Advice from Leviticus
As printed in The Marketplace - 2018 - September/October
Old Testament book a good guide for business decisions
By Nick Ramsing
Leviticus is a great business book. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that systemic poverty in the US wouldn’t exist if we used Leviticus as a business model.
It’s helpful to reflect on our perspectives of Leviticus: its context, central purpose and potential to help us today. Then, I can better explain my perspective as a business and market analyst.
Leviticus is perhaps baffling to many of us. We may perceive Leviticus as a set of rigid rules and confusing religious practices that are not relevant today. We may consider that grace has supplanted its practices. It is true that some of the rituals practiced in Leviticus are confusing. The Ancient Near East symbolism is different. Leviticus embodies different perspectives from how we approach life today.
Leviticus and the other “books of the Law” provide great insight into God‘s kingdom values and desire for God’s people. The Law provides insight into God’s desires for right relationships (misphat), how we live in community and transact life with each other (shalom). It addresses how a holy being might “dwell with” and “walk with” a people bent towards themselves. It speaks to the role of men and women as stewards of God’s creation and presents an opportunity for God’s people to model another way to live to the nations, enabling the whole world to know God (Deut 4:5-8). How does that make Leviticus a good business book? What principles might impact us this side of Biblical history? Here are some thoughts drawn out from Leviticus’ civil law that have practical business impact.
Leviticus 5 describes the sacrifice people bring for a ‘sin offering’. The phrase “… if anyone cannot afford …” repeats, addressing successively less valuable commodities: lamb to turtledoves to flour. The point is that everyone can participate. Everyone has access. Your economic status doesn’t hinder you. MEDA’s vision statement implies this: “That all people may experience God’s love and unleash their potential to earn a livelihood, provide for families and enrich their communities.”
Leviticus 19: 9-10 describes gleaning practices. Rather than striving for excessive productivity, extracting maximum value, God’s people were to leave food on the field so the poor and sojourner can glean for food. This provides dignity. What implications exist for productivity and efficiency in view of the call to benefit less well-off members of our community? How do we redefine economic productivity? What business models enhance community welfare (shalom)?
Leviticus 19: 13-16, 35-36: remind us that we shall not defraud or rob, pervert justice, “or use dishonest weights, among other things. These instructions to conduct fair, honest, and respectful transactions with suppliers, customers and employees (misphat) seem straightforward.
What does it mean to genuinely “love your neighbor?”
In Leviticus 25, we read about Jubilee, the command to forgive debts and return land to previous owners. Had Jubilee ever been practiced, it might have prevented systemic poverty and class division. The modern-day application might be for us to realize that our assets are not our own. It might cause us to reconsider how we deal with succession.
At MEDA, I have daily opportunities to apply these principles to stimulate markets and nudge market actors to conduct business differently. How about you? What opportunities lie before you? ◆
Nick Ramsing is MEDA’s associate director, global programs. He is based in MEDA’s Washington, DC office.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. — William Arthur Ward