The Poor and Unfortunate – Deuteronomy 15:7
I am continuing with my posts on the commands in the Mosaic Law regarding the poor and unfortunate. I am using the list of commands (mitzvots) on the poor and unfortunate I found at the Judaism 101 website. This week’s command is number fifty-one from the Judaism 101 list:
51. Not to refrain from maintaining a poor man and giving him what he needs (Deut. 15:7) (CCN62). See Tzedakah: Charity.
The thing that does not come through from the Judaism 101 website but is made very clear from the Concise Book of Mitzvoth (that is the book I am using to get a detailed Jewish view on these commands) is that Judaism considers this to be a command stating how Jews should treat other Jews. They do not consider this to be a command that requires the same level of conduct toward gentiles. This really struck me and I remembered the Pharisee who asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?”
I tracked down a short discussion of Luke 10:29 where the Pharisee asks who his neighbor is. The answer given in the excerpt below certainly points out a difference between Judaism and Christianity (just because many Christians fail to treat their neighbors as they are supposed to does not invalidate the command). Here is a quote from “The Fatal Failures of Religion: #2 Legalism (Matthew 5:17-48)”:
Sixth Example: Who Is My Neighbor? (43-48)
Nowhere is the abuse of the Old Testament Scripture by the scribes more evident that it is here: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy”’ (Matthew 5:43). Here is a statement which finds no support in the Scriptures at all. The narrowness and sectarianism of Judaism looked only within the ranks of their own to find their neighbor. It was no accident that the lawyer asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). This was a crucial question to the Jews.
The Jews could easily proof-text their hatred of the Gentiles. After all, God ordered Israel to kill all the Canaanites. The Psalmist prayed for the downfall of the wicked, who were his enemies. God brought death and destruction to the Egyptians at the Exodus. Should not the Jew show love toward his fellow-Jews (the upstanding ones) and hate toward the rest?
The Old Testament instructed the Israelites to show kindness toward the foreigner, and even to their enemies (Exodus 23:4,5; Proverbs 25:21-22). One’s neighbor, as Jesus clearly taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan, was anyone in need. It was not enough to cease from retaliation. Christianity goes even further than this—we are to return good for evil. This is the distinctiveness of true believers.
In any group of people they will tend to respond warmly to their own kind. Gentiles love Gentiles; Jews love Jews. The kind of love we must reflect is love for our enemies. In common grace, God gives blessings (rain and sun) to all men without distinction. If we are to reflect Him, we must be indiscriminate in our acts of goodness also.
Narrowness is often one of the criticisms against Christians. Oftentimes this criticism is justified. According to God’s Word, it has no place among Christians.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the Concise Book of Mitzvoth is saying to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. The issue of “hating your enemy” doesn’t come up in the Concise Book of Mitzvoth as far as I can tell. What I am saying is that in Judaism your neighbors are other Jews. The definition is very narrow and at odds with how Christians interpret the same command.
From the Concise Book of Mitzvoth here is the interpretation of Mitzvot 51:
Mitzvot 51 (CCN62)
62. It is a negative commandment not to harden one’s heart and not to shut one’s hand toward a poor Jewish man
as scripture says, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your needy brother (D’varim (Deuteronomy]15:7).
It applies everywhere, in every time, for both man and woman.
Just as I have in the past, I am also going to provide commentary from Gary Kukis’ (who most of you will never have heard of) exegesis of this passage and Matthew Henry’s commentary. First, here is Gary Kukis (link here):
“When there is among you one who is indigent from one of your brothers in one of your cities in your land which Yehowah your God is giving to you—you will not harden your heart nor will you close your hand from your brother in need [lit., your brother, the indigent (one)]; [Deut. 15:7]
Occasionally I catch myself watching a medical show and making value judgments over some of the street people that they treat and what a drain it is on the resources of the hospital—but that is my old sin nature prompting me. Every person has value in God’s sight. This does not mean that there is some divine spark within us all or that we are all inherently worthy of God’s love. The key here is that Jesus Christ died for all mankind. Some people are poor and indigent because this is God’s only way to reach them. This indigent person may have a tremendous future in God’s plan but is under discipline or under training for what God has designed for him. Each and every person has value because God died for that person, from the most despicable to the poorest of the poor to the the least educated. This in no way removes human responsibility for one’s action, nor does it preclude law and Paul’s edict, if one will not work, he will not eat. There is a balance and charity toward those who are having financial problems is a part of that balance. For whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of god abide in him? (1John 3:17).
However, in Mat. 26, the disciples, particularly Judas, were concerned about expensive perfume being used upon our Lord, when the money could have been spent upon the poor. On at least two similar occasions while our Lord was having his feet anointed with expensive perfume, He said, “The poor you will have with you always.” (Matt. 26:11a John 12:8). Therefore this might be a good time to examine the Doctrine of the Poor—not finished yet!!
Matthew Henry (link here):
II. Here is a law in favour of poor borrowers, that they might not suffer damage by the former law. Men would be apt to argue, If the case of a man be so with his debtor that if the debt be not paid before the year of release it shall be lost, it were better not to lend. “No,” says this branch of the statute, “thou shalt not think such a thought.” 1. It is taken for granted that there would be poor among them, who would have occasion to borrow (Deuteronomy 15:7), and that there would never cease to be some such objects of charity (Deuteronomy 15:7), and that there would never cease to be some such objects of charity (Deuteronomy 15:11): The poor shall never cease out of thy land, though not such as were reduced to extreme poverty, yet such as would be behind-hand, and would have occasion to borrow; of such poor he here speaks, and such we have always with us, so that a charitable disposition may soon find a charitable occasion. 2. In such a case we are here commanded to lend or give, according to our ability and the necessity of the case: Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand, Deuteronomy 15:7. If the hand be shut, it is a sign the heart is hardened; for, if the clouds were full of rain, they would empty themselves, Ecclesiastes 11:3. Bowels of compassion would produce liberal distributions, James 2:15,16. Thou shalt not only stretch out thy hand to him to reach him something, but thou shalt open thy hand wide unto him, to lend him sufficient, Deuteronomy 15:8. Sometimes there is as much charity in prudent lending as in giving, as it obliges the borrower to industry and honesty and may put him into a way of helping himself. We are sometimes tempted to think, when an object of charity presents itself, we may choose whether we will give any thing or nothing, little or much; whereas it is here an express precept (Deuteronomy 15:11), I command thee, not only to give, but to open thy hand wide, to give liberally. 3. Here is a caveat against that objection which might arise against charitable lending from the foregoing law for the release of debts (Deuteronomy 15:9): Beware that there be not a thought, a covetous ill-natured thought, in thy Belial heart, “The year of release is at hand, and therefore I will not lend what I must then be sure to lose;” lest thy poor brother, whom thou refusest to lend to, complain to God, and it will be a sin, a great sin, to thee. Note, (1.) The law is spiritual and lays a restraint upon the thoughts of the heart. We mistake if we think thoughts are free from the divine cognizance and check. (2.) That is a wicked heart indeed that raises evil thoughts from the good law of God, as theirs did who, because God had obliged them to the charity of forgiving, denied the charity of giving. (3.) We must carefully watch against all those secret suggestions which would divert us from our duty or discourage us in it. Those that would keep from the act of sin must keep out of their minds the very thought of sin. (4.) When we have an occasion of charitable lending, if we cannot trust the borrower, we must trust God, and lend, hoping for nothing again in this world, but expecting it will be recompensed in the resurrection of the just, Luke 6:35,14:14. (5.) It is a dreadful thing to have the cry of the poor against us, for God has his ear open to that cry, and, in compassion to them, will be sue to reckon with those that deal hardly with them. (6.) That which we think is our prudence often proves sin to us; he that refused to lend because the year of release was at hand thought he did wisely, and that men would praise him as doing well for himself, Psalms 49:18. But he is here told that he did wickedly, and that God would condemn him as doing ill to his brother; and we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, and that what he says is sin to us will certainly be ruin to us if it be not repented of.