Hidden Nuggets Series #99 – “…For the poor will never cease from the land…” – Deuteronomy 15:11
A major theme found in the Bible is how we are to treat one another. Jesus famously said in Matthew 22:39, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Perhaps nowhere can this statement be more applicable than in how we treat the poor among us.
Deuteronomy 15:11 says that the poor will always be with us. There will never be an instance in this present life when someone somewhere isn’t experiencing poverty. Because of that we should consider all manner of ways in which we might go about helping the poor.
God clearly has a special place in his heart for the poor. The Bible is filled with verses specifically addressing their situation. Here are 15 powerful Bible verses about helping the poor that show us how we might best meet their needs.
Bible Verses About Helping the Poor
These verses capture the essence of how God feels about the poor and what the Bible says about helping them:
“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.”
One of the first verses in the Bible about the poor is tied to the issue of debt. God did not want his people taking advantage of a poor man who they had lent money by charging him excessive interest. Oh wait, check that…they were to charge him no interest at all. Loaning the money was fine, but the lender was not to expect anything back other than the original loan amount. This command was stated again in Leviticus 25:36-37.
“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.”
Here we see God providing a way for the poor to find food. He instructed the farmers to not pick every single grape from their grapevine. Instead, they were to leave a few behind so the poor could come in after the workers had left and glean from the leftovers. Similar instructions were given in Leviticus 23:22 to those farmers who planted grains in the field – “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.” We see this concept put into practice in how Boaz allowed the widow Ruth to gather food in his fields (Ruth 2:1-17)
“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.”
By using the phrase “falls into” the Bible here seems to be addressing accidental poverty. Sometimes a life event could happen that might cause someone to become poor. (See the story of Job in the Bible.) Maybe it was their fault…maybe it wasn’t. Either way, God instructs his people to not reject those who become poor. Instead reach out to support them…maybe even provide a place for them to live for awhile as they get back on their feet.
Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11
“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.”
Perhaps no other series of verses in the Bible so clearly illustrates and describes the nature of our heart attitude toward the poor as these in Deuteronomy. Sensitivity to their situation is called for as we are challenged to “not harden your heart” to them. That sensitivity leads to a giving spirit…and not just any giving spirit. It’s a beautiful picture the Bible paints of our hands being open wide, signifying a generous spirit of giving to their need.
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy…each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you.”
This addresses employers who might be tempted to withhold payment to their employees for work rendered. The poor of the day counted on (“has set his heart on it”) receiving that day’s wage for whatever work they had performed. They needed it to survive. God says the employer has no right to withhold it from them even for a day.
“For the needy shall not always be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish forever.”
At times the poor feel as though they have been forgotten…that no one is remembering their plight. God encourages them by offering hope and assures them that their situation would be remembered in time.
“Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
Helping the poor would appear to bring a blessing to those who do. In this verse in Psalms we see that the Lord promises his assistance to those who have remembered the poor. Similar outcomes of blessedness can be seen in Proverbs where we read,
“…He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Prov. 14:21
“He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.” Prov. 22:9
“He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors him has mercy on the needy.”
The word reproach means to address someone in such a way as to express disapproval or disappointment. Synonyms could be “reprimand,” “rebuke,” or “chide.” Do we really want to go there with God by oppressing the poor? He is the “Maker” the verse references. Are we so arrogant that we think God made a mistake when he created the poor? Are they not all equally loved beings also worthy of respect and honor? I think so.
“Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate; For the Lord will plead their cause, and plunder the soul of those who plunder them.”
Many times people take advantage of the poor simply because they can. The poor have less access to resources, knowledge, and information about how things are supposed to work. They are not dumb, just less informed. That information deficiency (and situational experience) create opportunities for those in-the-know to exploit the poor for money or whatever else they need. Needless to say, God does not look kindly on those who do this.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into the future in this prophecy about the coming Messiah – Jesus Christ. Jesus would quote this passage (see Luke 4:16-22) at the outset of his ministry while preaching in the synagogue in his hometown. The words that followed his recitation launched his ministry as he said to the gathered audience, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Some didn’t like that boldness but Jesus clearly defined his mission – which included speaking to and interacting with the poor.
“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.”
Zechariah challenges us to not oppress widows, orphans, strangers and the poor. There should never be an evil thought toward those who feel like outcasts and are alone because of some a life altering event.
“Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.”
This passage comes from an encounter Jesus had with a rich young ruler. The big idea message isn’t so much about helping the poor as it is what personal issues come between us God. For the rich man it was his great wealth. He couldn’t let it go even to help the needy and it cost him a special opportunity.
“Then He [Jesus] also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”
Jesus is challenging our motives with this party example. We love to hang with friends or people of status. However, sometimes we do so to gain their favor, looking for something in return. Jesus says that a party invitation to the poor reveals our heart is in the right place. We are truly seeking to bless them for they literally cannot return the favor.
“They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.”
After the church began the apostles faced persecution, trials and interestingly enough doctrinal issues. One of the biggest controversies was whether or not the new believers in Christ (some of whom were Gentiles) had to convert to Judaism and practice certain Jewish rituals. The apostle Paul didn’t believe conversion to Judaism was necessary for salvation, a conclusion the church leaders at large eventually reached. They commissioned Paul to preach the message of salvation and in doing so remember the poor. Paul tells us here in Galatians it was always his desire to do so. If it was important to Jesus and Paul it should be important to us.
“For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘Sit here at my footstool.’ Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
These verses in James clearly address the subject of showing favoritism to the wealthy over the poor. James says it’s wrong to place the wealthy in special places of honor while subjecting the poor to lower places of honor. Everyone should be treated equally. Interestingly enough, unless you think this is a one-sided issue, the Bible also says that favoritism going in the direction of the poor over the wealthy is wrong. Exodus 23:3 says, “You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.” Leviticus 19:15 also addresses this issue by saying, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” So clearly favoritism in either direction – to the poor or to the wealthy – is frowned upon.
Questions: What verses stand out to you? Why do you think God has such a special place in his heart for the poor? What are you doing to reach out to the poor in your neighborhood or around the world? What other Bible verses about helping the poor can you think of?