Christian Treatment of the Poor – Conclusion?
I began this series (see all of my posts in the series here) a couple of months ago because I was interested in learning more about how the Bible, and the Mosaic Law in particular, teaches us to treat the poor. I have definitely learned some good principles that I am going to try and put into practice. I have also learned that I have a lot more to learn.
My interest in this topic began last year when I read an article by Bob Deffinbaugh titled “Taking Interest in Your Neighbor” which discussed ancient Israel’s “safety net” for the poor as provided by the Mosaic Law. After reading it several times I decided that the Mosaic Law is much more humane than it is given credit for.
I also kept looking for more information on the topic of a Scripture-based approach on how to treat the poor. In due time I stumbled upon the Judaism 101 web site which listed all 613 commandments contained in the Mosaic Law sorted by topic. Sure enough, I noticed that thirteen of the commands given in the Mosaic Law dealt with the poor (according to their reckoning). What was also interesting was that many of these commands were not dealt with in detail in Bob Deffinbaugh’s article. I had some new information to study!
So, over the past few weeks I have looked at each of the thirteen mitzvots (commands) concerning treatment of the poor and pulled together Jewish based commentary (I don’t know if a Rabbi would call it a commentary) and two different Christian commentaries. By scholarly standards it isn’t much but I benefited from it.
I came away with two major impressions from this:
- The Mosaic Law is truly kind and wise. All of those fools out there who try and make it out to be bigoted and small minded don’t know what they are talking about.
- Jews and Christians interpret the Mosaic Law in fundamentally different ways. An orthodox Jew will want to apply the commands regarding to poor only to other Jews. On the other hand, the Christian will want to apply them to either everyone within the nation or, possibly, everyone no matter where they live.The arguments that Jesus had with the Pharisees two thousand years ago are still a bone of contention between Jews and Christians. Parables, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, were directed against a “Jewish only” application of the Mosaic Law. Religious Jews were not convinced then and I doubt that they will be now.
I wanted to add one last thing to this maybe final post. Both Bob Deffinbaugh and the Jewish mitzvots didn’t mention the “poor tithe” which was taken every three years per the Mosaic Law. I think there is still a lot more to the Mosaic system that I don’t understand. However, I think this is worth adding to my series.
Apparently the poor tithe is called the “Maaser Ani” in Judaism (see the Wikipedia article here). It is an extra tithe of 10% taken every three years and distributed to the poor. Since Deuteronomy 14:28 is the main passage dealing with this topic I am going to, once again, provide commentary by Gary Kukis and Matthew Henry.
First, Gary Kukis (link here):
“At the end of three years, you will bring out all the tithe of your increase in that year and you will place [it] within your gates; [Deut. 14:28]
So every three years there was a tithe, or ten percent, set aside for the poor of the land. It was not transported to Jerusalem but kept inside their city gates. It does not appear to be an additional tithe but substituted for the regular tithe (this is the teaching of Barnes and of Keil and Delitzsch). On the third and sixth years, the tithe is not carried to the tabernacle but it is distributed in their local community. However, I have seen this taught both ways—McGee and Thieme both teach that this is an additional tithe; McGee, in fact, teaches that the Israelite was on the hook for 30% of his income to God ). I feel like some Rabbi teaching that this school of thought has this opinion, but in the opinions of Rabbi’s Charlie Brown and John Smith, we have the contrary opinion. When we examine this in detail, I will have to give you the correct version. Since we are not under the Law, it is reasonable to suppose that even some of the greatest Bible teachers of all time did not put in a great deal of time to come to their position. In fact, every Bible teacher depends somewhat upon what they had learned from another for some of their interpretations. Someone might pastor a church for fifty years, but that is not long enough to plumb the entire depths of God’s Word. Some Rabbis call this the third tithe, but appears to be just a different way of applying the second tithe .
In any case, this particular tithe was brought to the poor and helpless and to the Levite of their general vicinity on the third and sixth years. The seventh year was a Sabbatical Year where there would be no tithe and no celebration of the Feasts at the tabernacle .
“And the Levite will come in, for he has no part or inheritance with you, and the visitor, and the orphan and the widow, who are within your gates, and they will eat and be satisfied, so that Yehowah your God will bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” [Deut. 14:29]
This is a ten percent tithe for those who do not have a steady means or a sufficient means of support. Note that this is specific—not for anyone who doesn’t work, but for the new visitor to the land, for those without parents and for widows, who may have children, but they are without a husband. Moses continually mentions the Levite, the fatherless and the widows as objects of compassion and with whom the Israelites were to share in rejoicing (Deut. 16:11, 14 24:19–22 26:12). No people are to forget the helpless of their land: How blessed is he who considers the poor; Yehowah will deliver him in a day of evil (Psalm 41:1). He who is generous will be blessed for he gives some of his food to the poor (Prov. 22:9). “Learn to do good, seek justice, reporve the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isa. 1:17).
Matthew Henry (link here):
2. Every third year this tithe must be disposed of at home in works of charity (Deuteronomy 14:28,29): Lay it up within they own gates, and let it be given to the poor, who, knowing the provision this law had made for them, no doubt would come to seek it; and, that they might make the poor familiar to them and not disdain their company, they are here directed to welcome them to their houses. “Thither let them come, and eat and be satisfied.” In this charitable distribution of the second tithe they must have an eye to the poor ministers and add to their encouragement by entertaining them, then to poor strangers (not only for the supply of their necessities, but to put a respect upon them, and so to invite them to turn proselytes), and then to the fatherless and widow, who, though perhaps they might have a competent maintenance left them, yet could not be supposed to live so plentifully and comfortably as they had done in months past, and therefore they were to countenance them, and help to make them easy by inviting them to this entertainment. God has a particular care for widows and fatherless, and he requires that we should have the same. It is his honour, and will be ours, to help the helpless. And if we thus serve God, and do good with what we have, it is promised here that the Lord our God will bless us in all the work of our hand. Note, (1.) The blessing of God is all in all to our outward prosperity, and, without that blessing, the work of our hands which we do will bring nothing to pass. (2.) The way to obtain that blessing is to be diligent and charitable. The blessing descends upon the working hand: “Except not that God should bless thee in thy idleness and love of ease, but in all the work of they hand.” It is the hand of the diligent, with the blessing of God upon it, that makes rich, Proverbs 10:4,22. And it descends upon the giving hand; he that thus scatters certainly increases, and the liberal soul will be made fat. It is an undoubted truth, though little believed, that to be charitable to the poor, and to be free and generous in the support of religion and any good work, is the surest and safest way of thriving. What is lent to the Lord will be repaid with abundant interest. See Ezekiel 44:30.