The Scriptorium

Caring for the Poor

According to the Law of love. Deuteronomy 15.7-18

A Holy Community: Deuteronomy 15, 16 (2)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 145.4-9
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.

Psalm 145.4-9

(Brother James’ Air: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want)
To ev’ry generation we Your wondrous works shall tell.
The splendor of Your majesty we contemplate full well.
We speak of all Your mighty deeds and all Your greatness tell!

Then shall we all the glorious fame of Your great goodness sing –
Your righteousness, Your gracious Name, Your mercy: praise we bring!
Your steadfast love remains the same, mercy our covering.

Today’s Text: Deuteronomy 15.7-18

Preparation

1. What was to be the attitude of God’s people toward the poor among them?

2. What were God’s people to remember as they took slaves into their possession?

Mediation
Here we are reminded again that the Law of God is not given to put us under some onerous yoke of oppression (1 Jn. 5.1-3). Rather, obedience to the Law liberates us into the generosity and charity of God, so that His grace reaches and flows through us to others (Matt. 22.34-40).

Caring for the poor is a matter both of obligatory and distributive justice – then and now. We owe our brethren whatever is in our power to assist in their wellbeing. And we must be particularly diligent to extend grace to the poor, according to their needs (vv. 7, 8; cf. Gal. 6.10)). In ancient Israel, it would have been churlish, given the approach of the year of release, to hold back from loaning to a poor man (v. 9). Even though one might incur loss in so doing, the expressing of love was more important than economic self-interest. Remember: In the divine economy, grace, not money, is the currency. God would see, and God would bless (v. 10). So we must be always ready to help the poor, because there will always be poor and needy among you (v. 11).

The situation described in verses 12-18 looks more like a case of indentured servitude than outright slavery, although the Israelites were allowed to keep slaves (as we shall see). Here one contracts for a period of six years to serve another. At the end of that period, in the seventh year, the contract expires, and the servant is to be discharged. Apparently, this discharge was carried out throughout the seventh year. But the discharge must not be without a “golden parachute” – animals, grain, and wine were to be provided for the former servant to enable him to make a good start in life on his own. And if he preferred to stay and continue working for his master, and the master agreed, an arrangement sealed the deal and both parties benefitted (vv. 16, 17). This manner of servitude was potentially beneficial both to servants and masters. The masters got a deal on low-cost labor (v. 18), and the servants were given the opportunity to learn discipline, accumulate wealth, and ultimately be free again (v. 16).

Each of these statutes regarding the poor would fall under the sixth commandment: You shall not kill. As with all the commandments, the sixth has both a negative and positive aspect. Not only shall you not kill, but also you shall do everything in your power to contribute to your neighbor’s good.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“…but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs” (v. 8). We are not to question what is needed; we are to lend so that whatever is need is received. In other words, we are not to sit in judgment of the perceived need. It is their need. We simply fill it. And with largesse. No stinginess allowed. Gratefully giving, as this is the same way God gives to us. “My grace is sufficient for you…” (2 Cor. 12.9). “And my God shall supply all your need through His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.19). “…my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps. 23.5, 6). Obediently, our overflow must fill up our poor brother’s need through Christ, Who strengthens us to do it.

Reflection
1. Why must we be always ready to meet the needs of poor brethren? How can we do that?

2. Does the local church have responsibility for the poor beyond its own congregation (Gal. 6.10)? Explain.

3. Why is it true that we will always have poor people among us? How should this guide the church in its ministry?

In order to incline them to compassion, he again reminds them of their common brotherhood, and sets before them, as its token and pledge, the land in which by God's goodness they dwell together. Again, that they may be willing and prompt in their humanity, He forbids them to harden their heart, thereby signifying that avarice is always cruel.. John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 15.7-11

Give me a generous heart, O Lord, so that I always…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 145.1-3, 10-21
Thank God for His many good works – that He cares for you and for the poor, and that He keeps those who love Him and opposes those who oppose Him. Ask Him to use you as an agent of grace today.

Psalm 145.1-3, 10-21
(Brother James’ Air: The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll not Want)
I will extol You, God, my King, and ever praise Your Name!
I bless You, Lord, for everything each day, and e’er the same!
Great are You, Lord, my praise I bring; unsearchable Your fame!

Your works shall thank You; all Your saints shall bless and praise You, Lord.
Your reign we bless without restraint; Your power fills our words.
Our children we shall educate in all Your splendor, Lord.

Your Kingdom evermore shall be; You reign forever, Lord!
Your works You do so faithfully, according to Your Word.
The falling You uphold and the oppressed You rescue, Lord!

The eyes of all look up to You to meet our needs each day.
Open Your hand, provide the food we need, O Lord, we pray!
Kindness and righteousness You do, O Lord, in every way!

Be near to all who call on You; all those who fear You, bless.
Preserve all those whose love is true; save us in our distress.
Our mouths will speak with praise of You; Your holy Name we’ll b

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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