provision needy, helping hand

Old Testament Provisions for the Needy

The work of the deacon was well established in the Old Testament administration. God’s people are unlike those who are outside the household of faith, the Lord God dwells [1] with his people. The Lord God is unlike the gods [2] of the heathen. Their gods are made of the stuff of the earth, their eyes do no see, their ears do no hear, their mouths to no speak, and those who worship them are like [3] them.
The God who dwells among and with his people provided through Moses laws to protect the vulnerable, and stipulated rules for their nurture and care. The responsibility to care for the needy falls first to the Covenant community as a whole. The Covenant community consisted of the faithful within the visible mixed assembly of the believer and the unbeliever.

The laws God gave through Moses recognize three types of needy people consisting of those who:

1. For one reason or another lacked the basic necessities to live. The Lord promised that the people who keep his word will not suffer[4] poverty. The primary means by which the Lord’s help would be realized in this promise is through the charitable action of the people towards their neighbors, not as often assumed by extraordinary intervention – in other words, by loving one’s neighbors. The gleaning laws [5] declare that fields are not to be harvested to the very edge, but that some gleanings shall be left for the poor and for the sojourner.

2. Are lacking the material abilities of necessary protection from harm. An example [6] of the remedy in this situation is the prohibition against showing particular favor to a poor man in a lawsuit. Another example stipulated by Moses was that the head-tax offering for atonement was to be equitable [7] for both rich and poor – effectively a prohibition against the notion that the well to do should pay more than the poor man. Note in particular the consideration made for the poor in Leviticus 14:21-22. This of course includes those who have become physically or psychologically injured or impaired (Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 10:2).

3. Are afflicted and/or oppressed and thus being taken advantage of by the well-to-do. The laws of just weights [8] and measures address the responsibility all men have to protect our neighbor’s property and chattels. Likewise, the sojourner shall be protected under the same laws [9] as those of the household of faith. A key text that demonstrated the responsibility of those who are blessed with abundance to take care of the needs of those who have become poor or afflicted through happenstance is shown in Leviticus 25:35-55. The Lord promised protection and assistance for the people who were most exposed [10] to unjust means. Take particular note of Deuteronomy 14:29, “And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” James makes a point of directing the saints to the practice of pure religion in declaring the need to take good care of the orphans [11] and widows, and in so doing to not be stained by the sinful behaviors of the world.

The basic unit of society has always been the rural or semi-rural family. In days gone by, the family consisted of multiple generations who lived together on and off the land. Those who were peasants, or without land, were exposed to destitution and faced economic hardship. At times the wealthy took advantage of the poor. Amos 2:6-8 describes this in the context of God’s judgment on Israel. See also Amos 8:4-6 where the judgment of God is seen as bitter indeed. The Lord’s prescription for care for the needy was not to be overlooked, except at great sufferance of the people at large.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29 prescribes the work of Levites in providing for those who were granted no inheritance (Levites), the sojourner, the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. All were to be protected [12] and fed so that their early needs were met.

During the exile of God’s people into the captivity of Egypt, as with Babylon, as during the dispersion of the early church, the family took the back-seat in society. The people of The Way, the church, were often sorely challenged to meet the daily physical and spiritual needs of its members. In the Old Testament era the Synagogue provided for the needy. This carried over into the early New Testament church. Even since the incursion of the Greek language several hundred years before the arrival of Jesus the anointed Savior of God’s people, the Levites and those who assisted them were called servants (diakoneo).

[1] Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12; John 1:14; Ephesians 2:22; Revelation 21:3
[2] Psalm 115:3
[3] Psalm 115:8
[4] Deuteronomy 15:4-5 “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.”
[5] Leviticus 19:9
[6] Exodus 23:3-4
[7] Exodus 30:15; Proverbs 10:15
[8] Leviticus 19:35
[9] Leviticus 19:34
[10] Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 10:14
[11] James 1:27
[12] Psalm 72:2-13