Thursday, December 10, 2009

Responsibility for the poor.

street dude

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.

Leviticus 25:35-36

God did not want Israel to be a nation of abusers. They needed to remember their own history. They were at one point in time poor dispossessed slaves in Egypt. They came from something and were given everything by the gracious hand of God. They were reminded to never turn a blind eye to poverty as a result.

The responsibilities as described in these two verses are clear. First, they were to see the poor as family. Now, it could be that this only applied to extended family members, but I think “brother” here is meant to describe Jewish identity. They could not ignore the plight of a fellow Jew. This poor man was family. Secondly, they were to offer hospitality to the poor and not allow them to become totally homeless. That is what the phrase “support him as though he were a stranger and sojourner” means. It is Middle Eastern culture. It was unthinkable to turn a traveler away. The same was to be true of the poor. Of course, without that knowledge, we might be tempted to be OK with ignoring the needy, since American culture believes more strongly in stranger danger than in opportunity to care for them (and for good reason).

Thirdly, the hospitality was meant to be a personal investment. Relatives were to open their homes to the poor. If there was no family left, the responsibility fell to neighbors to take in the poor and support them. Fourthly, nobody was to profit from someone else’s poverty. There was to be no outlandish rent charged to them. There was to be no taking of interest in a load or exorbitant profit in a transaction. All financial concerns with the poor were meant to get them back on their feet.

The final observation here is that all this was done out of fear of God. There was a spiritual dimension to caring for the needs of the poor. It was not done to get attention to good works. It was not done because the eradication of poverty was the responsibility of government. It was done out of love and respect for God and His law. God made it clear that He expected obedience in this area as a marker of the sincerity of relationship with Him. He went to great lengths to instruct His people to care for the poorest among them out of relationship with Him.

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