Psalm 41:1, Blessed is he who considers the poor. This passage makes it clear that helping the poor is like a spiritual insurance policy that pays off in one’s own time of need. The old adage, “What goes around comes around” applies here. The only difference is that this law of reciprocity isn’t chance driven, but YHVH instituted and orchestrated, for verse one says that YHVH will deliver the who blesses the poor in his own time of trouble.
From verse one to verse three, YHVH promises to care for those who help the poor in the following ways:
- Protect and preserve his life (verse 2).
- Deliver him from his enemies (verse 2).
- Sustain and restore one who is sick (verse 3).
This is an insurance policy pays rich dividends in YHVH’s spiritual economy.
The Bible on Giving to the Poor
Multiple times, the Scriptures enjoins those who have been blessed materially to help those who are poor. In fact, YHVH even has a special place in his heart for a certain class of individuals who have fallen into poverty, namely, the widows and the fatherless (Deut 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:19; 26:12–13; 1 Tim 5:3). Moreover, Yeshua declared that the poor would always be among us (Matt 26:11), so there will never be a lack of opportunity for the so-called haves to help the have-nots. Furthermore, YHVH promises to bless us when we give to the poor (Ps 41:1–3) as well as to those who have dedicated their lives to serving YHVH’s people through the ministry (Deut 14:29; 16:14; 26:12–13).
In Deuteronomy 15:7, we discover that there should be levels of priorities in our giving to the poor. Our first responsibility is to help a poor person who is a brother, that is, who is a member of our immediate family, or someone who is like a brother to us. Second, we are to help those in need who reside in our gates, or are a member of our immediate community. Finally, and last, our charitable is to go toward those who are in need in our own land or country. The idea here is that our charitable giving is to go first to those who live the closest to us, and then go out from there geographically as we are able to do so financially.
In the Torah, there is a social welfare system in place to help the needy, but it comes with strict guidelines. For example, YHVH instructed the Israelites to set aside a certain portion of their income to help the poor. (Deut 14:28–29). For the ancient Israelites, this was a sort of social welfare system whereby those who had been blessed materially were commanded to help those who weren’t and were in need.
Moreover, the Torah had other social mechanisms whereby those who had fallen into poverty had the means to work themselves out of that economic state. There was no such thing as sitting idly and expecting a handout from society! For example, a poor person could sell themselves into servitude for a period of time until they worked themselves out of debt (Exod 21:2; Lev 25:39–55). Every seven years, debts were forgiven (Deut 15:1–2). Those who had an abundance financially and were in position to loan money to a poor person were forbidden from charging the lendee or borrower any interest (Lev 25:35–38). A poor person who had land could also sell their land to raise money; however, at the end of the 50 year jubilee cycle, that land would be given back to them (Lev 25:8–17).
Laws were in place where the poor wouldn’t starve to death. Two Torah laws insured this. Those who had agricultural lands were neither to glean their fields after their initial harvest, nor were they to reap the corners of their fields. The poor were allowed to come back into the fields after the harvest and to reap anything that remained (Lev 19:10; 23:22; Deut 24:19–21), and to eat freely of the agricultural produce every seventh year (Exod 33:11). In fact, the entire book of Ruth is the story of how this system worked such that the well-to-do helped the poor.
One key fact stands out in the Torah’s social welfare system however. The poor had to work for their food. In fact, most Bible students are aware of the fourth commandment, which tells us to rest on the seventh day of the week—the Sabbath. However, many people overlook the rest of this command; namely, everyone is to work for the six days prior to resting on the seventh-day Sabbath. Working is a biblical command. In the Bible, there was no such thing as retirement, or sitting back idly and waiting for a government welfare check to come to you!
The idea of sitting back and collecting public assistance for doing nothing was unheard of in the Bible. This is a socialistic and an evil Marxist concept and a form of wealth redistribution, which is a form legalized theft, and results in disincentives to work. This concept is anathema to the biblical concept of hard work, personal responsibility, and thievery.
Above and beyond all of this, a man is commanded to provide for his household, and if he doesn’t, according to Paul, he “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever [or a heathen]” (1 Tim 5:8). In fact, with regard to the church helping those who were poor, Paul declared that those who refused to work shouldn’t eat (2 Thess 3:10). The idea here is that if one get’s hungry enough, he’ll go out and find a job, for hunger is a power motivator to find work!
At the same time, the church was to help those truly and legitimately in need, especially widows. However, before a widow could become dependent upon the church, the widow’s family was to support her financially (1 Tim 5:4). For widows just under the age of 60 or above, there were stringent requirements before she could receive any financial help from the church; namely, she had to be performing acts of service to members of the church (1 Tim 5:9–10). A widow who was younger was required to work or to marry someone who could support her financially (1 Tim 5:11–14).
One thing is clear in the Bible with regard to the poor, there are no examples of lazy, pan-handlers or able bodied people receiving financial assistance from society, and there are no requirements for the saints to help such people.