What do we expect of our national leaders? Today they are politicians, but for much of Old Testament history, the Israelites had kings. Psalm 72 sets out their expectations of the king in the form of a prayer:
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
2 May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
4 May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy
Maintaining justice and building prosperity were central responsibilities of government, both then and now. Justice then was chiefly seen in how the poor and needy were treated.
Our government was recently defeated in the House of Lords over their proposals to reduce tax credits, amounts paid to top up the incomes of working people on low wages. George Osborne pressed ahead with this, believing that public opinion was behind him in this and his other measures to reduce the welfare bill. But reductions in tax credits could have reduced many family incomes by up to £1300 each year, money they simply could not afford to lose.
The government are doggedly following the line of reducing their deficit, with much of the burden falling on the less well off, because they still hold on to the idea that running the country’s finances is like managing a household budget. Most economists agree that this simply isn’t true. The government’s austerity policies are a choice rather than an imperative.
Prosperity in the Old Testament resulted from good harvests. Today it might result from a government prepared to ensure that every citizen had an adequate income. Neighbourhoods would be transformed, fewer shops would close, and unemployment would reduce.