Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 14-16.
Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” That’s a good summary of how many people feel about tithing, one of the topics in today’s reading. But I don’t want to write about tithing today. Let’s look at what Deuteronomy has to say about poverty.
There should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today… There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. Deuteronomy 15:4-5, 11
There should be no poor, God says, because I will so richly bless you IF… and there’s the catch. God realizes we won’t fully obey him. As a result, there will always be poor people. In an earlier post I mentioned an article that explained four causes of poverty, four broken relationships that lead to loss of wealth and prosperity. A broken relationship with God is one of the four, though not one we usually think of. But God’s isn’t as concerned about the cause of poverty as he is about the way his people will react to it. He knows by nature we tend to ignore or mistreat the poor, and he wants to correct that.
- He tells us to be generous and compassionate to the poor, not hard-hearted.
- He wants us to give to the poor rather than be tight-fisted.
- He wants us to give even though we receive no financial payback.
- Our giving will result in blessings from the LORD. If we hold back from a brother in need, God declares that we are guilty of sin.
I want to point out that we must use some discernment in giving aid. Ideally, we are helping a person we know; they really are a brother in that sense. We know the reality of their poverty. However, we’ve all been in situations where a stranger asks for help. The good Samaritan helped a complete stranger. In that situation we need to try to give material aid that cannot be misused. That could mean giving food or clothing rather than cash. It might mean giving to an agency that can work with people in need rather than giving directly to the person. Even the good Samaritan gave to the innkeeper rather than to the injured traveler.
The Bible is full of references to the poor. It’s a common problem, even in America, but much more so in the underdeveloped world, and especially so in the historical world. And God expresses his heart for the poor. Look at some of the common themes that he brings out in the Bible:
- The poor are often victims of oppression and crime
- The poor are often spiritually rich
- Do not show partiality against the poor; instead defend them and deliver them
- Mistreating the poor offends God; when we give to the poor we will receive back from God
- God is on the side of the poor
Maybe you are wondering why God cares for the poor. One reason may be that poverty shows us, physically, what is true for each one of us spiritually. We are all poor apart from God, spiritually bankrupt, destined for Hell unless God gives us his saving grace through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth, and lived, as a man without a home or privilege or position. He became poor for our sake, that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). I don’t know whether God cares for the poor because of his son’s poverty, or whether Jesus gave up everything to identify with the poor in possessions and spirit. I suspect some of both. As for me, I hope I can avoid cynicism about poverty and remain as God is, compassionate and open-handed towards the poor.
Image by Wen-Yan King on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0