Fluctuations in the world economy have plagued mankind for thousands of years. Why do economic crises happen? Is there a biblical solution?
Having sufficient financial resources to survive has been a perennial problem. From some of the earliest times recorded in the Bible, we read of challenges that people faced in order to live (see “Ancient Economic Crises” at the end of this article).
Modern business cycles
Although the world’s economy has now expanded far beyond agriculture, periodic booms and contractions of the economy still plague humanity. In an effort to better manage these variations, researchers began identifying the various stages of a business cycle and proposing a variety of explanations.
For example, Joseph Kitchin advocated an inventory cycle of three to five years. The Juglar fixed investment cycle was identified as seven to 11 years in length. Simon Kuznets suggested an infrastructural investment cycle of 15 to 25 years; and Nikolai Kondratiev, a technological cycle of 45 to 60 years.
While all the models have some validity, there is one basic problem affecting them all. There simply is no exact, repeated length of time during and between each cycle. Because of this, some researchers avoid using the word cycle and simply refer to changes in the economy as fluctuations.
The simple truth is that, in spite of mankind’s best minds and research, economic fluctuations are a reality in our modern world. As such, the generally agreed upon goal of economists today is to try to stimulate the economy when it lags and try to limit its devastating effects upon people.
When researchers began studying economic fluctuations, a number of reasons for these changes were suggested. Some thought wars were the reason for bad economies. Others believed wars were good for the economy.
Others thought fluctuations occurred because of overproduction and underconsumption, which were attributed primarily to inequality of wealth. To resolve this perceived problem, Karl Marx advocated socialism. John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s theorized that government spending and control of the money supply was the way to bring the economy out of recession.
This just scratches the surface of a few economic theories. Brilliant human minds have come up with widely varied and contradictory theories.
Biblical causes for prosperity and decline
While economists have searched long and hard for answers, it seems few have considered what the Bible says about economic prosperity. This often-overlooked source of wisdom provides a very clear reason for economic prosperity or decline.
Yet when a nation and its people are obedient to God, the curse of famine disappears. Speaking of such a time in the future when Israel will faithfully obey Him, God said, “I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations” (Ezekiel 36:29-30).
Earlier, God had told the ancient Israelites that if they would obey Him, they would receive great economic blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1-13). These included productive crops and herds (verse 4) and rain “in its season” (verse 12).
On the other hand, disobedience to God’s laws would bring economic decline and severe hardship (verses 15-68). Among the many curses that would come upon Israel because of disobedience is this chilling explanation: “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you” (verses 47-48).
Since the majority of humanity has no knowledge or interest in obeying God, it is not surprising that the world today often experiences economic downturns.
What the Bible predicts for the world economy
Although the main purpose of the Bible is not to forecast economic conditions, as we come to the end of this present age of man, God’s Word does reveal some information regarding the future world economy. The Olivet Prophecy and the book of Revelation note some of the economic conditions that will exist prior to Christ’s return to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Explaining to His disciples and us today what will happen during the end times, Jesus Christ said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8).
Although these tragic events have been occurring on a regular basis since Jesus spoke these words in the first century, they are destined to increase in intensity before He returns. (See “What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?” for further explanation.)
Totalitarian control of the end-time world economy
While the painful economic consequences of famines, pestilences and earthquakes are being felt by much of humanity, an end-time alliance between a religious power called “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 17:5) and a civil power identified as “the beast” (Revelation 13:1-10) will control the world’s economy. The religious power, pictured as a second beast in Revelation 13:11-15, “causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship [submit to] the first beast” (verse 12).
The first beast of Revelation 13—the civil authority governing humanity at the end of this age—will require people “to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads” in order to “buy or sell” (verses 16-17). As for the success of this economy, at least some of the people—the merchants—are going to prosper.
In Revelation 18 we find that the merchants of the earth will become “rich” via this economic system (verses 3, 15, 19). Picturing the merchants’ reaction to the fall of Babylon the Great, John wrote: “They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate’” (verse 19).
The people of God will have a very different view of the fall of Babylon the Great (verse 20). This false religious power led by Satan the devil has persecuted God’s people throughout the ages, and now it will be destroyed! (To understand more about these complex but important end-time prophecies, see these articles on this LifeHopeandTruth.com website: “Mark of the Beast,” “666: The Number of the Beast” and “What Is Babylon?”)
Economic prosperity during the Millennium
After Jesus Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God, the saints—the faithful people of God throughout the ages—will be changed into immortal spirit beings (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:50-52) and reign with Christ for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4). During this period of time known as the Millennium, the earth will become abundantly productive for humans who obey God.
During the Millennium, nations and people will learn that the key principle for economic success is obedience to God.Describing what will happen during the Millennium when Israelites obey God, the prophet Amos wrote: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them” (Amos 9:13-14).
This picture of economic prosperity because of obedience to God is contrasted with what will happen to people who refuse to obey. Through the prophet Zechariah, God says, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (Zechariah 14:16-17).
During the Millennium, nations and people will learn that the key principle for economic success is obedience to God. The instruction God had given the ancient Israelites will remain true: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9).
Economic changes in the Millennium
When people begin obeying God’s laws, there will also be changes in the way business is transacted. Based upon God’s instructions to ancient Israel, we can expect the following financial practices during the Millennium:
- People will tithe—give a 10th of their incomes to God (Malachi 3:8-10).
- All loans will be repaid or canceled after seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1).
- There will be no exorbitant interest rates on loans (Ezekiel 22:12-13).
- The poor will not pay interest on loans (Leviticus 25:36-37).
- Every 50 years there will be a “Year of Jubilee” in which land will return to its original owner (Leviticus 25:8-28).
These practices will prevent long-term poverty while promoting widespread prosperity.
Now that we have looked at economic indications for the future, the logical question is “What can I do to prosper now?” To answer this question, let’s notice Jesus Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Addressing our human needs, He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25, English Standard Version).
Other scriptures show that we should be diligent in our business (Proverbs 10:4) and plan ahead (Proverbs 16:3) in order to prosper and avoid financial difficulties, but Christ’s point was that we should not overly worry about our physical needs.
Continuing, Jesus Christ admonished His listeners at that time and us today: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
God’s promise is that if we put Him first in our lives and then obey the scriptures admonishing us to do our part in order to be successful, God will take care of us.
Sidebar: Ancient Economic Crises
In ancient times, the economy was deeply based on agriculture. When weather patterns brought drought, the people didn’t have modern transportation methods to bring food from afar, and so the cyclical suffering was often a matter of life and death.
The Bible tells us Abraham and Isaac had to deal with famines while residing in Canaan (Genesis 26:1). Then a couple of generations later, a severe famine threatened the global economy.
While imprisoned in Egypt, Joseph was given the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream announcing that seven prosperous years would be followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:29-31). This was going to be a tremendous blow to the Egyptian economy as well as the surrounding nations, since the famine was going to be “severe in all lands” (verse 57). Without this prior warning, which God gave to Pharaoh through Joseph, this international economic problem would have been devastating for both man and beast.
To mitigate the severity of the upcoming lean years, Joseph proposed that 20 percent of the crops be stored up each year during the good years as a reserve so the land would “not perish during the famine” (verse 36). This action—foreseeing evil and taking appropriate measures (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12)—saved countless lives.
Unpredictable weather and its devastating effects upon the economy continued to be a challenge long after the time of the patriarchs.
The Bible records “a famine in the days of David for three years” (2 Samuel 21:1). There was “a severe famine in Samaria” during the reign of King Ahab (1 Kings 18:2). Another famine “for seven years” came upon the land during the time of Elisha (2 Kings 8:1).
During the time of Nehemiah, some Jews reported to him, “We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine” (Nehemiah 5:3).
Even during the first century, economic fluctuations continued because of famine. Through Agabus, God revealed that “there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar” (Acts 11:28).
Interestingly, historians say there were several famines during the reign of Claudius Caesar. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote of one of these: “A famine did oppress them at the time; and many people died for the lack of what was necessary to procure food withal” (Antiquities of the Jews, book 20, chap. 2, sec. 5).
These examples show that economic crises have been a recurring problem throughout history—but they are a problem that God has a solution for.
For additional study, we recommend the articles in the section “End Times.”