Thursdays in the Text: What Does the Bible Say About Poor People?

Poor kids at meal programAs Christians familiar with the New Testament, we usually know a couple of Bible verses about poor people. We’re less familiar with the Old Testament verses that are referenced.

One familiar New Testament verse is from Jesus’ sermon we call the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

The other Bible verse about poor people we know is what Jesus told the disciples, when they protested that someone was spending wealth on him that could be used to serve the poor:

“The poor you will always have with you” (quoted with slight variations in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8).

So we’re pretty prone to think that leaving people in poverty is okay, even spiritually advantageous, as far as Jesus is concerned. Not our problem.

We don’t know that Jesus was referencing Old Testament teaching when he says that there would always be poor in the land, nor do we have any sense how ambiguous that teaching is about our own integrity in the face of wealth.

Here are the Bible verses about poor people from Deuteronomy that Jesus is referencing:

  • ” … there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 
  • 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 
  • For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised
  • 7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 
  • 8  Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.  
  • 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart
  • then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
  • 11 There will always be poor people in the land.
  • Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.  (Deuteronomy 15:4-11)

What I see here is that there is no need for there to be any people in poverty, because God is going to bless God’s people so richly if we — as a people — obey all of God’s commands. One of those commands is to help people in need. But at the same time, God acknowledges, “there will always be poor”.

I’m not sure quite how to take this.

  • Does it mean that God recognizes in advance that the people of God will be disobedient when it comes to managing the wealth God provides us, and as a result we will leave people in need in spite of God’s blessings to us?
  • Or does it mean that God will allow some people to be in need while others are wealthy so that God’s people can demonstrate the wonders of God’s ways by constantly helping people in need with the resources God gives? This would be like the New Testament story where a man is born blind in order that the works of God might be made known when he is healed (John 9).

How do you read this portion of God’s Word? Looking forward to your Biblical perspectives!

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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7 Responses to Thursdays in the Text: What Does the Bible Say About Poor People?

  1. kevobx says:

    Do not worship him (Revelation 19:10) worship God the Father? *Psalm 82:1 GOD standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. *Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. *Zephaniah 2:11 The Lord will be terrible unto them: for he will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. *Proverbs 21:16 The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead. *Habakkuk 3:14 their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.

  2. kevobx says:

    What is hatred, see the red (Esau) *Psalm 81:15 The haters of the Lord should have submitted submitted themselves unto him: *2nd Timothy 2:26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. *James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seat? (Amos 8:4)

  3. kevobx says:

    The world is looking for an inheritance, from God? *Proverbs 20:21 An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed. *Galatians 3:18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. *Luke 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. (John 8:33 They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?) (Revelation 22:13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.)

  4. christianpurposeblog says:

    Kevobox, I see lots of texts and I’m sure you see how they are connected. I’m not as clear. Feel free to connect the dots for the rest of us! Bless you!

  5. kevobx says:

    Idumea is Edom the red blooded nation called Caucasion, the white man? *Genesis 36:8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom. *Obadiah 9 And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter. *Jeremiah 48:47 Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days, saith the Lord. Thus far is the judgment of Moab. *Psalm 83:6 The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ismaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; *Genesis 19:37 And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day. *Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. *Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread. *Isaiah 34:5 For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, upon the people of my curse, to judgment. *Thou is the white man who loves art, they painted Jesus in red, when no man has seen Christ, it’s written in *Jeremiah 4:30

  6. kevobx says:

    Am I my brother’s keeper? (John 8:44) Cain is the first murder in the Bible, and the world idolizes him. They even followed him reading *Jude 11 Woe unto them! for they have gone the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. *Romans 10:21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. (Love truth hate opinions *1st Kings 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. (*John 7:13 Howbeit no man spake openly of him for the fear of the Jews.) *Matthew 22:46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions. (*Malachi 4:5*)

  7. kevobx says:

    Which way to go towards the right hand or the left hand? (Genesis 13:9) *2nd Chronicles 34:24 Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: *Romans 11:1 I SAY then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. (*Ezekiel 11:13 Ah Lord God! wilt thou make a full end of the remnant of Israel? *Isaiah 1:9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.) *Luke 17:32 Remember Lot’s wife. (Lot’s incest children are Moab and Ammon, *Psalm 83:6-7)

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