An ancient Jewish proverb states:
The merciful lend to their neighbors; by holding out a helping hand they keep the commandments.Sirach 29:1
Regarding the commandments of God, one of the most comprehensive passages that was to influence the attitude of God’s people toward the poor among them is summed up in Moses’ declaration to the nation as they are about to cross over into the promised land of Canaan.
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Beware that there is no base thought in your heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the LORD against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.’
In these commands, Moses encourages them to give generously to the poor, and to not let their hearts be grieved when doing so. Many times, we can follow a command, but we instead do it grudgingly and with the wrong attitude. God desires us to not only be obedient, but cheerfully so.
The intent of Moses’ instruction is echoed by the apostle Paul centuries later:
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 – The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should do as he has decided in his heart – not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.
Though the Jewish proverb is lengthy and covers many aspects of the benefits of lending to those in need, in one place it makes the following salient point:
Help the poor for the commandment’s sake, and in their need do not send them away empty-handed. Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.Sirach 29:9-10
In a time when there were no banks or ways of securing money, it was not uncommon to simply bury it. The proverb advises, “don’t let your silver rust under a stone and be lost.” Rather than storing it for future use where it may not last, or may get stolen, let it get some use by those in need of it. It is much more preferable to “lose” your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend than to lose it to someone who may find it under your stone and steal what you were storing for yourself.
Yeshua taught the same principle in his parable about greed and accumulation of wealth.
Luke 12:15-21 – He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was very productive. “He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? “I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there. “Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared – whose will they be? ‘ “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Helping those in need is not only a commandment of compassion to be obeyed, but a privilege and honor in the stewardship of the resources and blessings that God has provided us. Our faithfulness in being happily and freely “rich toward God” rather than rich toward ourselves brings honor to his name, and witnesses that we are truly his disciples abiding by his commandments.
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