WorldWide Wanderings

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Biblical Teachings on the Poor, Pt. 1

The place to begin when looking at any serious issue from a Christian perspective is, of course, the Bible. There are hundreds of references to the poor in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. I've not yet had the opportunity to study them all, but we've looked at a number of passages, and some distinct themes seem to be emerging. In this post, I'll try to summarize our initial discoveries about Poverty from our study of Old Testament passages.

(Note: The numbering for these points isn't really significant, it just helps separate ideas. )

A. God's view of the Poor
1. God made both the rich man and the poor man—we were created alike (Job 31:15)
2. God does not wish us to keep our food to ourselves, but to share with the needy (Job 31:17)
3. God, as the eternal King, is a champion of the poor, needy, afflicted, and those who have no helper. He will deliver them and save them from violence and harm. (Psalm 72:12-13; 140:12)
4. God is despised when the poor are mistreated (Proverbs 14:21, 31)
5. Showing ill will toward the needy is a sin (Deuteronomy 15:9)
6. There will always be poor in the land (Deuteronomy 15:11)
7. There should not be needy among you (among the Israelites) (Deuteronomy 15:4)

B. Laws Set up to protect the poor
1. Laws exist to protect slaves (Exodus 21:1-11)
2. Murder of slaves is condemned (Exodus 21:20-21)
-this indicates that slaves were human too, and deserved protection and respect.
3. Restitution required if property is stolen or damaged (Exodus 22:1-15)
- private property affirmed
4. Israel ordered to protect the right of foreigners & aliens (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33)
5. Do not afflict Widows & orphans (Exodus 22:22)
- God will execute vengeance on those who afflict widows and orphans (Exodus 22:23-24)
6. Do not charge interest to the needy (Exodus 22:25-27)
7. Do not deny justice to the needy or to the innocent (Exodus 23:6-7)
8. Let both the poor and the alien gather from the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22)
-This enabled the poor to sustain themselves even if they were without land or good crops
- This indicated that the rights of landowners were not absolute.
9. Blood relatives were to have the right of redemption for slaves (Leviticus 25: 47-49)
- This would protect the poor Hebrews and keep responsibility and help in the family
10. Blood relatives were to have the right of redemption for land (Leviticus 25: 25-28)
-this would protect the poor Hebrews & keep responsibility & help in the family
11. Hebrew slaves were to go free in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:40-42)
12. The land was to have a Sabbath rest during which anyone could gather from what it produced naturally(Leviticus 25:1-7)
-this showed that God was the true landowner, not man
- when both rich and poor had to gather together, it reaffirmed their common identity
13. Hebrew slaves were to go free in the year of Jubilee--every 50 years. (Leviticus 25:40-42)
13. There is a difference in how you treat your “brother” versus a foreigner (Deuteronomy 15:3) - Foreigners, although treated kindly and justly, were not recipients of all of the laws
- This has implications for who we should help first: i.e. our "brother", then others.

C. The Expected response of God’s people toward the poor
1. God orders us to be generous toward the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
2. Job rescued the poor, the abandoned orphan, the widow, the blind, the lame, and the stranger (Job 29:12-16)
3. Job's involvement was generous and he was personally involved. (Job 29:12-16)
4. Our righteousness is linked with our help for the poor & needy and executing Justice for them. (Job 29:12-16)
5. Job sought justice for his slaves (Job 31:13) that God might treat him justly (v 14)
6. Be just in your dealings with all—honest weights & measures (Leviticus19:35-36)
7. You should stand up and defend the rights of the poor, afflicted, and needy. (Proverbs 31:9)
8. Job wished to be treated by God as he treated others (Job 31:13-23)
9. True fasting should help the needy, not ourselves (Isaiah 58:3-10)
- fasting (spritual sacrifice) is not to enhance our own spirituality alone.
10. Fasting should provide the hungry with food, the wanderer with shelter, the naked with clothing, and release captives & slaves (Isaiah 58:6-7)
11. Spiritual growth and revival are linked with our treatment of the poor (Isaiah 58: 2-3, 9-10)
12. Urban renewal goes with honoring God and helping the poor (Isaiah 58:12)
13 If a brother becomes poor, you are to help him in any way possible (Leviticus 25: 35-37)
14. Protect the right of foreigners & aliens (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Lev. 19:33)
-Not simply those who are israelites/citizens
15. Do not afflict Widows & orphans (Exodus 22:22)
16. Do not deny justice to the needy or to the innocent (Exodus 23:6-7)
17. Let both the poor and the alien gather from the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22)

D. Blessings & curses associated with our treatment of the Poor
1. God promises to bless those that help the poor cheerfully (Deuteronomy 15:9-10)
2. God will execute vengeance on those who afflict widows and orphans (Exodus 22:23-24)
3. If we do not treat others with compassion & justice, God will judge us (Job 31:14, 22-23)
4. Sodom's main sin was being "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." That is why they were destroyed. (Ezekiel 16:48-50)
5. He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD (Proverbs 14:31, 17:5, 19:17)


This is hardly an exhaustive list: there are tens, if not hundreds of passages that could also be cited for these points, and specific injunctions that could be added. If you think this list is incomplete, please leave me a comment with passages you think are relevant.

I'll try to revisit this study with more Old Testament scripture, and in my next post, I'll discuss New Testament teachings on poverty, particularly the Early Church's response.

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5 Comments:

  • Hi. Thanks for this. It's good to see others blogging on poverty, and raising awareness and discussion of the issues. Blessings

    By Anonymous Keith, at 1:44 PM  

  • Cheers mate, this really helped with my RE corsework. Thanks : )

    By Anonymous Sam, at 2:05 PM  

  • Hi thanks for this post is was really usefull when i was doing my Religious Studies work :) thanks again

    By Anonymous Michael, at 11:49 AM  

  • This did not help at all (N)

    By Anonymous Giingerr, at 3:27 AM  

  • It helped me a lot as a disabled person on a limited income I struggled with tithing. I was happy watching an online teacher until I was sent a letter telling me to if I wanted to be a member and have a relationship with the Lord I must tithe. Ten percent of my income is way to much but I still feel guilty. I had better reread the teaching on the poor.

    By Blogger Kashah, at 1:43 PM  

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