It is very encouraging to hear of many ministries to the poor from Christian ministries and Churches, We hear of the Work of Christians Against Poverty here in the UK and of a multitude of other expressions of Christian compassion throughout the world. In this article I want to look at how God’s concern for the poor is show in the law. It is interesting that such provision is made and how this prevented the type of exploitation the Israelites had experienced in Egypt. We need to realise that although the law was never designed to be a way of salvation it was designed to be a way of life which simultaneously shows forth both the love and holiness of God. Too often Christians look at the law in a negative sense and fail to realise that in the law we find a pattern of how the people of God were to live. The law may not be binding on the Christian, but it has much to teach us about what is upon his heart. In these days when there is so much discussion about who should receive help perhaps some reflection on the law of God would help us. what is fascinating about ancient Israel is that at the outset there was a just distribution of wealth and everyone would have their property restored to them in the year of Jubilee. The intention of the law is that all should receive equally, but the law also recognises that through circumstances and foolishness some would become poor. The provisions of the law were designed to lift the poor person from his or her poverty in a fair way. The law shows real compassion, but it does not provide just handout, but rather a way to provide for an escape from poverty. There were no food handouts as such, but a person went and worked in the field as they gleaned from the left overs of the harvest. This is not to say that in our very different society we may find the need to provide food for the poor, Food Banks are a case in and which show compassion for the poor in a constructive way. I want to illustrate what I have been saying by looking at one passage from the law,
10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. 13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.
14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
16 parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Dt 24:10–22).
It is important to notice that twice there is a reference to Israel’s own exploitation and oppression in Egypt, theses people are to remember what slavery feels like and as a result they are to treat others in a compassionate way. Even in the giving of loans exploitation is explicitly for bidden and when the pledge is bed clothes then they must be given back each night. The high interest loans we see today are also explicitly forbidden in Scripture. In this passage we find that not only were the poor cared for, but the farmer is forbidden from harvesting all of his crops so that the poor person is cared for. we need to think of constructive ways to apply this teaching to our own culture. Capitalist culture is based on greed, and we need to move away from this, the banking crisis and the economic crisis of recent years should make us realise that we need to return to God’s way.