“She opens her arms to the poor; yes, she extends her hands to the needy.”Proverbs 31:20
The woman of Proverbs 31 has generally been understood to be the example of a faithful wife. But when all of her qualities are viewed holistically, it becomes apparent that it would be highly unusual for one individual to be able to accomplish all of those different tasks successfully and sustainably.
However, if we view this woman from an allegorical perspective of those who are faithful to God, a beautiful picture emerges of responsibilities he has tasked us with in this world. From this vantage point, we see the various things that we are challenged with in our walk with the Lord. One of the outstanding characteristics displayed here is care and compassion for the poor and needy.
If we view some of these terms a little more closely, we find that the meanings extend farther than what we might just consider to be those who are beggars hoping for handouts, or homeless individuals and families camped alongside the road. The word for poor can mean those who are depressed in mind or circumstance, or who are afflicted in some way. The needy can be more fully described as those who have a sense of want either in physical needs, but even in feelings. Based on these descriptions, it becomes apparent that there are likely many individuals who cross our paths who would qualify for our assistance in meeting those various levels of need.
Caring for the poor is a quality that is evident all throughout the biblical narrative.
Deuteronomy 15:11: “For the poor will never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land.”
Proverbs 14:21: “He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who has pity on the poor.”
Proverbs 14:31: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors him.”
Proverbs 19:17: “He who has pity on the poor lends to Yahweh; he will reward him.”
Especially evident within the teaching and practice of Yeshua, he makes it clear that there will always be a contingent of people who will be considered disadvantaged in some way, and we are encouraged to be helpful to them in ways that provide real relief.
Mark 14:7: “You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want…
Luke 14:12-14: “He also said to the one who had invited him, “When you make a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends, nor your brothers, nor your kinsmen, nor rich neighbors, or perhaps they might also return the favor, and pay you back. But when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame, or the blind; and you will be blessed, because they don’t have the resources to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous.””
The apostle Paul reminds the Galatian congregation of their responsibility as he shares his deep desire to fulfill this ongoing command.
Galatians 2:10: “They [James, Peter, and John] only asked us to remember the poor — which very thing I was also zealous to do.”
Exhibiting compassion on the poor and needy has been a marker of the faithful all throughout the Bible. In view of the expanded definitions of the poor and needy to include all of those who are suffering from more than just physical or financial destitution, we would do well to remember that we have real responsibilities outside of our own selfish wants and needs. As God’s representatives in each generation, it’s up to us to set the example in our respective societies and generations. We honor our Creator when we honor all of those whom he has created through genuine compassion for their genuine needs.
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