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You will always have the poor with you. The Explanation does not affirm this. Jesus does in Matthew 26:11 with these same words.
Being poor is not a simple matter of economics or economic systems. There are a million and one reasons any person can be or become poor, a widow, an orphan, homeless or unemployed. Especially in today’s turbulent society.
Life is unpredictable, and anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on how we define the word poor, we could say that a majority of the world population is in this category. You can be born into poverty. You can rise out or fall into being poor. Sometimes, hopefully, you can make choices to change your life, but sometimes people are captive to their non-existent choices.
Above I quoted Matthew 26:11, but Deuteronomy 15:11 says the same, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.”
The Old Testament expounds practical Bible wisdom that applies to all people in all nations. Please read the meaning of Deut. 4 to understand this all-important concept. God is Creator of all human beings. Yes, He chose an example nation, just as we’d choose one student as class representative. That person is both a leader and example. Identical to Old Testament Israel. God gave them, and through them, to us, principles about our relationship with the poor.
Then, it was was mainly an agricultural society, so we have to draw principles and apply them today. We will see how God wanted the poor cared for. But, beyond that, we also want to realize it was not a support state. It was not an encouragement for the poor to sit near a corner where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic and expect handouts because of people’s generosity. To the contrary, there’s responsibility on behalf of the giver and the poor.
The poor were NOT to stay in a state of poverty. They had obligations, as we shall see, but the key is to escape their misery with the help afforded them. That help could take on various forms.
Educating the poor
Poor people are just as intelligent as anyone else. We all grow up in different circumstances, and the goal here is not to get into detailed examples of people in poor situations. Many excellent books bring such a subject to life with poignant examples. Helping educate and train the poor is vital. Apprenticeships, which we’ve minimized, are an important part of a vibrant economy.
One of the misunderstood concepts of the Old Testament is ‘purchasing a brother.’ In this blog I only want to explain this from a poor point of view. In a future blog about labor conditions I shall elaborate this more.
Deuteronomy 15:12 And if your brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold to you, and serve you six years; then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.
Yes, this could happen because of misfortune, mismanagement, wrong decisions and debt or bankruptcy. There weren’t prisons or labor camps, there was a system of justice and rehabilitation. If a person was in trouble s/he could be put in the hands of an overseer. Someone rich could even ‘purchase’ a poor person. That sounds terrible, but you must understand the meaning…
Here’s the question. Would you rather be out in the streets OR taken in with a type of apprenticeship? I think and hope the answer is clear. Please, and this is vital understanding to keep in mind, that most detractors do not consider, Leviticus 25:35, “And if your brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with you; then you shall relieve (H2388) him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with you.”
The meaning of the word relieve (chazak in Hebrew) is to make strong. This law is a promoter of socialization. It not only keeps people together, but it gives a mission to the strong to help the weak. Whether your compatriot has come from across the border (stranger) or is a local (sojourner) they join a home. Nobody on the street, nobody begging on the corner in this scenario. Making the person stronger entails giving them the mental, professional and physical help necessary to put them back on their feet. To make them a contributing part of society.
Not everyone is equipped to assure such a role, become a role-model. Just like in any society, some are more successful than others, they need extra hands. They are able to invest financially in the acquisition of such a person. This is what is meant by buying. It is not a slave market in the sense that the word portrays nowadays. We are not at all talking about a serf or captive doing toiling labor. Yes, the weak had to work, but under proper working conditions.
When I was in my late teens, I was taken into hand by a couple of partners for an apprenticeship in diamond cutting. I was with them for over 2 years, during which time I earned a minimum, enough to cover the basics with a little extra which went for bowling and travel. At the end, I had a trade which I intended to use, except that I was sidetracked and went back to study in College, but that’s another story. The point is, during those 2 years I was tied to that apprenticeship, they earned from my work but I acquired a trade that would’ve started me off on a career had I pursued it. I was the weaker, and they were the stronger helping me out.
Considering the loss of know-how in certain basic trades like plumbing and electricity, certain artistic trades like iron forging or stain glass windows, such apprenticeships would be worthwhile for society. Yes, it means two parties that assume their responsibilities and their obligations. Unfortunately for society, those are traits that are not easy to find now, especially when it comes to more manual work. But the Old Testament gives practical Bible wisdom for the poor, and how to treat them properly.
Note that Deut. 15:12 immediately talks about letting this poor person go free. The maximum amount of time would be seven years, and it could be less. And, to top it off, on departure the person hits the jackpot. Deut. 15:13-14 And when you send him out free from you, you shall not let him go away empty:
You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, and out of your floor, and out of your winepress: of that wherewith the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. Wow!
This apprentice worked for his master-trainer over a period of years, helping the master build his fortune. The apprentice also benefits from this joint venture at the END of his apprenticeship. Why? Because he came in poor, maybe due to some error on his part. Now, he’s learned from his mistakes, he’s watched his trainer, developed a system, know-how, for managing his welfare, now he is given the capital to set up and run his own household.
The Old Testament practical Bible wisdom is a win-win situation for both the master-trainer and the apprentices, loving your neighbor. It helps reintegrate the poor into society, making it stable, peaceful, and prosperous.
Lending to the poor
Today we have banks and other financial institutions that loan money. We also have credit ratings that can be a disaster for someone who has made mistakes. The paradox of the system is that those who need loans are the least likely candidates for loaning institutions. These people are too poor and have no collateral. Our society has it backward.
Notice the end of verse 8, “lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wants.” A case of someone with a valid business plan and proposition.
7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God gives you, you shall not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
8 But you shall open your hand wide to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wants.
9 Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nought; and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin to you. 10 You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him: because that for this thing the LORD your God shall bless you in all thy works, and in all that you put your hand to.
Here’s the follow-up to lending. A warning, even a law, that causes people to become poor. Maybe one of the biggest, if not the biggest cause of poverty. INEREST on loans. Cause of the 2008 sub-primes financial crisis.
19 Thou shalt not lend upon usury to your brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
20 Unto a stranger thou may lend upon usury; but to your brother you shall not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that you set your hand to in the land whither you go to possess it.
God is aware of the destitute and He treats them with dignity. Tell me there are no reliable how-to laws in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, to assure a stable society for ALL nations around the world.
In certain areas around the world the basic concept of the above is in practice. Micro-lending is now an accepted form of helping the poor financially. Here’s a paper on Micro-lending in the Third World.
Despite these setbacks in public opinion, microfinance institutions around the world continue to operate. The potential bad that can be done is outweighed by the perceived good of the program and its potential to curb poverty, and unlike charity, microfinance has the potential to teach people to self-sufficient, instead of waiting for a handout. This is one of the chief reasons that this type of support has gained popularity; it can be perceived as equipping instead of giving.
This paper talks about micro-lending to help families grow their income, helping with the equality of women, dignity and welfare. One interesting aspect of this type of financing is the closeness of the lender and the borrower. It is done locally with the borrower following, advising and helping the businessperson with their venture. There’s an accompanied apprenticeship, beneficial to both parties with the exchange of know-how, trust and partnership.
Supply essential needs
Education and loans are the keys to helping the poor develop a sustainable future. But what about the present? Some are poor and need help right now, this instant. Practical Bible wisdom makes provision for them too. Food and clothing are on the list.
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regards not persons, nor takes reward:
18 He does execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
In France we have the Restos du Coeur, an incredible organization that distributes millions of free meals each year to the homeless. Likewise, there are those that do the same for clothing and household necessities.
19 When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgot a sheaf in the field, you shal. not go again to fetch it:
20 it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Lev. 19:9 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.
10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
Deut. 14:19 And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
We’re finding more and more working people in the poor lines. They work, but their salaries are simply not enough to make ends meet. Their labor doesn’t feed the mouths of their family. This reveals a problem with the economy, which is another subject. A Bible principle says that the salary should be worthy of a laborer’s work. They should have enough to live on decently.
The rich, or at least, those that have the fulness of bread are hording excess food and other goods rather than putting it to good use. This would include wastage. It is estimated that 22% of nutritious food ends up in the garbage. In opulent nations where the well-off could better manage their resources to provide for the poor.
It is noteworthy that in Leviticus 19 with reference to gleaning is is NOT a process of handouts, a paycheck, or stand in line to get what you need. There’s mutual effort. The poor, orphans, homeless, unemployed should be doing something worthwhile, putting forth some effort. They need to be helped in maintaining a work ethic and socialization. This is all part of participating in society.
Participation in spiritual life
This should be evident, but God wants people to socialize and progress with their mind activities. This means a spiritual workout. There was an Old Testament Assembly, prefiguring the New Testament Church. Attendance of the poor is more than recommended. And it was up to those who had more than necessary to make sure the poor were present.
11 And you shalt rejoice before the LORD your God, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD your God has chosen to place his name there.
14 And you shall rejoice in thy feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates.
Not to be taken advantage of
The poor are the most vulnerable to scams and the least likely to have the means to contest and fight back. It is a particularly unscrupulous crime to take advantage of the poor and weak. There are clear rules regarding the heinous activity. In today’s age of Internet we find too much fraud and deception taking place.
You shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge:
Times have not changed human nature. It’s just as good and bad now as it has been down through human history. That’s why these Old Testament injunctions are just as valid today as they were in the past. According to justice in the Bible, people caught in wrong-doing should make reparation for their acts. A lesson for the perpetrator and encouragement for the victim.
Thus says the LORD; Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.
4 Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rides upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him.
5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.
Future for the no longer poor
Muhammad Yunus and his bank set up the initial micro lending program in Bangladesh in 1976, he hoped for positive impact on the borrowers. The Grameen Bank website states their mission “to enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty.” That is a noble quest, certainly in line with practical Bible wisdom. As is the conclusion of the report on micro lending.
With regard to micro lending, it is important to remember the basic premise behind microloan availability and the economic freedom it can deliver to those whose MICROLENDING IN THE THIRD WORLD is the only other option and chance they get at economic opportunity. Aiding those who are in desperate need can help ensure a better world for everyone.
We started this blog with, “there shall always be poor among you.” We end with a promise that there comes a time, unfortunately, not in our lifetime, but later, when poverty will be an issue of the past.
Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the LORD shall greatly bless you in the land which the LORD thy God gives you for an inheritance to possess it:
That time will come, the entire population will enact these practical Bible rules for life, and the blessings for all peoples will be abundant. In the meantime, let’s do our part to serve the needs of the poor.
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