The Earth is the Lord's
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws
When we meet with a new interpreter, eager to impart a revelation, we set
ourselves to challenge and compare his impassioned message with the ruling
spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist, as the Germans call it. Thus when
Mr. Verinder speaks of the land-usages and laws of our times, and sets against
them the ancient orders and directions of the Pentateuch, we are aroused at
once to question and to find out how this new view of possession and occupation
fits in with the dominant thoughts of today. From these sacred books
he builds a creed for working folk: that the earth is the Lord's, and that
any occupier who claims more than the ancient Jubilee gave is a bold interloper;
and he bases on these early Scriptural regulations a new brotherhood between
the man of labor and the soil on which his sinews work.
There springs out of his argument another proof of the universal nature
of the Bible. It is alike ancient and modern. He points out to us that private
property in land is nothing but a survival of privileges won by the mailed
fist. We know that the first settlement of the Jews in the land flowing
milk and honey was really a raid of moving "landgrabbers." After
their bad times in Egypt, they fell on the natives of Palestine, drove
them out, and took their place: as the missionaries of Jehovah they proclaimed
they had seized it for His use and in His Name; and they went on to show
the world a better way of occupation, and a happier and more equable life.
Their main principle was that the holding of land, unlike the owning of commodities,
carried with it a great social duty; land is the base of life, and to till
the land the first of human tasks; not because a man owns it, but that he
holds it as a trust from God, and must use his energy to coax
the shy ground to produce
more and more. This is his duty before God, the real Owner of it all.
If the man is idle and ignorant, he will have to stand aside and starve.
has to see to it that the opportunities of the land shall not be wasted;
and the tiller has to do his best "that two blades may grow where there was
but one before." ... Read the whole preface
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Chapter 2: First
Principles: "The Earth is The Lord's"
For, while the class which the late Lord Salisbury so worthily represented
seems to say, "The earth is the (land)lord's, and land doth he 'furnish'
to the farmer," the Biblical reading is quite otherwise. "In the
beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Therefore "unto
the Lord thy God belongeth the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth,
with all that therein is." "The heaven, even the heavens, are
the Lord's; but the earth hath He given to the children of men."
No phrase could possibly be wider in its application, or more completely
destructive of the claims of a landlord class to the monopoly of God's earth,
simple words "children of men." Is there any man, woman or child
who lives now, or who ever has lived, or who ever will live, who is not included
among "the children of men?" No: Jew or Greek, native or foreigner,
black or white, lord or peasant, rich or poor37 — all find, in this sweeping
generalisation, the charter of their birthright in the soil. The simple and
unlettered field-worker, who never heard of Herbert Spencer, may yet deduce
from his Bible as good an argument for the "equal right to the use of
the earth" as is to be found in Social Statics; and he will probably hold
to it more tenaciously than the "Perplexed Philosopher" did.... Read the whole chapter,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — Chapter 3: The
Meaning of the Landmark
According to the Hebrew theory of land-holding, as we have seen, God was
the only absolute Owner of land, while all God's children had equal rights
use of it. "God, the King of the people, is the real proprietor of the
land, and He gives it to the people only as beneficiaries." "What
would now be called state-loan land, or royal-loan estates, was at that
time regarded as being more directly Jehovah's estates, as hereditary land
the individual had on loan from Jehovah."
The method by which these principles were carried into practice was, of
course, largely determined by the special circumstances and needs of an Eastern
settling in a fertile land: "a good land and a large, a land flowing with
milk and honey;" "a good land, a land of brooks of water, of
fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat,
and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not
back anything in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills
The method, too, was strongly influenced by two great Hebrew conceptions:
that of the family as the unit of the Nation; and that of the Nation itself
as a larger family — the children of Abraham — closely bound together
by a common descent and a common religion. "The land which the Lord thy
God hath given thee" was not a mere façon de parler to the Hebrew;
he conceived of his nation own race, "Israel," as a collectivity,
almost as a personality. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and
called My son out of Egypt." God had given the fertile land of Canaan
to the whole Hebrew nation as a common heritage, in which every family
of the commonwealth had equal rights.
The problem which the Mosaic Law set itself to solve was, therefore:
How to secure, at least within the limits of the Hebrew Commonwealth, to
and to every generation, the equal right to the use of "the land which
the Lord their God had given them." The social organisation
of the Hebrews was on such a primitive model that the problem was comparatively
complications. They were almost entirely an agricultural and pastoral people;
a republic of farmers and shepherds. After the conquest they dwelt in villages
of tents: the "fenced cities" of the Canaanites which had been
captured had been destroyed; many others were still in Canaanite hands:
so that, in
case of a Philistine or Midianite raid, the Israelites had to take refuge
in caves or mountain fastnesses. ...
It is plain that the method adopted in the Commonwealth of Israel for the
practical assertion of the equal right to the use of the earth, however
good for the time and place, could not possibly be followed in a modern State,
its complicated social organisation and its varied agricultural, mining,
manufacturing and trading interests. But "God fulfils Himself in many ways," and
it is quite possible to hold that the Mosaic Land Laws were absolutely
right in principle, and also right in method for their own time; without
it either necessary or desirable to graft the details of early Hebrew legislation
on a later and alien Western civilisation. Just as we have long learnt
to worship God without filling our churches with the reek of burning bullocks,
these latter days, we are learning how to make equal rights in land a reality
without an equal division of the land itself. Although such a division
is one of the possible ways of asserting the doctrine of equal rights, it
be a convenient or even a just way as soon as civilisation passes beyond
the pastoral and agricultural stage.
As we shall see later, the special position of the tribe of Levi in the Hebrew
State led to the introduction, in their case, of a modification which directly
suggests the method of modern Land Reform. Fortunately it is not even difficult
to assert an equal and common right without physical division. If a father
gives his children a cake, they naturally assert their equal rights by cutting
it up into equal shares. But if he gives them a pony, they divide, not the
pony, but the use of it. If he leaves them a house in equal shares, they may
either share the occupancy of the house equally, or occupy the house unequally,
according to the need of each for house-room, paying the rental into a common
fund, from which each draws an equal share; or they may let the whole house
to some one else and equally divide the rent.
A proposal to divide a railway — permanent way, buildings and rolling-stock — among
the shareholders would meet with scanty favor at a shareholders' meeting:
They know well that they divide the railway best by dividing its earnings
form of dividend. So with the land. It is still true that all men have
equal rights in land; it is the joint-stock property of the whole people;
has one share in it. It is no longer true that all men require to use land
in equal portions, and more than that every railway-shareholder travels
an equal number of train-miles.
It is not true that equal portions of land, even if the land were so divided,
are even approximately of equal value. Today when we measure land rather
by value than by area, and then only a comparatively small percentage of
is directly engaged in tilling the soil, the natural and easy and inevitable
way of asserting our equal rights in the common heritage is to divide the
value of the land (i.e. "economic rent"), by having it paid into a common
fund, and by applying it to the common uses in which all can share. "The
profit of the earth is for all," and it expresses itself in land value.
Sutherland clearances and Glenbeigh evictions are modern survivals of the
primitive, brutal methods of a land-mark remover who does his business
inartistically. These methods have become unpopular, because they allow the
character and the
results of the transaction to be seen in all their native horror, and because
they have the damning defect of being not only brutal, but — unnecessary.
The exact modern equivalent of the sin of "setting-back" one's
neighbors' landmarks is a more subtle and therefore a more dangerous, because
a less disgusting,
thing. It is the private appropriation of the land value which the community
creates. It is a sin which brings a brood of curses, both upon him who
gains, and upon those who lose. It is a sin of which all of us, and not
landlords, need to be called upon to repent. For in a democratically governed
country, with a wide (though not yet nearly wide enough) franchise, when
wrong is done by law, the people who made the law, or who, having the power,
to repeal it, are as much responsible for the wrong done, as are those
who profit by the law while it stands.
A large and increasing body of students of social questions are urging that
the true key to Social Reform, the surest and safest foundation for Social
Justice, lies in the application of the principles of the Old Testament to
the modern Land Question, by the method advocated by Henry George; and that,
under modern conditions, the first step towards reasserting the ancient and
eternal truths which informed the Mosaic Land Laws must be the Taxation of
Land Values. ... Read the whole chapter,
Frederick Verinder: My Neighbor's
Landmark: Short Studies in Bible Land Laws (1911) — 4:
The Year of Jubilee: Land and Liberty
§ 5. For once in every fifty years — which we may take roughly
to represent a generation of Hebrew life — the original equal division
of the land was restored. Whatever inequalities might have crept in, through
the foolishness or improvidence of some, or through the selfishness or injustice
of others, were redressed when, in the fiftieth year, "on the tenth day
of the seventh month, in the day of atonement," the trumpet of the Jubilee
sounded throughout all the land and proclaimed the national festival of Land
and Liberty. "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty
throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee
to you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return
every man unto his family."
139 The Book of Jubilees (second century B.C.) makes the
Jubilee cycle one of forty-nine years. But according to Jos. (Antiq. iii.
12. 282), and most other authorities, it was the fiftieth year:. Ewald
(Antiq., Engl. transl. of 3rd ed., pp. 374, 375) says that it included
the last half of the 49th and the first half of the 50th year; and that
it "naturally began with the preparatory day of the Autumn festival,
after the year's harvest of every kind was complete."
140 Lev. 25:8-10. There is no definite historical record of the actual observance
of the Year of jubilee. (But see Jewish Encyclopedia, x. 607, for the tradition
of its observance before the captivity.) "On a close inspection nothing
is more certain than that the idea of the Jubilee is the last ring of a chain
which only attains in it the necessary conclusion, and that the history of
the Jubilee, in spite of its at first seemingly strange aspect, was once
for centuries a reality in the national life of Israel" (Ewald, Antiq.
378). "It is impossible to think that (as sometimes been supposed) the
institution of the Jubillee is a mere paper-law -- a theoretical completion
of the system of seven; at least as far as concerns the land (for the periodical
redistribution of which there are... analogies in other nations) it must
date from ancient times in Israel (Driver, Literature of the O.T., 7th ed.
p. 57). Ezekiel (7:12, 13) mentions its non-observance as one of the signs
that "the end is come" upon the nation for its abominable misdoings
It is to be noted that the Hebrew's estate in land is always spoken of as
his "possession" or his "inheritance," and never as his "ownership" or "property." Ewald
seems to have expressed the distinction with exactness: —
"The existence of property is assumed by every system of legislation,
even the earliest, because such a system can only follow on a long period
of social development and exertion. But Jahveism assumes more than this.
For, according to it, each of the tribes of Israel is to have its landed
possessions, and each individual household in the tribe is to have its
definite portion of the land belonging to the tribe, which is for ever
to remain the
inalienable heritage of this house and form the sure basis of all property."
The Hebrew did not own land. It was not "his own" to do as he liked
with; "the land shall not be sold out and out;" it was only his to
use, subject to the equal rights of every other Hebrew. He only enjoyed an
interest in land, and, if he sold anything, he could only sell that interest.
He could not sell the equal interest of his children or his children's children.
The land of Canaan was, as it were, held from God on lease, by the families
of Israel. At the end of every fifty years, all the leases fell in simultaneously,
and God made a fresh grant of the land, for another fifty years, to all the
families of His people, in equal shares as at the first. Hence the Hebrew who,
voluntarily or through some compulsion, "sold his land," sold, not
the ownership of the land, but the "fag-end of the lease" — till
the next year of Jubilee. When the Jubilee proclamation again sounded from
the sacred rams' horns, the land came back to his family, all contracts of
sale to the contrary notwithstanding, and his children enjoyed the same advantage
of a "fair start" as their father had had before them. ... Read the whole chapter,
Effective land reform in Latin America, as
elsewhere, has scarcely taken place.
- One of the major obstacles is that many
governments are run or controlled by a powerful elite that owns the most
valuable land, and often retards and corrupts the reform process.
- Foreign enterprises also fight the reforms by threatening to withdraw
- They are aided by fiscally conservative politicians who argue that stability
is necessary for economic development, even at the expense of ignoring
the exploitation of the poor, who are poorly represented in the political
- And the few that have been enacted have been plagued by a host of problems,
and often merely reposition the former landowners, thanks to compensation
for expropriated lands, as the new monopolists of trade and money lending,
able to renew their exploitation of the poor.
Turning to their religious heritage for answers
to severe injustice and suffering due to land monopoly seems natural to liberation
theologians and their followers. In the Bible, the Promised Land is characterized
by the "eminent domain" of God. The abundance of the land comes with the recognition
earth is the Lord's. Otherwise, we continue in the Wasteland.
The new wave of Latin American theologians couple their critique of "individual
Christianity" with an affirmation of the broader concept of
being a "people of God." In the Bible, we are reminded, God has a chosen people.
He loves the poor, oppressed, and landless — as a group. He hates he oppressors — as
a group. It is the people who leave the Wasteland and enter the Promised Land.
And although the generations had passed away, their children and grandchildren
repeated the history of Egyptian oppression and God's salvation in the first
person: "And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon
us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord... and the Lord brought us out of
Egypt with a mighty hand." (Deut. 26:5-10)
The Judeo-Christian meaning of liberation is clarified by some
attention to Baal, the most
active "foreign god" of the Canaanite pantheon. To the Canaanites, fertility
depended upon sexual union between Baal and his sister and consort, Anath. Baal
worship consisted in reenacting the mating of the gods in orgiastic rites with
temple prostitutes. Beyond maintaining natural fertility and harmony,
Baal religion was used by the aristocracy to uphold the social order. Canaanite
tenants worked as dispossessed farmers on estates owned by magnates, the temple,
and the king. They worshiped the landowners, the baals, who held dominion over
both the land and the
peasants themselves. Old Testament exhortations against Baalism
emphasize the proper way to worship
Yahweh: by acting with mercy and justice towards one's fellow
Because justice does not prevail when some,
like the baals, claim the land and its bounty while others are excluded from
these privileges, Hosea denounces Israel for betraying
its covenant to recognize God as the true owner of the earth. And Amos,
referring to the greed for possessing the land and its fruits, said God is angered
by those "who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of
the land to an end" (Amos 8:4). Amos' indictment of
Israel mentions oppression of the poor and cultic prostitution as if they were
one (Amos 2:6-8). This seems strange until one recognizes that the link between
these two sins is a wrongful
concept of land ownership. Recall that Baal-worship and its sexual rites
glorified inequitable land possession and control. In the Prophets, the role
of land is crucial in the divine providential scheme, and the flouting of just
principles of land possession has grave consequences. Human beings are caretakers,
not the owners, of
Amos and Hosea underscored that being a caretaker
of the earth, while defining people's relationship to the land, also defined
people's relationship to one another. Being a caretaker meant loving justice
and doing mercy, letting go of selfish possession and the desire for power over
others by usurping their means of livelihood, and instead becoming, like God,
compassionate. Consider what a revolutionary break this represents from Baal
idolized control of the soil and deified the landowners! ...
10. The Promised Land and
the Kingdom of God
The Promised Land, like Eden, is a place of
unhindered scope in which to glorify God and manifest his will. But it is not
the Kingdom of God. It represents liberation from external bondage — from
and restricted access to material
opportunity. It is the temporal matrix within which the Kingdom may find
full expression. But it is not itself the Kingdom. Although it is a heresy that
locates this Kingdom exclusively in the afterlife or an ethereal paradise, Jesus
declared it to be "not of this world" (John
18:36) but "within" (Luke 17:21). It is no reproach to Henry George that he lost
sight of this distinction between the Promised Land and the Kingdom of God, enraptured
by his vision of a just society:
destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity that
is born of equality taking the place of jealousy and fear that now array
men against each other; with mental power loosed by conditions that give
to the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall measure the heights
to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the thought! It is the Golden
Age.... It is the culmination of Christianity — the City of God on
earth, with walls of jasper and gates of pearl! It is the reign of the
Prince of Peace!
By equalizing opportunity, political and economic
liberation tend to draw both poor and rich into the middle class. As an expression
of social justice, this constitutes a genuine advance, ethical as well as material.
But it is no easy guarantee of
spiritual gain. Middle-class traits include virtues such as industry,
thrift, restraint, commercial and professional rectitude, but, on the other hand,
low prudentialism, self-satisfaction, and an inclination to regard material well-being
as a sign of righteousness. Hence, even in the Promised Land, what Paulo Freire
calls "conscientization" (roughly,
consciousness-raising through social commitment), emphasized and refined by liberation
theology, must continue although in a
different vein. The Kingdom of God will flourish
only when outward liberation gives rise to inward
liberation, a victory over the limitations of the bourgeois
"The Earth Is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1). This
statement tells us something about God. He is attached to the land and
loves it. He is not a spiritual abstraction oblivious to the Wasteland in which
we live. God is the maker of the
world of eating and sleeping, working and begetting. It also tells us something of our place in
this world. With God as the true
owner of the earth, every person has a right to the produce which equitable usufruct
yields to his or her efforts.
that "the earth is the Lord's" is to see that
the same God who established communities has also in his providence ordained
for them, through the land itself, a just source of revenue. Yet, in the Wasteland
in which we live, this revenue goes mainly into the pockets of monopolists, while
communities meet their needs by extorting individuals the fruits of their honest
toil. If ever there were any doubt that structural sin
exists, our present system of taxation is the proof. Everywhere we see governments
penalizing individuals for their industry and creativity, while the socially
produced value of land is reaped by speculators in exact proportion to the land
which they withhold. The greater the Wasteland, the greater the reward. Does
this comport with any divine plan, or notion of justice and human rights? Or
does it not, rather, perpetuate the Wasteland and prevent the realization of
This not meant to suggest that land monopolists and speculators have a corner
on acquisitiveness or the "profit motive," which is a well-nigh universal fact
of human nature. As a group, they are no more sinful than are people at large,
except to the degree that they knowingly obstruct reforms aimed at removing the
basis of exploitation. Many
abide by the dictum: "If one has to live under a corrupt system, it is better
to be a beneficiary than a victim of it."
But they do not have to live under a corrupt system; no one does. The profit
motive can be channeled in ways that are socially desirable as well as in ways
that are socially destructive. Let us give testimony to our faith that the earth
is the Lord's by building a social order in which there are no
... Read the whole synopsis
Henry George: Moses — Apostle of
Freedom (1878 speech, San Francisco)
Yet the great concern of Moses was with the duty that lay plainly before
him; the effort to lay the foundations of a social state in which deep poverty
degrading want should be unknown – where people released from the
meaner struggles that waste human energy should have opportunity for intellectual
and moral development.
Here stands out the greatness of the man. What was the wisdom and stretch
of the forethought that in the desert sought to guard in advance against the
dangers of a settled state, let the present speak!
In the full blaze of the nineteenth century, when every child in our schools
may know as common truths things of which the Egyptian sages never dreamed;
when the earth has been mapped and the stars have been weighed; when steam
and electricity have been pressed into our service, and science is wresting
from nature secret after secret – it is but natural to look back
upon the wisdom of three thousand years ago as an adult looks back upon
of a child.
And yet, for all this wonderful increase of knowledge, for all this enormous
gain of productive power, where is the country in the civilised world in
which today there is not want and suffering – where the masses are not condemned
to toil that gives no leisure, and all classes are not pursued by a greed of
gain that makes life an ignoble struggle to get and to keep? Three thousands
years of advances, and still the moan goes up: "They have made our lives
bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service!" Three
thousand years of advances! and the piteous voices of little children are
in the moan.
Standing as I stand, where modern ideas have had fullest, freest development;
in the newest great city of the newest great nation; by the side of that ultimate
sea, where ends the westward march of the race that has circled the globe,
and farthest west meets east, the cool shades and sweet waters whose promise
has so long lured us on seem dissolving into mocking mirage.
Over ocean wastes far wider than the Syrian desert we have sought our promised
land – no narrow strip between the mountains and the sea, but a wide
and virgin continent. Here, in greater freedom, with vaster knowledge and fuller
experience, we are building up a nation that leads the van of modern progress.
And yet while we prate of the rights of humanity there are already many among
us thousands who find it difficult to assert the first of natural rights – the
right to earn an honest living; thousands who from time to time must accept
of degrading charity or starve.
We boast of equality before the law; yet notoriously justice is deaf to the
call of those who have no gold and blind to the sin of those who have.
We pride ourselves upon our common schools; yet after our boys and girls
are educated we vainly ask: "What shall we do with them?" And about
our colleges children are growing up in vice and crime, because from their
poverty has driven all refining influences. We pin our faith to universal
suffrage; yet with all power in the hands of the people, the control of public
is passing into the hands of a class of professional politicians, and our
governments are, in many cases, becoming but a means for robbery of the people.
We have prohibited hereditary distinctions, we have forbidden titles of nobility;
yet there is growing up an aristocracy of wealth as powerful and merciless
as any that ever held sway.
We progress and we progress; we girdle continents with iron roads and knit
cities together with the mesh of telegraph wires; each day brings some
new invention, each year marks a fresh advance – the power of production
increased, and the avenues of exchange cleared and broadened. Yet the complaint
of "hard times" is louder and louder; everywhere are people harassed
by care, and haunted by the fear of want. With swift, steady strides and
prodigious leaps, the power of human hands to satisfy human wants advances
is multiplied and multiplied. Yet the struggle for mere existence is more
and more intense, and human labour is becoming the cheapest of commodities.
glutted warehouses human beings grow faint with hunger and shiver with
cold; under the shadow of churches festers the vice that is born of want.
Trace to its roots the cause that is producing want in the midst of plenty,
ignorance in the midst of intelligence, aristocracy in democracy, weakness
in strength – that is giving to our civilisation a one-sided and unstable
development – and you will find it something which this Hebrew statesman
three thousand years ago perceived and guarded against.
Moses saw that the real cause of the enslavement of the masses of Egypt
was – what
has everywhere produced enslavement – the possession by a class of land
upon which and from which the whole people must live. He saw that to permit
in land the same unqualified private ownership that by natural right attaches
to the things produced by labour, would be inevitably to separate the people
into the very rich and the very poor, inevitably to enslave labour – to
make the few the masters of the many, no matter what the political forms,
to bring vice and degradation no matter what the religion.
And with the foresight of the philosophic statesman who legislates not for
the need of a day, but for all the future, he sought, in ways suited to his
times and conditions, to guard against this error.
Everywhere in the Mosaic institutions is the land treated as the gift
of the Creator to His common creatures, which no one has the right to monopolise.
Everywhere it is, not your estate, or your property, not the land which you
bought, or the land which you conquered, but "the land which the Lord
thy God giveth thee" – "the land which the Lord lendeth thee".
And by practical legislation, by regulations to which he gave
the highest sanctions, he tried to guard against the wrong that converted
ancient civilisations into
despotisms – the wrong that in after centuries ate out the heart
of Rome, that produced the imbruting serfdom of Poland and the gaunt misery
the wrong that is today filling American cities with idle men, and our
virgin states with tramps.
He not only provided for a redistribution of the land among the people,
and for making it fallow and common every seventh year, but by the institution
of the Jubilee he provided for a redistribution of the land every fifty years,
and made monopoly impossible.
I do not say that these institutions were, for their ultimate purpose, the
best that might even then have been devised; but Moses had to work, as all
great constructive statesmen have to work, with the tools that came to his
hand, and upon materials as he found them. Still less do I mean to say that
forms suitable for that time and people are suitable for every time and people.
I ask, not veneration of the form, but recognition of the spirit.
Yet how common it is to venerate the form and to deny the spirit. There
are many who believe that the Mosaic institutions were literally dictated
Almighty, yet who would denounce as irreligious any application of their
spirit to the present day. And yet today how much we owe to these institutions!
very day the only thing that stands between our working classes and ceaseless
toil is one of these Mosaic institutions. ... Read
the whole speech