The Vindication of God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Yes, we love our enemies, as Jesus said we should. But our love is balanced by our longing for the day that will God step in to vindicate his name and avenge his people. That is why when believers throughout the ages and around the world read stories in scripture where God actually executes justice, they say, “yes!” While we don’t see that every day, and while we patiently wait for God’s sovereign timing in bringing righteous judgment upon the nations, it is right and fitting that we long for the day when God arises and his enemies are scattered—permanently!

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 5:1-3,6

After the Philistines captured the Ark of God, they took it from the battleground at Ebenezer to the town of Ashdod. They carried the Ark of God into the temple of Dagon and placed it beside an idol of Dagon. But when the citizens of Ashdod went to see it the next morning, Dagon had fallen with his face to the ground in front of the Ark of the Lord! … Then the Lord’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors.

The world that God so loves is a world that doesn’t love him back. It is ruled in this present age by a god who has blinded people’s eyes to the truth so they won’t believe. Thus they reject God, they go their own way and stubbornly persist in ways of living that is contrary to the call of their Creator. Yet the Creator stubbornly persists in loving what he has created—a love demonstrated at its greatest when he sent his Son into this hostile world to redeem it:

Jesus came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. (John 1:10-11)

Not only did the world miss him, and dismiss him, they killed the Son of God. But of course, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew in advance that the world would reject his love and crucify Jesus on the cross, yet God entered the world anyway. Such is the persistent, stubborn love of God for his world.

And of course, as followers of the Son, we know that this is the hostile condition of the world to which we have been sent as Christ’s ambassadors. It is a world that by and large continues to miss and dismiss him—and often becomes hostile and hateful toward those of us who represent Christ. We understand and accept that this is the brutal way they play the game. Yet we too, persist in the Love of God for a world we are trying to reclaim for God’s glory.

At the same time, we long for the day when God vindicates his name. We hope for the time when God steps in and calls those who have mocked him, reviled his Word, flaunted their sin and abused his people. While we patiently surrender the right to defend ourselves and fight back, our sense of a just God provides us moments when we dream for the vindication of God and his people. Of course, we do not long for anyone to come under the terrible and eternal judgment of God, but we also do not want the horrible things that have been inflicted upon the saints over the ages to go unpunished. And so we cry out,

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:2)

How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? (Psalm 94:3)

O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us? (Revelation 6:10)

Yes, we love our enemies, as Jesus said. But we also long for the day that God vindicates his name, and avenges his people. And when we read a story like the one in 1 Samuel 5 when the god of the evil Philistines actually falls before the Ark of the Covenant, we says, “yes!” And while we don’t see that every day, and while we patiently wait for God’s sovereign timing in bringing judgment upon the nations, it is right and fitting that we long for the day when God arises and his enemies are scattered—permanently!

Nonetheless, in whatever evil days we may happen to find ourselves in, let us remember that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, speaks of the blood of the righteous crying out to God for vengeance. It speaks of the innocent blood polluting the ground on which that blood is shed, and it speaks of a God who promises to repay the blood of the innocent on the hands of the murderers, even to hold the jurisdiction of murderers responsible if they do not atone for the righteous blood found in their territory. Since God cares so much about atoning for the righteous blood of innocent victims, we ought to care greatly about the issue as well. For there is much in this world that needs to be avenged, and no one is better at vengeance than one who is all knowing, all-powerful, and knowledgeable of what goes on everywhere, rather than relying on our own weak arms to avenge us. (Nathan Albright)

Yes!

Going Deeper With God: As an act of worship today, read Psalm 68 aloud.

Intentional Parenting or Unintentional Consequences

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The ultimate parental dereliction of duty is to allow the children to parent themselves. Your children need a dad and a mom who will give them definite direction in the way they should go. And the promise of scripture is that when they are old, they will not depart from it. That is quite a risky promise, but it is God’s, not mine.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 2:12-13, 22

Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels who had no respect for the Lord or for their duties as priests…. Now Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel.

Eli was the high priest of Israel as the period of the Judges was coming to a close. Arguably, there was no higher public role than his. Yet there was a job more important than being the Chief Spiritual Officer of Israel, and that was being a dad to his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas.

Now while these two were grown men and Eli was very old at the time of this story, it is obvious that many years had passed where Eli had been derelict in his parental duties. Hophni and Phinehas were very wicked men, even though they were priests of the Lord like their father.

The story of this family doesn’t give any details of their upbringing, except that as we have already seen, this was a time in Israel’s spiritual journey that God had been moved to the margins and people were doing whatever they thought best. (Judges 22:25) We don’t know what had happened, or what had not happened. We don’t know if Eli had been off shepherding Israel but not shepherding his own home. We don’t know if Eli was simply lazy as a dad, or if he had a pushover personality, or if his sons were just bad apples, or all of the above.

What we do know is that when we get to these early chapters in 1 Samuel, Hophni and Phinehas were abusing their spiritual authority. They were cheating people out of sacrifices that were meant to the Lord, they were seducing women who came to worship, and were using their role to benefit themselves, and they had deeply offended the Lord, who was now ready to end not just their ministry as priests, but their very lives:

Eli said, “You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. If someone sins against another person, God can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?” But Eli’s sons wouldn’t listen to their father, for the Lord was already planning to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:24-35

Now like many parents, Eli had a heartfelt concern for his sons’ wicked behavior. But unfortunately, like many parents, his concern was not matched by action. And his dereliction of duty only allowed their evil to grow worse, until it reached the point where God had determined to slay them. Keep in mind that God didn’t predetermine that these two would be evil—that is not what the writer is telling us when he says, “they wouldn’t listen to their dad, for God was planning to kill them.” What he is saying is that because of their deliberately evil actions, the Lord allowed their hearts to grow beyond repentance. In other words, God had given them what they were determined to have, and now they would harvest the wild oats they had sowed.

Of course, the over-arching purpose of this story is to connect the increasingly lawless times of the judges with the arrival of the Israel’s monarchy. Interestingly, scripture takes quite a bit of space to do that, using Judges, Ruth and the early part of 1 Samuel to make sure we know how awful society will get when God is not at the center. The account of Eli and his evil spawn is yet one more story that adds to this indictment.

Yet while that is the general theme, we can still extract some very important life applications from these accounts—including this one. One of those applications for me is the recognition that my highest call and chief mission in life is to honor Christ by being an effective father. Furthermore, the fruit of my mission will be seen in my kid’s and grandkid’s lives as they reach adulthood—it will be reflected in their own reverence for the Lord and the values of godliness they choose to live by. As they follow God of their own accord, that is the greatest tribute to what kind of dad I have been

Now that won’t happen just by virtue of being a parent to your children. It will be the result of intentional parenting and a determination to be the kind of mom or dad that honors God—especially the kind that honors God by insisting that your children give him the respect that is due.

Eli didn’t. He let his boys parent themselves until it was too late. The good news is, you can be different, especially if your children are still young. And if they are not, then start with where you are and exert the godliest influence you can. And with God’s help, your sincere efforts will have an effect.

The ultimate parental dereliction of duty is to allow the children to parent themselves. Your children need a dad and a mom who will give them definite direction in the way they should go. And the promise of scripture is that when they are old, they will not depart from it. That is quite a risky promise, but it is God’s, not mine.

Going Deeper With God: Have you ever shared your spiritual values with your children, or grandchildren? If you haven’t, look for an opportune time to tell them what you believe and why you believe it. Believe me, it will leave an impression.

The Refugee Opportunity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As Christians, we have a much higher calling to current issues, and it is not national, it is eternal. It is to view all of life through the lens of scripture and to filter all that we think, feel, say and do—or don’t—through the values of God’s kingdom. Case in point: what do you do with refugees that have flooded your city? Of course, there is a rightful political and legal response, but the kingdom response that you and your spiritual community embrace must always be redemptive.

Going Deep // Focus: Ruth 2:10

Ruth fell at the feet of Boaz and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

Keep in mind that as you read scripture, there is always the historical context that you should seek to understand and the primary theological meaning that you should seek to apply. Beyond that, we can find profound and practical secondary applications within most, if not all, Bible passagens. The book of Ruth is primarily a historical story that connects the time of the Judges to the arrival of the Davidic dynasty, and ultimately shows us the lineage of the Son of David, Jesus the Messiah. It is also a moving account of Boaz, who fulfills the Mosaic law of the kinsman-redeemer by marrying his deceased relative’s widow, Ruth. Boaz is an Old Testament type of Christ. Beyond that, this is a beautiful account of love, loyalty, friendship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi and between Ruth and her prince charming, Boaz.

Yet there is still another practical application that is so relevant to our national discussion these days: what to do with refugees from the under-resourced world who are flooding western Europe and North America. Like so many refugees today, Ruth was a Moabite who fled to Israel in order to survive unfortunate conditions in her homeland. Unfortunately, our national response to refugees fleeing their homeland to ours is not so much a discussion these days as politics have taken over, sides have been chosen, and opinions have been set in concrete. We no longer discuss the plight of the refugee, we scream at the other side. And all the while the refugee suffers the indignity of being forced from their home.

Of course, nations have laws that should be made and enforced. If they don’t, what good is government? And of course, as citizens of a free country, we should engage in political debate and feel free to express our opinion—hopefully with respect, in an informed way and with an openness to hear opposing views. We need good laws to keep us safe and prosperous. If the rule of law goes by the wayside, so shall our nation.

Having said that, as Christians, we have a much higher and more eternal calling and it is not national, it is kingdom. It is to view all of life through the lens of scripture and to filter your all that we think, feel, say and do—or don’t—through the values of God’s kingdom. Case in point: what do you do with refugees that have flooded your city? Again, there is a rightful political and legal response, but what is the kingdom response that you and your spiritual community should embrace?

For me, and I think there is a very clear answer as we read and apply the story of Ruth and Boaz. Simply, we should act with compassion and kindness toward them. That is what Boaz did for Ruth. How so? Notice several ways that he responded redemptively with this refugee named Ruth:

  1. Boaz, at a base level, was aware and willing to engage. Ruth 2:5 says, “Then Boaz asked his foreman, ‘Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?” He didn’t turn a blind eye to this destitute foreigner; he didn’t bury his head in the sand or pretend it was the Israeli government’s job to take care of her. He was morally curious.
  2. Boaz protected her. In Ruth 2:9, Boaz said to Ruth, “I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.” When people come from a foreign culture to our land, they are at their most vulnerable; they are likely to face unscrupulous people who would take advantage of them; they are likely to experience angry, hateful people who would say and do things to them that are unkind and discouraging.
  3. Boaz encouraged her. In Ruth 2:12, Boaz offered these uplifting words to Ruth: “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” If you have traveled to a foreign country, you know how vulnerable and helpless you feel, knowing neither language nor customs. Having a national speaking encouragingly in an authentically kind way is a life-giving gift to you. And it doesn’t cost the nation a cent!
  4. Boaz personally engaged in her plight. He did more than speak kindly and inclusively, he gave of himself and his resources: “At mealtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.” (Ruth 2:14)
  5. Boaz went the extra mile. Boaz didn’t just do his duty; he went above and beyond the minimum to generously offer the maximum. Ruth 2:15-16 tells us, “When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

Truly Boaz was a foreshadowing of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He expressed incarnational involvement, offered unmerited favored, showered undeserved kindness, gave unrequired inclusiveness and expressed open-handed generosity. The point is, that is what God has done for you in Jesus. But the point also is that what God has done for you should now be what you do for others, especially the most vulnerable among you.

May you be an agent of redemptive lift in the refugee debate!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have an immigrant in your neighborhood. Show up at their doorstep with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Invite them over for a barbecue. Get engaged—that is what God did for you.

Don’t Let Them Forget God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Let’s not let them forget God! As moral relativism increasingly influences our culture, people will do what seems right in their own eyes, but it will always be so wrong. Perhaps we can be the voice of reason by fiercely committing to and vocally defending the Bible, the only source of what is truely right, even as our culture wishes the Word of God would go away. It won’t, thank God!

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 19:1

Now in those days Israel had no king…

I know, this is the same exact sentence that begins Judges 18. It is not a mistake. It is the third time in three chapters that the writer uses the same sentence to describe the moral condition of Israel during this time. And each time, the sentence is followed by a story that disturbs our sensibilities. In this case, what follows is arguably the most revolting story in the Bible. I won’t even retell it—you can read it for yourself—but it is brutal and disgusting. But pity poor me, trying to come up with an edifying devotional from it.

To unpack that phrase in more detail—in those days Israel had no king—and would refer you back to the devotional I presented for the previous chapter. Just to summarize, we are being given a picture of what life was like in Israel when they had abandoned any controlling moral authority that kept them between the lines of social civility and moral uprightness. Things got increasingly ugly.

The writer of Judges has prophetically summed up our twenty-first century world in this statement that he has used three times at this point. Then, in the very last line of his book, he adds to it: “There was no controlling moral authority to govern peoples’ lives, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

“What was right in their own eyes” reflected a philosophy of moral relativism, which is simply put, public and private life without the presence of a “controlling moral authority”. Unfortunately, both in the day of the Judges and in our day, without fail moral relativism produces personal, cultural, economic and global chaos. Alexander Solzhenitsyn presciently described it in his now famous Templeton Address, “Men Have Forgotten God”. He lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

“The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century…Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.”

He was describing the atrocities that took place in Eastern Europe. He might as well have been describing Judges. And sadly, he is describing what will a happen in an American culture that, like the aforementioned cultures, embraced relativism as their philosophy of life. When we have no controlling moral authority—a God who decides what truth is, who determines how man should live and who holds him accountable for it—each of us will begin to do what seems right in our own eyes.

We will do what we think is right, but it will be so wrong!

All that to offer this reminder: you and I can perhaps be agents of change by simply and fiercely committing to a source of truth that is unchanging, the Word of God, and unapologetically calling our culture to God’s standard, even as it has forgotten God.

The prophetic drift of this fallen world is inexorably toward forgetting the Almighty Creator and Ruler of us all. Let’s not let the world forget God without a fight.

Going Deeper With God: Tell someone about your belief in God’s truth today. Even if they don’t believe, they need to know that you do.

This Is What Happens When We Forget God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” As believers, we must let the moral decay of America turn our stomach, but then turn our heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 9:56-57

In this way, God punished Abimelech for the evil he had done against his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also punished the men of Shechem for all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Gideon was fulfilled.

Admittedly, this is a weird story, and it’s even weirder that it was included in the Bible. Like a few others we have come across as we read the Old Testament devotionally, this is a head-scratcher. But at the end of the day, this story of Abimelech’s brief but brutal rule as a judge of Israel and his abrupt, gruesome death is a reminder of what happens in a person, and in a society, when God has been left out of the picture.

Abimelech was one of Gideon’s sons—one of seventy or so. And it just so happens that he was the one son from Gideon’s union with a concubine who lived in a different town, Shechem. So there was probably no love lost with his many siblings; he was probably looked down upon by his brothers his whole life. There is a good chance Abimelech had a chip on his shoulder (that unfortunately ended with a millstone on his head—literally. See Judges 9:50-55).

So Abimelech decided to do away with his seventy brothers—which he did in the most grisly fashion (Judges 9:5): likely beheaded at one time. He killed all but one, Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham, who escaped and hid, and then resurfaced with an incendiary prophecy (Judges 9:7-21). This prophecy was a kind of “pox on both your houses” statement that ultimately came to pass. The prophecy was that in selecting Abimelech to be their king, the citizens of Shechem would end up paying for it with their lives and that Abimelch would likewise come to a brutal end for the murder of his brothers. That is the rest of the story of Judges 9.

Now take away the raw brutality of this story, sanitize it a bit, and what you have is the story of leadership in our culture these days. Far too common is the way leaders attain power and the way the citizens surrender power to them. Lying, cheating, doing whatever it takes to make their opponent look bad, saying one thing to get elected then leading another, coming off as a servant of the people but living like a king once in power seems to be just the way it is in our political world. Often in elections, we feel like we have no choice but to hold our nose to cast our ballots. But we get the leaders we deserve.

Why? Simple answer: men have forgotten God. The writer of Judges prophetically summed up our twenty-first century world in the last verse in this book when he wrote, “There was no controlling moral authority to govern peoples’ lives, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Unfortunately, in our day, as was the case in the day of the Judges, “what was right”, without the presence of the “Controlling Moral Authority”, without fail produces moral, cultural, economic and global chaos.

Predictably, what we see and sense today at the highest as well as the lowest levels of culture is what happens when, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” In his famous Templeton Address, “Men Have Forgotten God”, Solzhenitsyn said

“The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century…Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.”

May we never get used to it! May we never feel at home in this present world the way it is now. As believers, we have the urgent calling to humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our sin, repent and turn to him for the healing of our land. As disgusted as you may feel reading Judges 9, let the moral decay of America turn your stomach, then turn your heart to God in intercession for a spiritual awakening once again in our land.

Who knows, God may give us a revival like he did throughout the book of Judges as his people cried out to him. Thankfully, God has made a way for that, even in our day:

If the people who are called by my name will humbly pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in heaven, forgive their sins, and make their land prosperous again. (2 Chronicles, 7:14)

Going Deeper With God: Read 2 Chronicles 7:14 and pray your way through it on behalf of your nation today.

God Is Watching

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God is watching, not just over the big issues of how we treat one another, but even in the smaller ways that we might take advantage of our neighbors, or short change our customers, or do something because we can get away with it, or go light on a violation because there it is a victimless crime. Not in God’s eyes. He is watching, and he cares because justice at levels big and small, seen and unseen represent his immutable character as well as his ideals for his people. We would do well to remember that!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 19:14

When you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you as your special possession, you must never steal anyone’s land by moving the boundary markers your ancestors set up to mark their property.

When I was little, we would sing a song in Sunday School called, O Be Careful Little Eyes. The song taught that we were not only to take care what our eyes saw, but what our ears heard, what our mouths said, where our feet went, and what our hands did:

O be careful little hands what you do
O be careful little hands what you do
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little hands what you do

The lesson of the song was clear: a loving God was watching us at all times and he was quite concerned that we always did the right thing. Good theology could be found in those lyrics: God is loving, God is Father, God is omniscient, God is omnipresent, and God is just. All true, and we would do well to remember each piece of that theology, even as adults.

When we come to Deuteronomy 19, we find that God is expressing the same concern for the children of Israel. He is quite determined that when they come into the land of promise, his justice would be represented in their legal system:

  • Cities of refuge were to be established: Deuteronomy 19:1-3
  • A process was to be set up for adjudicating both manslaughter and murder: Deuteronomy 19:4-5, 11-13
  • Rules for the evidence needed for a conviction were to be followed: Deuteronomy 19:15
  • Protocols for witnesses to a crime were to be obeyed: Deuteronomy 19:16-17
  • Procedures for judges were to be defined: Deuteronomy 19:18
  • Sentencing guidelines were to be definite: Deuteronomy 19:19-21

And in the middle of those very serious legal protocols, there is another rule issued that seems a bit out of place because it doesn’t seem to be at the same level of intensity as the others: the honoring of boundary lines (Deuteronomy 19:14). By comparison, this might seem to us to fall into the category of a petty crime. We might be tempted to adjudicate it as a “white collar crime.” We might give in to going a little easier on the violator in this particular case.

But even though this crime didn’t leave a dead body, and while it was done out of the view of witnesses, and most likely would have no physical evidence—just a property owner’s word against the accused, since land surveys were not available in those days—we should not miss this cogent fact: this was an act that God had witnessed. And it was a big deal to him.

The point being that God is watching, not just over the big issues of how we treat one another, but even in the smaller ways that we might take advantage of our neighbors, or short change our customers, or do something because we can get away with it, or go light on a violation because it is a victimless crime.

Not in God’s eyes. He is watching, and he cares because justice at levels big and small, seen and unseen represents his immutable character as well as his ideals for his people. That was true for the Israelites, and that is true for us. We would do well to remember,

There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little child what you do!

God is watching. That is not a threat; that is a comfort!

Going Deeper With God: Are there any areas of moral compromise in your life—even in little things? God cares, and he will reward our every effort to bring what might seem like things that are no big deal under his loving rulership.

The Kingdom Logic of Ridiculous Generosity

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

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.

Going Deeper With God: Who is within your power to help? Today, be generous toward them in whatever way you are able. God will bless you for it.