I have a friend of mine who works in a homeless center. They are atypical in that they don’t give handouts, but require at last an hour’s work for a week’s worth of food. It’s more than generous. It preserves the dignity of the person. Plus they can then move on in the care system to work for their housing if they want and get job skills. Their goal is to get people functioning independently again if they choose.
But ironically they cannot get food from most of the major national organizations that donate food. It’s required by those organizations that people not be told they need to work at all for their food. Even for an hour. Because of that they regularly go to the community for food.
Additionally it’s challenging in a sense in the homeless community care providers. Why should they go somewhere that asks them to work even an hour for a lot of food when they can get the same amount of food for free? It does raise some issues and questions.
In the Scriptures the Lord made sure there was no need for poor people to suffer, but there were 6 main systems in place to help them.
7 Main System that Helped the Poor
1) The Cancellation of Debts for All – Deut 15:1-6
I personally would have loved this system. Every 7 years all debt was to be cancelled. Everyone was to cancel each other’s debts and not hold it against them. This allowed everyone to restart afresh.
Wouldn’t that be awesome! If you tried something and it didn’t work out, you could rest knowing that it wouldn’t penalize you for decades to come.
2) Lending to the Poor – Deut 15:7-11
The next system is that their fellow Israelites were to lend to the poor. Notice, it wasn’t a handout, it was a loan. That was to help the person start a business or get things going so they could make money of their own.
Knowing that the 7 year cancellation of debt might just be around the corner, the Israelites were admonished not to hold back just because that year was coming. Instead they were to be generous to those struggling.
3) Working as a Servant – Deut 15:12-18
In really difficult situations a man could become a “servant/slave” to a fellow Israelite for 6 years. Then he must be set free in the 7th year.
This is somewhat similar to what people do when they join the military. They surrender their rights to have their own way and they work and serve in exchange for pay. And it’s for a set amount of time, not for life, unless one volunteers to do so.
The advantage of this is that it meant there was always work. Even in the most dire of circumstances, one could serve another family for 6 years.
4) The City Storehouse – Deut 14:28-28
There were some situations where it was just almost impossible for someone to work more, such as a widow woman children, or orphans. And then there were the Levites who were working and serving in the Temple. They couldn’t work more as it would take away from the ministry.
So for the most destitute as the orphans and widows and then the Levites, they could come to the community storehouse. This was more than likely administered by the Levites and given to those most destitute who couldn’t possibly work any more than they already were.
5) Day Wage Working – Deut 24:14-15
People could work for another person for a day. Their fellow Israelite had to make sure that they paid them before the sun sets, because he was poor and depended on that daily wage. If the boss didn’t pay them at the end of the day, then that person would be held guilty for not paying that very same day.
6) Leaving Food in the Field for the Poor to Gather – Deut 24:19-22
If while they were working in the field they forgot a sheaf of grain, they were to leave it. It was to be collected by the poor.
When they gathered fruit from the tree, they were to do one full harvest. But they were not to return to the fruit of the tree a second time. The remaining fruit that was late ripening was to be left for the poor to gather.
7) Interest Free Loans – Deut 23:19-20
Every 7 years all debt was cancelled. And before and after that, a person could start work again or start a small business with an interest-free loan. The Israelites were not allowed to charge interest to one another, only interest to foreigners. This made it so that a person could get back on their feet with a job.
What We Can Learn About Helping the Poor:
1) We first learn that there never needed to be any poor among them. In fact while it says, “There will be no poor among you…if only you obey the LORD your God..” (Deut 15:4-5). And yes, just a few verses later it says, “for there will never cease to be poor people in the land” (15:11).
What it is saying is that there will always be poor people, but the Lord has created many ways in which person doesn’t need to remain poor and they will always be provided for. There isn’t a need for them to remain “poor” in the sense of their provision.
2) We learn also that every able-bodied person was provided work, not handouts. They could work as a day laborer, they could work for a family for 6 years and they could work by picking up in the fields what the harvesters left.
The poor could also get a total restart. With interest-free loans and the promise of cancelled debt after 7 years, there was no reason they couldn’t start a small business working.
There really was no excuse for an able-bodied person not to be working. There were many forms of provision for them to get jobs.
3) There were some occasions such as the widow and orphan where they just couldn’t work any more than they already were. A single mom didn’t have the same opportunities as today. And an orphan wasn’t going to be able get paid enough for food and housing.
For them there was grain left in the fields and fruit left on trees. But if they couldn’t make it even then, then they could tap into the community fund. This was for the most destitute.
And those in ministry also could tap into the community fund as they depended on the provision of the people. It wasn’t that they were so poor as that they so very dependent. Not only that, God often reminded the people “Do not neglect the Levite within your gates, since he has no portion or inheritance among you” (Deut 14:27). And this was in the context of finances.
4) Generosity looked differently than some might expect.
- The Israelites were to be generous with their loans even though they knew the 7th year of cancellation of debt might be coming (15:10).
- When someone was in need and became a laborer for 6 years for a family, when their time was up their fellow Israelite was to “give generously” to him from their flock, their threshing floor, and their winepress to send him on his way. It was part of the reward of the working for him 6 years and working to get him back on his feet (15:13)
- They were to pay a poor and needy man that very same day as he worked because that man depends on the wages (24:14-15).
Helping the Poor Today
The poor in the world are increasing. And with the coronavirus effects, it’s going to get a lot worse. Globally. So what can we do? Especially based on these Scriptures?
1) In times of crisis such as severe food shortage/starvation, we just give. If we have something, we give. We can’t fix every problem in the world, but especially if there is suffering in our local area, we work to take care of it. And as the Lord leads, we also give to the global problems.
2) If it all possible, we help create jobs. It doesn’t have to be loans, but that was what the loans were about that we read in Deut 15. We work to make it possible so that all can work. This was the genius of the WPA system in the 1930’s Great Depression in the US, when under Roosevelt he made a way for all to go back to work.
3) We find a way to be preemptive in our plans with those most vulnerable–single moms, widows, orphans. We must plan beforehand to create community funds where they are taken care of the most. This is the most vulnerable population.
4) We take care of one another. We look out for our friend, family and neighbor.
5) We prepare to be generous. When coronavirus first hit, people began to hoard. This is motivated by fear and isn’t looking out for one another. Yes, we need a reserve. But some people went ridiculous.
Understanding the Times
I do believe that we are heading into wonderful and terrible times. Wonderful in how the Lord moves on the earth, and terrible as I believe there may be food shortages. Food shortages cause people to get fearful and violent.
Instead of preparing only for ourselves, we need to think, “How can we prepare ourselves to be generous?” I know one ministry who has bought a lot of land and are currently planting acres and acres of food. Food to be given out.
When we asked our financial advisor several years what he thought someone should do in crisis, his words were to plant fruit trees. “He said silver and gold is nice, but you can’t eat it.” We never expected that answer from him, but I think it was a good one. Made me think that maybe getting some cows isn’t a bad idea either for those that live in the country.
The coronavirus was a wake-up call. It was a subtle one though. I think much stronger ones are coming. We need to prepare to take care of ourselves, but also to prepare to take care of one another. To be generous even in difficult times.
It’s time to seriously think on these things.