Archives for posts with tag: poor

Defend the defenseless,

The fatherless and the forgotten,

The disenfranchised and the destitute. (Ps. 82.3, Passion Translation)

Psalm 82 is written to those in Israel who act as judges, who hear a case and then make a ruling about that case, but of course, it also reveals God’s heart and the application of that extends to all of us.

God’s heart is for the weakest, the defenseless, the ones who have the least power in society and so were then—and often are in our own society— marginalized, oppressed, and exploited: the orphan, the widow, the disenfranchised, and the poor. While society often forgets these people, and often applies laws in such a way that their concerns are ignored, God does not forget them. God remembers them, and he calls judges of Israel (and us) to remember them also.

There is a lot in Scripture that is difficult to understand, and in any particular situation it is sometimes difficult to know what God calls us to do. In regards to the defenseless, the disenfranchised, and the destitute, this is not one of those situations. What God requires of us is clear as crystal. Adam Clarke puts it this way: “Defend the poor. You are their natural protectors under God.”

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He will care for the needy and neglected
When they cry to him for help.
The humble and helpless will know his kindness,
For with a father’s compassion he will save their souls. (Psalms 72:12, Passion Translation)

This King that we worship is an odd king because he seems to care about others more than he does himself, which is quite un-king-like.  In addition, this King seems to care about the weakest and most vulnerable members of society the most.  He will care for the needy and neglected. Most kings care for themselves and neglect the needy, this King is just the opposite.

This King has a father’s compassion, most kings are compassionate only as it suits them to be so.  The humble and helpless will know his kindness, he pays them special attention, he makes sure that they are cared for and have peace and rest.

Spurgeon writes here: “A child’s cry touches a father’s heart, and our King is the Father of his people…The proverb says, “God helps those that help themselves; “but it is yet more true that Jesus helps those who cannot help themselves, nor find help in others.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve taken a screenshot of Deuteronomy 24.17-22 so that you can see how often the word “sojourner” suddenly appears in the text.  The word can also be translated “alien, stranger, foreigner, or resident alien.”  It refers to the people living in Israel who were not Hebrew.  These were immigrants or aliens residing in the land and they were very often poor.  Notice how God’s heart and concern were for the alien, and he wanted the people to be for them also because they had once been foreigners themselves in the land of Egypt.

Notice also that they were grouped together with the fatherless and the widow.  The reason for this is that orphans and widows, along with resident foreigners, were often the most financially vulnerable in the country.  This was the position of Naomi and Ruth when they returned from Moab after the great famine.  Indeed, Ruth herself went out and gleaned grain left over from those who had harvested the crop so that she and Naomi could survive.

The point of all this is that the most vulnerable in society should be the ones that the people were most concerned about.  We see this same concern in the New Testament as well.  One of the instructions that we see again and again there is to remember the poor.

How we remember the poor and how we serve them is a matter for our own wisdom and creativity to figure out in our particular culture.  Tim Keller has written an excellent book on that particular subject that is well worth reading.  That we remember and serve the poor, is not a subject for debate because this is one of the clear commands of Scripture, and something we see practiced throughout the Bible.

 

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13, ESV)

If there is one thing that we absolutely know from the Scriptures it is that we should have compassion for the poor and needy.  This is God’s heart and we see it in both the Old and New Testaments.

Here in Proverbs, Solomon writes that there is a truism about helping the poor with which we need to be aware.  The one who hears the cry of the poor and understands their need and ignores it, that one will call out and not be answered.  The Tyndale Commentary summarizes this truth as: “His turn will come.” And so it will.

Being compassionate with the poor does not mean that we throw discernment out the door–I rarely if ever will give cash to someone who is begging, understanding that more often than not they will head to the nearest liquor store with it.  If someone tells me that they need money for food, as has happened before in the major cities of the United States, then I offer to buy them food rather than give them cash.

However we decide to handle the difficult question of someone begging, the direction from the Scriptures is clear and repeated: Pay attention to the needs of the poor. In doing so we honor our Father in heaven.

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11, ESV)

God’s heart is for the poor and needy.  He tells the Israelites that there will always be poor in the land and in light of that fact his commandment is that his people open wide their hands to those who are in need, a clear instruction to pay attention to the plight of those who need help and then help them.

The application of this principle is where we run into difficulty.  Do we keep giving to those who act irresponsibly?  To those who are trolling for free cash and know that churches give to the poor?  To those who would waste money on thinks like alcohol and drugs?

Tim Keller lays out a really good principle here:  Let mercy limit mercy.  It is not wise to aid and abet an alcoholic so to refuse to give him money is an act of mercy, you are preventing him from continuing in sin (or at least attempting to do so), thereby allowing mercy to limit mercy.

Having said that, Keller also recommends that at first we be quick to be generous.  My own tendency is not to be quick being generous but to be slow to be generous.  I need work in this area to overcome this natural bent.

And you must not glean your vineyard, and you must not gather your vineyard’s fallen grapes; you must leave them behind for the needy and for the alien; I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:10, LEB)

One of the recurring commands in the Scriptures–and this is not even controversial among Christians because it is so clear–is the necessity to be kind to the poor [needy] and the alien [sojourner/stranger/foreigner].  Here God calls the Israelites to leave something as they harvest, some grain that falls from their hands as they reap, and some grapes on the vines that they do not pluck, in order that the poor and the alien may have something to gather for themselves.

This isn’t a handout–the poor and the alien would have to do the work of gathering the leftovers, much as Ruth did [Ruth 2]–this is consideration for those who are less fortunate than us.  It is one of the clearest commands in all of the Scriptures.

If we are to be God’s people, then we are to have compassion for the poor and the alien/stranger/sojourner around us.  God leaves it up to our imagination as to what that will look like, but one of the sure signs of a true follower of Christ is that they take this command seriously.

“If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him?”
(1 John 3:17 HCSB)

There is a lot about the Scriptures that is opaque, mysterious, and difficult to understand.  One thing that is not difficult to understand is the repeated scriptural admonition to help the poor and needy.  It is a common theme that runs through the Old and New Testament alike, virtues of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

Here John puts it in the form of helping our brothers (in Christ).  Is a brother or sister in need in the body of Christ?  Surely that is an opportunity to help her/him.  Indeed, we can even call it a test of where our hearts are.  Give something to alleviate the need and God’s love resides in you, give nothing and “how can God’s love reside in” you?

Aiding the poor and needy is a true test of our heart.