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Taxes and the Bible

According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, the average American family spent more money paying their taxes, than they did to buy such essentials as food, clothing and medical care.

According to the reports, that year the average American family handed over $16,729.73 for their federal, state, and municipal taxes while only paying $15,495.28 for their food, clothing and medical bills.

Taxes, unfortunately, are a necessary part of government.

And in the Gospels, we have an odd collaboration taking place when the Herodians and the Pharisees joined up to try to attack Christ on the issue of taxes (Matthew 22:15-22).

The Herodians were a group of Jews who actually supported Herod and Rome, while the Pharisees were on the opposite end of the political spectrum. They believed in a national Israel, free from Rome.

But that old saying my enemy’s enemy is my friend rang true here. The two had one common enemy, Jesus, and because of that, they could be friends for a few minutes.

And the two groups joined together in an effort to catch Jesus on a trick question by asking the Lord whether it was lawful for the Jews to pay taxes to Rome.

If Jesus answered, ‘no’, then the Herodians could accuse Christ of treason against Rome and if Christ answered ‘yes’, then the Pharisees could accuse Jesus of being anti-Israel.

Jesus realized immediately what was going on and asked for a coin, and then posed the question of whose image was on the coin.

When the group answered Caesar’s, the Lord responded with, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

In his answer, Jesus was acknowledging the legitimacy of both human government and taxes and as well the Kingdom of God. In fact, the money system itself was one of the benefits that Rome provided its citizens.

But there are times when taxes can become abusive, and we see a classic example of this in the break-up of Israel into two nations, Israel and Judah.

In the Old Testament economy, taxes could be paid in one of three ways. It could be paid through produce, money, and/or labor, where individuals would work for the king on certain building projects, while still maintaining their farms and businesses.

In fact, we see this at work when King David arranged for the construction of the first Jewish Temple.

Though God did not allow King David to build the Jewish Temple, he collected both the construction materials, gold, silver, and finances necessary for its construction (1 Chronicles 22).

King David also arranged for foreigners living in Israel at the time to build the temple, through a tax of their labor in verse 2.

So when Solomon built the Temple, it has already been paid for.

But Solomon didn’t stop there. He was involved in several building projects requiring more money and more forced labor. The writer of Kings actually described this forced labor as a levy or tax (1 Kings 9:15-17).

But one project, in particular, seemed to have provoked the ire of the Jewish people.

Instead of living in King David’s palace, Solomon built himself a massive new palace. To give you an idea of the scale of this project, it took seven years to construct the Temple, and 13 years to build King Solomon’s new palace (1 Kings 7:1-11).

So in order to pay for it, he had to tax both the people of Israel for materials and, as we will see later, force them to work on its construction. It was too big of a project to force foreigners alone to build it.

It included a massive throne room with a gold and ivory-covered throne complete with 14 full-sized replica lions around it (1 Kings 10:18-20). Israel was not a big nation, but this throne room was more grandiose than even those of larger empires verse 20.

And we know that this palace annoyed the Jews because Solomon actually sent our press release of sorts explaining why he built this monstrosity of a palace.

If something is needed, you don’t have to explain it, as everyone will understand, in fact, the Israelis willingly donated items to build the Temple (1 Chronicles 29:6-9).

But this was not the case for Solomon’s new palace. It was obviously annoying people, who were questioning both its excess and need, and Solomon felt he needed to justify it:

11Then Solomon brought Pharaoh’s daughter up from the city of David to the house which he had built for her, for he said, “My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places are holy where the ark of the Lord has entered.” (2 Chronicles 8:11)

From this verse, we see that the Ark of the Covenant had actually entered David’s palace, which suggests that the Tabernacle of David had actually been set up on the palace grounds (1 Chronicles 16:1).

Solomon then explained that he couldn’t live in David’s palace, because Solomon had married the daughter of the Pharaoh.

I suspect the real problem was that the daughter of the Pharaoh was demanding a place inside the palace where she could worship her gods (1 Kings 7:8).

Solomon, who also needed more space for his 700 wives and 1,300 concubines, used that as an excuse to build this massive palace, because he couldn’t allow the worship of Egyptian gods in David’s old palace where the Ark of the Covenant once stood.

That was the official excuse, but I don’t think people bought it.

When Solomon died and was replaced by his son Rehoboam, the people of Israel were sick of Solomon’s spending and taxes and demanded a reprieve.

Even Solomon’s advisors recommended that Rehoboam should reduce the tax burden, however, when Rehoboam asked his buddies what they should do, they said tax them even more.

And that is exactly what he did, Rehoboam responded, “I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:11).

The overseers of these building projects would actually whip the Jewish taxpayers if they slacked off on their work.

Clearly Rehoboam was saying if you think my dad’s whips were bad, I will be using scorpions. In other words, he was going to tax the Hebrews even more.

Rehoboam’s refusal to reduce taxes led to a civil war that would divide Israel in half into two separate nations, Judah and Israel.

READ: Americans Spent More on Taxes in 2021 Than on Food, Clothing and Health Care Combined AND What did Jesus mean when He said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”?

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