Compassion for the poor is a driving political issue in our world. In order to ensure that everyone is looked after, many nations enact enormously costly welfare programs. In the United States, for example, in recent decades the welfare state has grown to the point where it consumes nearly a third of the government’s annual budget. It continues to grow—yet so does the suffering of the poor.
God has tremendous compassion for the poor. He doesn’t want them to go without. In His law, He created a detailed and complete system not just to care for the poor, but to get them back on their feet financially. These laws contrast starkly against those used by our national governments. They reveal fundamental flaws in how human beings concoct welfare apart from the perfect wisdom of God.
If You Want to Eat …
Today’s welfare recipients get checks and subsidies in their mailboxes. God’s instruction to the poor on how to attain what they need is different. Read His command in Deuteronomy 23:24-25. In Part 12, we saw that a day laborer reaping in a field was allowed to eat what he wanted. He couldn’t harvest anything to take home, but he could eat enough to fill his empty belly. God used the same principle to provide for Israel’s poor—without any government subsidies or welfare programs. Anyone who was hungry was legally permitted to go and eat his fill in any of his neighbor’s vineyards or fields!
God knew the poor would always be present. This principle constantly reminds those of means to keep them in mind. Read His instruction to the property owner in Leviticus 19:9-10. God told the Israelites to leave the corners of the field alone; to leave the ears that fall to the ground while reaping; to leave the imperfect fruits or clusters. These were for the poor and the “stranger,” the foreigner who couldn’t possess land in Israel. “Every harvest season, when the children of Israel reaped their increase, they remembered they had a responsibility to the poor” (Good News, October 1961; emphasis added throughout).
God doesn’t command that we set up soup kitchens, give handouts, or issue unemployment checks. He commands the poor person to get out and do some work. If you want a meal, you are welcome to it—but you have to go into the field and pick it yourself. Consider how this aligns with the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
The welfare laws in our land break this principle and this law. They take the responsibility away from the neighbor and place it on a vote-hungry government that uses taxation and debt to put—and keep—people on government paychecks, vouchers and subsidies. These laws encourage laziness, welfare dependency and fraud.
The government’s involvement in retirement funds, social security and disability takes the family out of the equation and saddles the government with responsibilities and costs God never intended it to bear.
In addition, man’s welfare legislation actually rewards the poor for breaking God’s other laws—on sexual morality, for example. Young women have illegitimate children because they know the state will take care of them. Young men procreate freely without taking responsibility.
Anything that breaks down family increases welfare dependency. Permitting fornication; adultery; homosexuality; no-fault divorce; single motherhood—all of these things tend to hurt people financially and create needier people. Simply keeping God’s moral law—let alone His economic and welfare laws—would drastically decrease the amount of welfare needed in the first place.
What would happen if we kept God’s welfare laws? Look at God’s promise to the landowner who follows His command in Deuteronomy 24:19. We tend to think that the more we hold on to for ourselves, the more we’ll have. But God says it’s always more blessed to give than to receive. If you live the way of give, you’re setting a spiritual dynamic in motion that will produce more blessings and prosperity! Study how this truth is reinforced in Proverbs 11:24-25 and Proverbs 28:27.
See expansions of this law in Deuteronomy 24:20-21—then notice the reason God gives for all these acts of generosity and benevolence in verse 22. Again, God’s law aims to build compassion in us. God tells us to remember the agonies of spiritual captivity—so we will have compassion toward those who remain in captivity! God wants us to remember our trials and difficult times so we have more empathy for those who are going through trials.
“The Eternal is showing—by command—that it is actually wrong for us to use every last cent of our income or increase on ourselves. … Many of us—payday after payday—reap our increase and have no thought or consideration for the poor. The Eternal, knowing the poor would always be among us and need our help, gave this living command” (ibid). As economic conditions worsen, we may well see hard times hit more people in God’s Church. God wants us to look after each other. All of God’s people have their part to play in helping out the poor.
Keeping these laws accomplishes several things:
1) It teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must not overlook the person who is in want, or say, Too bad for them. We treat them the way we would want to be treated if we fell on hard times.
2) It keeps the burden of welfare off the state. Government welfare programs don’t work. They consume ever greater amounts of money and effort, taxing people at 40 or 50 percent and far higher, and still the poverty problem spreads. This eventually breaks the state. In God’s system, the government “taxes” at a flat 10 percent rate that never rises, no matter your income. (We’ll look at third tithe in the next article.)
3) It binds the nation closer together. In God’s system, welfare doesn’t funnel through a faceless bureaucracy. God’s way forms bonds between the people who give the charity and those who receive it. This benefits both parties.
God on Loans
Debt is a big reason why poverty often becomes so crushing. Read God’s simple solution to this problem in Exodus 22:25. In man’s system, debt is big business. Banks give loans primarily to benefit the bank. In God’s system, loans exist to benefit the poor. No one makes money off someone else’s debt. Loans are a form of welfare. God wants people to lend to the needy not to profit from them, but to help them.
Today, banks encourage you to give your money to them by giving you interest. Then they take your money and lend it to others at even higher interest. We are in the habit of lending money for profit to people who can easily pay back the loan. And we think that’s what our extra money is for: to lend out to earn more money.
In God’s system, you aren’t allowed to earn interest on money you’re not using. So, you might as well use that extra money to give out small, interest-free loans to those who need it for life’s necessities. “A culture which has interest-bearing loans encourages a selfish spirit and encourages the hoarding of money where we can make more money from interest. … [A] culture which has zero-interest loans encourages generosity to the poor and a giving spirit” (David James King, Creating a Nation Under God).
Study the wisdom in Leviticus 25:35-37. This beautiful passage refers to a brother or even a stranger or sojourner who “becomes poor, and falls into poverty” (New King James). This law isn’t intended to enable a chronic sluggard, and God didn’t intend for Israel to become the premier destination for poor people from all the surrounding countries. Instead, this law helps the person who arrived well off and then became poor. “That he may live with you” shows that without help, this person won’t make it. Relieve means to maintain, help or strengthen. There may be several ways to do this; God gives two specifics. The first is the no-interest loan. The second is that the poor can buy food “at cost.” God’s law forbids making a profit from selling food to the poor. See how God punctuates this law with His plea for compassion in verse 38. Remember God’s blessings and mercy toward us, and we will extend that toward others. That is God’s law—that is God’s love!
Notice something. None of these welfare laws involve the government! They help the poor without requiring a single penny in taxes for a federal program.
God didn’t allow Israelites to exact interest. However a lender could take a “pledge” (collateral) to protect himself from loss. Read God’s restriction on pledges in Exodus 22:26-27. Look at the related law in Deuteronomy 24:6. The “upper” stone covers the “nether” stone like a lid. Why would a lender want just part of a mill? To prevent the debtor from being able to grind the grain he needed for his food. “It is a tool by which its owner gains his livelihood,” the Living Bible says.
Man’s law allows for lenders to “motivate” their debtors in such ways. God’s law forbids taking advantage of the poor and extracting difficult concessions. The lender must show compassion and not deprive the debtor of something he needs for day-to-day living. He must be mindful of the person’s financial state and not impose hardships that violate God’s law of love! In our world today, lenders couldn’t care less how they hurt the borrower. But God’s law builds a godly, loving, generous mindset within the wealthy.
Consider God’s command in verses 10-11. A lender may not exact a pledge from a debtor by force. Out of respect, he must leave it to the debtor to give him the pledge. He may not compel him to give up something indispensable. God doesn’t want a lender demanding repayment from a poor man knowing he can’t pay. There are no loan sharks among God’s people. There is no blackmail or threats of violence to enforce repayment.
See how verses 12-13 expand the thought, forbidding holding the pledge from its owner when he needs it. How does obeying this law affect the relationship between the two parties? God says that if you treat the poorer man with respect, he will appreciate the kindness and will bless you. Matthew Henry’s commentary says “bless you” means the poor will “pray for thee, and praise God for thy kindness to him.” Even if your debtor doesn’t have the means to pay off his loan, he will still repay your kindness by praying for you and blessing you! Instead of creating an enemy if you go about this the wrong way, you actually gain a friend. Finally, notice in verse 13 God’s promise to the lender who obeys.
In God’s system, children—not the government or a welfare program—are responsible for caring for their aging parents. Read, for example, the Apostle Paul’s discussion about widows in 1 Timothy 5:1-16. If a woman has family, they, rather than the Church—or the government—are responsible before God to provide for her. “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (verse 8; Revised Standard Version). God’s law that the firstborn son received a double inheritance may well have been intended to enable that eldest child to be less burdened with the responsibility of earning a living and thus freer to care for his parents as they moved into old age.
In several laws, however, God does give special attention to widows. If an older woman had no family support, God wanted the whole nation to step up and be attentive to her needs and to look after her. Read Deuteronomy 24:17-18 to see, for example, how God protects a poor widow who needs to borrow money. God forbids taking something she needs or taking advantage of her.
Think about all of these specific, practical ways God laid down for His nation to care for the poor in its midst. Keeping these laws would prevent so many people from falling into poverty in the first place! The way creditors operate today, debt is like quicksand—once you begin to fall in, it sucks you down deeper and deeper. In that system, everyone loses! In God’s system, if someone starts going under, then all these helps kick into action to prevent him from sinking any further. If the nation is keeping God’s laws and the poor man puts forth effort, he can get back on his feet.
These laws alone do not eliminate all poverty, but they eliminate much of it, along with the worst of its oppressive nature. They prevent the poor from slipping through the cracks in society.
But also, consider that the government had absolutely no part in any of those laws. In God’s system, the people themselves take care of their poor! And that creates a much healthier situation—for the poor—and the people—and the government!