No Free Lunch: Economics for a Fallen World: Third Edition, Revised

Chapter Eleven: Money, Money, Money! 249 EARLY USE OF MONEY IN THE BIBLE Genesis 23 1 Now Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. 2 Sarah died in Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 3 Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, 4 ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.’ 5 The sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, 6 ‘Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.’ 7 So Abraham rose and bowed to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. 8 And he spoke with them, saying, ‘If it is your wish for me to bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and approach Ephron the son of Zohar for me, 9 that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he owns, which is at the end of his field; for the full price let him give it to me in your presence for a burial site.’ 10 Now Ephron was sitting among the sons of Heth; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the sons of Heth; even of all who went in at the gate of his city, saying, 11 ‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the presence of the sons of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.’ 12 And Abraham bowed before the people of the land. 13 He spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If you will only please listen to me; I will give the price of the field, accept it fromme that I may bury my dead there.’ 14 Then Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, 15 ‘My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between me and you? So bury your dead.’ 16 Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, commercial standard. 17 So Ephron's field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field, that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over 18 to Abraham for a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth. Money is a mysterious thing, especially in our modern world. What is it? Why do people value little pieces of paper with pictures of dead historical figures? What do the words “legal tender” on our dollars mean, and why are they there? Why do almost all countries have a central bank that sets one price on money (the interest rate), even in so-called free market economies? We will address all these questions and more in the next two chapters. Our introductory scripture can start us down the path to answer one question at least. Money is not the creation of modern states; early-recorded history shows money was created as people decided on a standard for both material and weight in their free exchanges. Notice in verse 16 that the common money of the time was a silver standard, with a defined commercial standard (i.e., fineness) well before modern states and central banking came into being. Unfortunately, we will also see why money can become debauched, such that Isaiah would cry “your silver has become dross, ” and the Israelites would know exactly what he meant.