The law of Moses calls for kind, equitable treatment of the poor and needy.
Psalm 72:4, “He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.”
- This is a major part of true justice (Hebrew mispat), and it comes from God’s heart of compassion.
- The poor are to be judged equitably (Ex. 23:6). All men are to be treated equally under the law (Le. 19:15; De. 1:17; 24:17). Judges were not to show partiality toward the rich or the poor, the high or the low. This is illustrated by the statue of Lady Justice which is found outside some American courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. It depicts justice as a woman. She holds a scale, meaning that law must be just and true and honest. Men’s actions must be weighed by the righteous law. Her eyes are covered, signifying that the law must be applied equally to all men. She holds a sword, signifying punishment of evil doing (Ro. 13:4). Sometimes she is in a pose of readiness to run, signifying zeal to administer justice without delay.
- The poor are not to be excused from judgment (Ex. 23:3; Le. 19:15). To refuse, in the name of compassion, to punish the poor when they commit crimes is not godly compassion. To say, “Yes, he stole property and assaulted people and broke the drug laws, but he must be excused because he is from a poverty-stricken situation,” is wrong. Before God, all men, high and low, rich and poor, are to be treated the same according to the same laws (De. 1:17). Each individual is accountable for his actions and cannot be excused because of his social status, whether high or low. We have seen that even the poor that steals for food is not exempt from punishment (Pr. 6:30-31). California’s humanistic government has passed laws that prohibit enforcement of shoplifting laws against the “homeless.” The result has been an explosion of lawlessness. Some businesses have been bankrupted by rampant shoplifting by organized gangs taking advantage of the law. They enter stores and rob at will, tallying up the value of the goods on a calculator so as not to exceed the value allowed by the unrighteous laws. This is man’s “compassion,” but it is not true compassion. Where is the compassion for those who are robbed? Where is the compassion on those who are encouraged to be criminals?
- The poor are to be cared for (Le. 25:35-43). Money is not to be lent to the poor for usury (Le. 25:37-38; see also Ex. 22:25-27). This is a major way that the poor are oppressed throughout the world. Under God’s law, if the poor must be enslaved to pay his debts, he is not to be treated as an actual slave but as a hired servant (Le. 25:39-40). The poor are not to be treated with severity (Le. 25:43). The servants are to be released on Jubilee (Le. 25:40). See Le. 25:8-22. All of this is to be done in the fear of God (Le. 25:43).
- Strangers, widows and orphans are to be treated with kindness (Ex. 22:21-24). Jesus condemned scribes and Pharisees because they “devour widows’ houses” (Mt. 23:14). They invented ways to steal the property of widows. “[They did this] by insinuating themselves into their affections, and so getting to be the trustees of their estates, which they could make an easy prey of; for who could presume to call such as they were to an account? The thing they aimed at was to enrich themselves; and, this being their chief and highest end, all considerations of justice and equity were laid aside, and even widows’ houses were sacrificed to this. Widows are of the weaker sex in its weakest state, easily imposed upon; and therefore they fastened on them, to make a prey of. They devoured those whom, by the law of God, they were particularly obliged to protect, patronize, and relieve. There is a woe in the Old Testament to those that made widows their prey (Isa. 10:1-2); and Christ here seconded it with his woe. God is the judge of the widows; they are his peculiar care, he establisheth their border (Pr. 15:25), and espouseth their cause (Ex. 22:22, 23); yet these were they whose houses the Pharisees devoured by wholesale; so greedy were they to get their bellies filled with the treasures of wickedness! Their devouring denotes not only covetousness, but cruelty in their oppression, described in Mic. 3:3, They eat the flesh, and flay off the skin. And doubtless they did all this under colour of law; for they did it so artfully that it passed uncensured, and did not at all lessen the people's veneration for them” (Matthew Henry).
- The poor were to be released from servitude every seven years (De. 15:7-15). This was the sabbath year (Le. 25:1-7). (1) Note that God exposes men’s sinful nature. They have a “wicked heart” and tend to have an “evil eye” (De. 15:9). (2) God promised to bless those who helped the poor and who refused to follow their natural tendency to be selfish and stingy (De. 15:10). Those who have their eyes upon God and trust in His promises can be open-handed to the needy, knowing that “it is impossible to out-give God.” (3) Observe God’s liberality. “... because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto” (De. 15:10).
- The people were to leave part of their crops for the poor (Le. 19:9-10). See also Le. 23:22 and De. 24:19-21. (1) God commanded that something be left, but how much was a free-will decision. (2) The poor had to work for their food. They were not to sit around and expect something for nothing. They were not to be beggars. (3) God instructed them to do this because “I am the LORD your God” (Le. 19:10; 23:22). They were to be motivated by God’s authority over them, God’s ownership of them, and because of God’s love to them. Compare De. 24:22. (4) God promised to liberally bless the people for obeying this law and caring for the needy (De. 24:19). (5) This law was practiced by godly Boaz, and he got a wife as part of God’s blessing. See Ruth 2:3. God’s way to care for the poor is not government welfare. The poor are to be helped by the people, not the government, and the able bodied poor are to work. Government welfare weakens the moral character of people and makes them lazy and dependent on the state. Government welfare programs are not truly compassionate. The government does not love the needy. Government welfare programs typically confiscate a major part of the provisions for themselves. According to the law of leaving part of the crops for the poor, God’s people should plan for part of their income to be used to help the needy, particularly those who are poor in gospel knowledge. Christ has commanded us to send the gospel to every nation, because the greatest need that poor people have is to hear the gospel and thus to have an opportunity to be saved. This is to be the main business of God’s people today. To relieve the physically poor while failing to preach the gospel to the spiritually poor is a great crime. What good does it do if a man be well fed and assisted medically and die and go to hell?
- In this world, the poor are often abused because they have no money, position, and power. How different this world would be if God’s laws were obeyed! In “non-developed countries,” particularly, the poor are oppressed and abused by everyone, including their own poor neighbors. In this present world, the eyes of the wicked “are privily set against the poor” to “catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net” (Ps. 10:8-11). The wicked “cast down the poor and needy” (Ps. 37:14). The poor is “hated even of his own neighbour” (Pr. 14:20). Living in South Asia for decades, I have observed countless examples of the oppression of the poor. They are oppressed by government officials, by lawyers and judges, by money lenders, by corrupt medical practitioners, by sellers of every type of snake oil, by the merchandisers of shoddy goods, and by every type of thief and con artist. Villagers are promised large sums of money for selling their kidneys, but instead of the promised amount, they get a pittance and often they lose their health or even their lives because of shoddy medical practices and unqualified “doctors.” The poor are targets of countless “get rich quick” schemes. Their own relatives steal from them and abuse them. The poor are promised well-paying jobs overseas, and they borrow large amounts of money in order to pay the commissions of crooked contractors and crooked lawyers and crooked government officials, only to find out too late that the high-sounding promises were lies. Since they don’t find this out until they are overseas and already heavily in debt, they have no choice but to fulfill the contract as an indentured slave in a low-paying job in wretched conditions, weeping themselves to sleep at night because they can’t send the money back to their families that they had dreamed of sending and because the wealth they had hoped to make is a pipe dream.
- When Christ establishes His kingdom in this world, He will destroy poverty. He will “judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor” (Ps. 72:4). He will “deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper” (Ps. 72:12-13). He will “satisfy her poor with bread” (Ps. 132:15).
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