One can narrate the Bible from a host of angles, and Walter Brueggemann (Money and Possessions) has chosen to narrate it from a economic hermeneutic focusing on coveting, desire, acquisitiveness, and hoarding over against Israel’s summons to live out an alternative, counter-Pharaoh way of life that finds expression in Sabbath and abundant generosity. We might call his narrative one of “econo-meneutics.” His approach is stimulating even if much of it is his own hermeneutical construct.
What do you think of Brueggemann’s economic narrative of coveting in Genesis and esp Exodus?
He knows this:
If we trace this movement from Adam to Moses we may suggest that the core story is a story about coveting. A least this is one possible rendering that serves our topic of money and possessions. 15
Brueggemann explores one of the more interesting themes in ethics and in economic theory, not to ignore ideological criticisms: desire and coveting.
Thus the history of coveting, in the memory and tradition of ancient Israel, is the story of proper desire and distorted desire that causes a confusion of proper desire and distorted wanting. It is a story that continues among us. 16
The combination of wanting (desiring) and seizing (acquiring) produces an acquisitive system of money and possessions that is self-propelled until it becomes an addiction that skews viable social relationships so that no one is safe from predatory eagerness. 17
Coveting is inimical to viable community. 18
This chp is mostly a survey of the narrative of Genesis through exodus through the grid of his econo-meneutics. Hence, the Fall is about coveting:
The history of coveting begins already in the creation narrative … (Gen. 3:6)
For Brueggemann the biggest coveter of all is Pharaoh, over against whom one is to read Moses as creating an alternative non-coveting system of distrubution, generosity, and justice:
The history of coveting finally comes to Pharaoh, who is the quintessential coveter in the imagination and memory of Israel. 19 It is evident that such a policy of brutalizing acquisitiveness has no restraint due to the claims of the neighbor, because there were no neighbors on Pharaoh’s horizon; there were only workers pressed for more productivity. 20
Which makes the exodus all the more economic in orientation or in construct:
The exodus narrative, read as part of the history of coveting, is thus an emancipation from the economic domain of coveting that brutalizes and dehumanizes in the compulsion for more. 20The emancipation of Israel from Pharaoh’s Egypt was a departure from a regime of inordinate coveting. 21
It turned out, to their relief and surprise, that outside Pharaoh’s regime, the domain of monopolized commodity, a sustainable life was possible. We may reckon the manna story as being the pivotal narrative that attests a viable alternative to the kingdom of inordinate desire. 22
Here are three points about the manna narrative inside his econo-meneutics:
First, there is enough, but it must be shared.
Second the gift food must not be stored up.
Third, the narrative ends with provision for Sabbath rest. 22-23
Now a summary statement:
Pharaoh’s zone of much food is endlessly restless for more. YHWH’s zone of precarious food allows for Sabbath rest and refuses to allow the gift bread of the wilderness to be recruited for the rat race of Pharaoh. 23
Israel’s system counters Pharaoh with Sabbath as an economic oasis.
Sabbath is a refusal of the rat race of commodity acquisition; coveting is in contradiction to the alternative of Sabbath. Or better, Sabbath is the alternative to coveting. 23
Ten Commandments Plus
The one who speaks [in the Ten Commandments] is the Emancipator from the acquisitive society of Pharaoh. Indeed, one can make a case that the Ten Commandments by design are a counter and alternative to Pharaoh’s s governance. 24
In Exodus 22:21-24 the commandment warns against oppression of the vulnerable—
In the next commandment, the concern is more explicitly economic, though the same is surely implied in 22:21-24 as well.
The process of loan, credit, and interest is here, as always, a completely asymmetrical transaction. 27
If we consider all three texts—Exodus 22:21-24; 22:25-27; and 21:20-21—it is easy enough to see that the prohibition of coveting evoked endless disputatious interpretation.
Then he counters Exodus 32 and the golden bull with the building of the tabernacle.
Aaron’s response indicates that divine power is to be equated with valued commodity: 29
… the calf (bull) of gold is a rival and alternative to YHWH. 29
Idols are products of valuable commodities that are transposed into objects of desire and worship. 30
Chapters 35-36 are an accounting of the accumulation of the required materials for the tabernacle construction. Moses enumerates all that he will need for the project. The people respond to his inventory in a mood of great generosity 31
It is clear in any case that in the text Israel did not covet. 32