God is love. The Bible clearly defines that as a character quality of God. God demonstrates his compassion and love to all mankind no matter who they are.
One people group however does receive some extra special attention in Scripture. It’s not that God loves them more or blesses them more or protects them more than other people groups. What makes this group stand out is that they have an extra special need.
They are poor.
The poor hold a special place in God’s heart. We see instructions and commands related to them throughout the entire Bible. And the foundation for how to treat the poor resides in the Old Testament law, mostly in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
There were many issues related to the poor in those days. In God’s instructions, we see his compassion for this special group of people.
Why the Poor Needed Special Attention
Of course, the real issue with the poor in Biblical times is that they did not have any money. They could not provide for themselves financially. So many of the things in life that others may have taken for granted, were not available to them.
For instance, to have no money meant you could not eat. Food was difficult if not impossible to come by. A poor person could go days without a meal, an issue that would be especially tough on a family with children.
One way out of poverty was to find work. But if you were in a poor area, work may have been hard to come by. Not having an education or a trade skill like carpentry or shepherding to rely on made matters worse.
So another path to earn money was to sell yourself into slavery. You could then work for your master and earn wages to support your family. But that is not an ideal situation for keeping families together. The very essence of slavery tears families apart.
Beyond this, there wasn’t much a poor man could do. And a poor, single or widowed female was even worse off.
But again, God’s compassion for people in this situation is great. And he outlined provisions in the Old Testament law to take care of the poor. Here are a few examples.
Demonstrations of God’s Compassion
For the poor, God set some standards for how others were to treat them. The following situations were prevalent and needed addressing:
On taking out a loan
If a poor person needed money and sought you out for a loan, you could loan them money. But, unlike a normal loan transaction, you could not charge them interest:
“If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest.” – Exodus 22:25
This kept people from taking advantage of the poor because they were desperate for money. They would have paid any interest rate to secure some funds.
On feeding the poor
For those who needed food, farmers were to leave behind some fruit at the edges of the vineyard and grain at the edges of their field for the poor:
“And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:10
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:22
On family possessions or land being sold
Someone desperate enough for money would often sell property or land. This would legally transfer property from one person to the next. This was especially crucial when it came to land, as it was the land that provided the opportunity for the family to earn money through agriculture or livestock farming.
And if the land was sold to another, it left the family. If it hadn’t, it would have been passed on to the next generation.
God’s displayed his compassion in that he provided a way for a relative to redeem the land back into the family from which it was originally sold:
“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold.” – Leviticus 25:25
On how to treat the poor
God gave the people instructions to help the poor like they might help a stranger or traveler coming through their land. To those people one would show hospitality. That same grace was to be extended to the poor.
“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.” – Leviticus 25:35
And they were not to be treated as slaves or work indefinitely in this role. There was an endpoint (the Year of Jubilee) for them.
“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee.” – Leviticus 25:39-40
THE Summary Statement of God’s Compassion
We’ve already seen God’s compassion was great to the poor in various ways. It didn’t need any further explanation. God wanted them cared for, end of story.
But, as if to drive the point home one more time, here is THE summary statement from Deuteronomy 15:7-11 that encompasses everything we read in Scripture concerning our responsibility to the poor:
“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs….You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’
Three things stand out from this passage:
- People need to demonstrate a tender heart towards the poor. We are to open our hands wide in generosity to them.
- God blesses those who treat the poor properly.
- The poor will always be present. They will never cease from being in the land in some proportion.
That last point is key. Poverty will always exist at some level. Even if you don’t see it where you live, it’s out there somewhere.
Nothing has really changed through time. The poor were around in Biblical times. They exist today as well. Since that is true, what are you doing to help the poor in your land?
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: In light of these passages, what can we do to assist the poor? How are you being generous to those with less? When have you experienced God’s compassion?