January 26, 2014

Legal Tender I: Dedicated Darics and Swimming Shekels

Persian Daric 

(4th Century B.C.)
Currency or money is mentioned throughout the Bible as would be expected of a historical document that documents historical events. Currency is anything that is used in any circumstances, as a medium of exchange.

Specifically the money that I will refer to in this post is a medium that can be exchanged for goods and services that has a specific name. In other words the basis for American currency and money is the dollar, cent, etc. For this post the use of "currency" will be considered synonymous with the concept of money or coinage even though in reality they are not the same thing. It is generally a system of money or monetary units in use in a geographic location (nation) or perceived area (internet).

Currency of money is the lubricant or lifeblood that allows a practical application of economy at the street level. Money being representative often takes on different meanings to different people and the Bible at times shows this fact. The idea of currency can even be spiritual or spiritualized at times because money's value that is instilled in it...is really a faith and trust in what backs it or gives it it's exchange value.

The first and only mention of a coin by name that I was able to find in the entire Old Testament was in Ezra.

Ezra 2:69 ~ “According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver and 100 priestly garments.

The first thing we should do is differentiate the types of exchange going on here. (1) Although garments are mediums of exchange, they are not really money in the sense I am aiming at for this post. They are more a form of barter. Barter is a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services whereas money acts as an intermediary unit in an exchange or represents something else in value. (2) The same applies to the 5000 minas. Minas are not specific units of currency but rather bulk weights or a measure of a parcel of a material. As grain is often measured in bushels, large amounts of silver bullion or block are measured in minas. So 5000 minas would’ve been the modern equivalent of 3 tons of silver. (3) When we arrive at the darics, we see a named coin. The Daric was a Persian unit of currency. It should not be surprising that returning exiles from Babylonian exile would offer what was probably in their purses or money bags. Why? Because the Babylonians were subsequently conquered by Persia. This passage tells us that 61,000 darics of gold were dedicated or given for Temple use.

All these exchanges were freewill offerings to the Lord When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. They were to go towards the rebuilding of the house of God on its old site. People were investing in something...sight unseen and this was an act of faith that the Lord would allow it to happen. Please keep in mind that these people had just came back from exile. Each gave in accordance to their ability…just as we should today. A tithe or church offering is a freewill offering and an investment in God’s kingdom in advance. It is not a requirement, it is an issue of conscience. Although not required, it most certainly shows where one’s priorities are spiritually.

It should be mentioned that a parallel passage in Nehemiah 7 is often cited as a contradiction in totals but it needs to be understood that because Nehemiah goes into more explicit details of the offerings, does not negate the statements made in Ezra. Nehemiah merely detailed in finer nuance for different purposes from Ezra. Nehemiah mentions separately the contributions of the governor, heads of houses and others. Nehemiah also mentions offerings in kinds rather than exact monetary terms (hence the reason for my citing of Ezra instead of Nehemiah). Just like the issue of Solomon and his horses and chariots...because something is not mentioned does not mean it didn’t exist, it means that the purposes for writing different books varied. Nehemiah was a personal account and he was directly responsible for the rebuilding of the temple. It is not surprising that we would see a more explicit outline or list of usable resources as opposed to Ezra who was a scribe. During the time of Ezra’s writing the exiles were wavering in their faith and determination and the book of Ezra takes on a more theological purpose. Nehemiah is more about people who had a resoluteness and it was about getting the task of the temple rebuilt.

The coins and currency mentioned in the New Testament were issued by three governments: Greek, Roman, and Jewish (Maccabaean). As I review them I will mention them by name as they are stated in the Greek text to help with differentiation and clarity.

When we move on to the New Testament we see a specific coin mentioned in Matthew 10:29 and Luke 12:6. The coin is called a ἀσσαρίων/ assarion or as the NIV properly footnotes…a cent or penny. The smallest copper coin.

Matthew 10:29 ~ “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Luke 12:6 ~ Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God.

The clear implication from this text is that even though these birds are equated to currency that is of such little value in human eyes (therefore making the birds of little value), God still deems them important enough to be kept in flight. If he values such small innocuous creatures like sparrows, how much more would God care for man if man is made in God’s image? We see God’s providential care here. The fact that He exercises a compassionate providence over the least significant is an assurance that He does so over the most valuable --man.

Moving on to Matthew 17 we meet up with one well-placed coin in a well-placed fish.

Matthew 17:27 ~ However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

We see Jesus’ obedience to the earthly authorities even though He is the Son of God. When Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum, the people who collected a two drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?” To which Peter’s response is yes. The two drachma tax which is the equivalent to two denarii or two days’ wages, paid as a temple tax. One for Jesus and one for Peter.

Christ, obeying the lex terrae, pays the tribute due being the Son of God. No harm no foul. A tribute was due to magistrates for public service, they were being paid to do a job. Not all were crooked and as such some workers would’ve been worthy of their wages…but that is not the true issue here. Jesus is living out Romans 13 long before Paul writes it.  Jesus is not so much appeasing the authorities here as he is simply keeping the economy and market-system functioning in proper behavior. By doing this he acts as everyman. Jesus does not exempt His disciples nor Himself from the civil or civic duties.

Being the Son of God, Jesus was under no obligation to do so but being free to do as He pleased being God…He chose to pay the tribute. Why? If for no other reason to serve as a perfect example of what a Christian should do and what they should be. Here we see a great example of what Hebrews 2 and Philippians 2 says of the humbleness of Christ and purposes of Christ within the will of the Father. For doing this Jesus would be exalted by the Father. So too shall we if we persevere to the end because we will be coheirs in Christ. In God’s economy, down is up and lowering is to be raised. Jesus voluntarily made himself low and poor so that we could be raised and made rich in righteousness and holiness.

[Continued in Part II]

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