The generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poverty of the poor near and to invite the blessings of God upon those who are generous toward the poor is still in play today as it was under Moses. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about poverty, each of us must be the church. We—you and I—should be generous where we can and with whom we can. We must give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within our power to help. And as we become the conduit of kingdom generosity, we will never run out of resources to give.
Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 15:7-10
If there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.
God has a plan for the poor, and it will work. Really! The plan will seem illogical to most, but such is the upside-down logic of the Kingdom of God. What is the logic? The generosity of God’s people. The alleviation of poverty in the big, wide world starts with generosity toward the world near you.
It is really too bad that that poverty in our day has become such a political and sociological football. The problem of the poor would be dealt with quite effectively if we would simply adopt how God told the ancient Israelites to treat the poor among them. Rather, in America, one side says that poverty is the fault of the poor, that they just need to buck up and be responsible, that giving a hand out only perpetuates their poor ways. This “people must be responsible for their own lives” approach however, can be very hard-hearted toward something that is near to God’s heart.
Then on the other philosophical side, many say that the wealthy must be taxed at higher rates so that the government can provide more programs, more handouts, more entitlements to alleviate poverty in America. In much of that “it’s the rich’s fault and the government’s responsibility” approach, we are very likely to be guilty of hurting with our helping. Furthermore, it leads to an attitude that responsibility to help the needy is someone else’s: the government, the rich, the church’s, “they”.
Under the Old Testament law, it was very clear that God did not want any poor to be among the Israelites as they settled into their Promised Land: “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.” (Deuteronomy 15:4) Poverty would stand as an affront to the God who desired to bless all of his people.
Furthermore, when fellow Israelites fell into poverty, God said that it was the responsibility of their neighbors to help lift them out. They were to freely loan them money, at a reasonable interest rate, and then be willing to forgive the loan at the end of the pre-established seventh year of debt elimination—even if the loan was made toward the conclusion of those seven years:
At the end of every seventh year you must cancel the debts of everyone who owes you money. This is how it must be done. Everyone must cancel the loans they have made to their fellow Israelites. They must not demand payment from their neighbors or relatives, for the Lord’s time of release has arrived…. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2,9)
As the Israelites took this posture toward the poor among them, and there would be poor among them (“if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you”, Deuteronomy 15:7), God promised that they would live under his enormous blessings, both in their economy and in their world impact:
You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 6 The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you. (Deuteronomy 15:5-6)
Now of course, there were significant differences with ancient Israel and where we find ourselves today. Israel was a theocracy, we are not. They didn’t have easy credit and rampant materialism like we do. Most people didn’t foolishly misspend their way into the poorhouse. The poor were not typically addicted to alcohol or drugs or suffer from mental disorder like we find in a significant portion of the homeless today. They didn’t just tolerate laziness and dependence on government subsidies like we do, they had ways of dealing with chronically irresponsible people. So yes, there are differences that would make dealing with poverty more challenging in our complex society than it was for Israel.
However, the generosity of God’s people, both to alleviate the poor near to you and to invite the blessings of God upon you is still in play. So rather than making poverty the government’s responsibility, or always thinking that “the church” should do something about it, be the church. Be generous where you can and with whom you can. Give freely, responsibly and strategically to help anyone within your power to help. If each of us take it upon ourselves to eliminate the poverty of another, we can make a dent in the larger problem of the poor in the world today.
Become a conduit of kingdom generosity and you will never run out of resources to give.