edifices to be constructed, except with valuable resources.
We don’t need sophisticated hermeneutics in order to read the context of a passage. When it comes to the statutes of Omri, we are actually told that the nature of the evils were enshrined by Omri’s legalized injustice. The specific charges begin in verses 10 and 11 of Micah 6:
Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? (Micah 6:10-11, ESV)
Yawheh asks a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is that not even the Lord Himself can purify or redeem these practices. To be blunt, there are certain economic practices that—even if they are imposed by law, with supposedly good intentions—the Lord Himself will refuse to redeem. Instead, He will only obliterate them as they are inescapably wicked, based as they are in wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic in nature.
The diabolical corruption of short measures, wicked scales, and deceptive weights receives numerous condemnations in the Law, the Prophets, and the wisdom literature. God’s hatred of these practices is articulated in Deuteronomy 25:
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, ESV)
In the most vehement warning possible, the Lord says that anyone who engages in these practices is an abomination before Him.
Modern evangelicals have invented the phrase “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” However, the Scriptures show that when it comes to these economic crimes, Yahweh finds the people who engage in them to be, quite literally, abominable.
Isaiah and the Economic Fraud of Inflation
What makes the Micah’s words even more stunning is the fact that these abominations were clearly enshrined into law by Omri and Ahab. How did they go about legalizing market fraud? It is here that we get further details from Micah’s contemporary prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah describes another type of economic fraud that is central to every single market transaction, a sin that is so profoundly insidious that many of its victims never realize they are being ripped off. We have a name for this form of evil: inflation.
One of the great deceptions that our governing officials and the economists they employ have foisted on the public is their deliberate redefining of the word inflation. They have convinced the nation that rising prices for consumer goods are totally unpredictable and are subject to massive volatility and uncertainty. This perversion of language is in contrast to the historic understanding of economists, who defined inflation as the devaluing of currency and the rapid expansion of credit.
Interestingly, it is this very practice that Yahweh condemns through Isaiah:
How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water. (Isaiah 1:21-22, LSB; emphasis added.)
Christian economist, Gary North, commented that the silver that has become dross has been misinterpreted by some who see this as a reference to general moral decay. However, I’m convinced, along with North, that all of the evils that are described in the later verses of Isaiah 1 are clearly the outcomes of devalued currency.
For instance, “drink diluted with water” should be understood as a literal reference to market vendors selling inferior products because they know that they are receiving money that is diluted with inferior metals. We actually have a name for this in the current context: “shrinkflation.” It’s the phenomenon of vendors introducing lower-quality or even lower quantities and weights of goods. In essence, these merchants retaliate against devalued currency with “scant” measures. In fact, the prophet Amos—who immediately preceded Isaiah and Micah—mimics the language of the type of market cheats who themselves are responding to being cheated due to inflation:
saying, “When will the new moon pass over, So that we may sell grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market, To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, And to cheat with a deceptive balance, So as to buy the poor for money And the needy for a pair of sandals, And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?” (Amos 8:5-6, LSB)
Today’s Dross-Filled Silver
While these forms of evil are reprehensible enough in themselves, they are an evil that is directly derived from “silver that has become dross.” Of course, it is right to expose these forms of corruption, and it is, in fact, popular to do so when we see cases of greedy corporations or individual business people getting caught in their misdeeds. The unfortunate part of these sorts of “gotcha” moments is that they totally ignore the underlying fact that debased currency incentivizes this kind of cheating—and it does so all the more when diluted money supplies are made legal.
Our current economic ills—higher prices, lower-quality goods, disruption in the normal supply of goods, and even the “great resignation” as a refusal for people to work for dollars that are falling in value—all have a root cause: the legalized abomination of, as Isaiah put it, dross-filled silver. In the American economy, it is the debased dollar that encourages governments to spend more than it has in real resources. While the D.C. politicians aren’t buying property for high places, as the wicked kings of Judah did, their spending is directed towards any manner of modern idols, whether green-energy boondoggles, war profiteering, or programs that incentivize the destruction of the family. The evils that we endure today in the U.S. economy have the same cause as those observed by Amos, Isaiah, and Micah. Yet the easily visible injustices have a more hidden cause: one that our government has enshrined in law, specifically the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. This legalized abomination encourages swindling in all its forms, and one that must be exposed, condemned, and abolished by the righteous: namely, the evil of a diluted money supply.
Jeff Degner is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Cornerstone University.
Check out our previous interview with Professor Degner.