Biblical Economics 11: Houses in the Bible

The size of the “fine houses” in Deuteronomy 8:11-12 is not specified, but reason seems to suggest that a house should be proportionate to the size of the family. It seems that when people begin to covet after half-million and million dollar luxury homes—when they have only two or three children, or none—that earthly-mindedness has set in. Such a posh display of materialism is hardly Christian. In the past, men of God purchased homes that correlated to how many children they had in their families. Archaeologists in the Catholic Church, believe that they have discovered St. Peter’s House in Capernaum, the remains of which are about 100 square feet (see Douglas Kennard, Petrine Studies, p. 59). This is not to say that this was the total size of his house. Capernaum was the same town that Jesus lived in as a single man (Matt. 4:13). Other archaeological digs in the nearby town of Chorazin, uncovered nearly perfect samples of houses, with several built around the size of about 900 square feet (or 30 feet x 30 feet). “They are square-built—sometimes thirty feet square—with one or two columns down the centre to support the flat roof, which in all Eastern countries is an important feature of a house; the walls are two feet thick, built of masonry or blocks of basalt, with low windows twelve inches high by six inches and a half wide, and each house is divided into four chambers. Simon Peter’s house may have been, and probably was, after this stamp” (see Edwin Hodder, Simon Peter: His Life, Times, and Friends, p. 77).

These Biblical homes of the lower and middle classes are comparable to how the Ingalls family lived in Little House on the Prairie. We’re talking about small cottage-sized homes. Really small houses by most people’s standards today. They are almost like Jed Clampett’s old cabin that everyone laughed at in the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. John Bunyan’s house, which was a pilgrimage site for quite some time, was called “Bunyan’s Cottage.” Richard Baxter and John Wesley lived in small houses. The house where the Pentecostal Movement began, was a cottage that barely exceeded 1900 square feet, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms (216 N. Bonnie Brae St., Los Angeles, CA). Pentecostals used to call their house church gatherings “cottage prayer meetings,” because having a small, modest house was acceptable by holiness families at that time. Leonard Ravenhill, the holiness preacher, lived in a ranch-styled home slightly larger than a cottage in Garden Valley, Texas. This was given to him as a gift from David Wilkerson (see Mack Tomlinson, In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, p. 459). The only saints that I’m aware of, who had large houses were Martin Luther, Daniel Defoe, and Charles Finney (the “Finney House”), but they all had around six to seven children.

The house that St. Francis of Assisi grew up in, might not be as physically impressive as you would think, at the first glance. But after centuries of wear and tear, it remains intact in Assisi, Italy. It’s made of carved stones and windows and has a very fortified look to it. Other parts of the house have fine stonework on the walls and ground; it’s a fine work of stonemasonry, with a fine set of stone stairs. I’m sure this would have qualified as a luxury home in the medieval times. It’s not a castle by any means, but it was at least an upper middle class house, and might be closer to what Moses meant by a “fine house” in Deuteronomy 8:12. In any case, this was the style of house that St. Francis walked away from; but more than that, he rejected the anti-spiritual views of business, personal finance, and materialism that were adopted by his father. The spiritual rewards of this sacrifice that he made, led to a life that was absolutely filled, with paranormal manifestations of God’s Spirit (see “The Life of St. Francis,” Bonaventure, Paulist Press, 1978).

The U.S. government seems to agree with the saints that small houses are better for people. Look at the single family homes that they sell through the USDA and HUD. Nothing usually exceeds $100,000. They are modest and proportionately sized. It would be natural for some very large families, with eight to ten kids, to aim for a house around $500k if it had around five bedrooms or more. The kids could share rooms with bunkbeds. But for a rich or retired couple, without children, to desire to live in a $500k or million-dollar home of any amount, is beyond reason and not a conservative use of living space. And it’s too much to clean! Someone in this situation probably considers luxury to be more important than faith and relationships.

It’s no wonder to me, that such mansions can end up haunted, like in the old 1963 movie The Haunting (Rev. 18:2). Then there’s the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: which speaks to me of something assumed in the fears of American culture. Haunted houses are a thing that some real estate agents have to deal with! But they will keep it hush-hush and joke about it. There are articles written quite seriously about this if you look for them. I’ve seen one or two on Interesting to look at the common traits they share. They are often old, haunted luxury homes, but not always. The classic horror trope is a gothic-looking haunted mansion from the Victorian era: the Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Price, and Addams Family sort of image. Such houses are viewed as “cursed” by the demonic as a punishment on the owners for some grave sin against the ten commandments, such as murder or witchcraft (Exod. 20:3-17). These houses are so filled with poltergeist activity that nobody ever wants to live there; and so they become uninhabited by man, and will fall into disrepair. The very nature of a luxury home assumes that the command of “thou shalt not covet,” was being ignored by the previous owners as well. The Catholic Church has a series of prayers for the blessing of such a demon-possessed house in the Roman Ritual. They can be found, and used if necessary, with “The Exorcism of Haunted Houses,” in Herbert Thurston’s Ghosts and Poltergeists (1953). The TV show Unsolved Mysteries released a DVD collection on ghosts (2004). If you watch that, then you will see what I mean. Hauntings don’t always happen in large mansions and luxury homes, but they often do.

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