2 Chronicles2: 17-18
17 Solomon took a census of all the foreigners residing in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. 18 He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working.
Fair Work Requires Fair Pay
Without a doubt the original Temple was one of the most significant accomplishments of the Israelite kingdom. It was literally the centerpiece of their kingdom serving as their worship center, treasury, town hall, and national landmark. Interestingly, this amazing edifice was built almost entirely by foreigners. Solomon conscripted the foreigners living in Israel and hired more from Tyre. Although 2 Chronicles gives some mention to wages for the workers from Tyre, absolutely nothing is mentioned regarding the conscripted foreigners payments. This is meaningful to me for several reasons:
– Since foreigners weren’t allowed to own land in ancient Israel, most of them were merchants or skilled laborers. They weren’t slaves.
– Hard labor and conscripted work were literally the main reasons the people revolted against Solomon’s son Rehoboam.
– Levitical law speaks directly against oppressing foreigners and strangers. (Exodus 22:1, 23:9)
– 2 Chronicles 2:17-18 makes it clears that these men were at minimum drafted to work on the temple.
– As foreigners, it is unlikely that they were able to enjoy the fruits of the labor and “hang out” at the Temple
2 Chronicles2: 17-18 suggests that ancient Israel had some of the same issues of living wages and fair compensation as modern day America. Compensation and employee benefits has been a major issue in American politics since the Civil War.
In 2017, the living wage has been labeled as a concern for only the poor or lazy. Yet current labor data would suggest otherwise. Despite what scriptures suggest, current American political discourse has listed compensation for foreigners as a non-issue. 2017 data from MIT shows that for two adult, two children families, the minimum wage covers 64.3% of the living wage at best in South Dakota and 40.5% at worst in Hawaii. In other words, there is no state in the United States of America where greater than 75% of working families (both parents working) make enough money to pay their required bills. Salaries in America have become so meager that working poor is literally a recognized financial category now.
To be clear, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has well defined parameters for who is the working poor in America. They are individuals or families who work continually for at least 27 weeks a year and still live below the official federal poverty line. In 2016 the federal poverty line for a family of four was only $24,300. For one person working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks in a year that breaks down to $12.15 per hour. Despite the reality of such numbers, millions of Americans (Christian and non-Christian) have been convinced that paying people $15/hr is excessive. Yet the numbers suggest that $15/hr barely beats the federal poverty line.
How did we as a people get so comfortable with hard-working people having to use debt to pay for necessities of life and not just luxury items. How did sick time, vacation time, pensions, and benefits become bad words or undeserved entitlements? Why do we think that working poor is a fictitious label for working adolescents who don’t “need” to make more money? Why do we many of us think that raising the minimum wage will cripple the economy when it has never done that before? Why do we scrutinize employee compensation but virtually ignore management and CEO compensation?
America is a country where able bodied adults are expected to work for their survival. Yet somehow employers aren’t expected to pay people enough to survive. Instead citizens are expected to privately finance their own healthcare, education, sanitation, and housing. How is this paradigm not forced labor, conscription, or indentured servitude? Solomon’s abuse of Israel’s labor force literally tore the kingdom apart. Let us Christians lead the way in preventing American politicians from doing the same.