The Bible on Poverty and Fairness

The Bible on Poverty and Fairness

Current Western thinking on what has authority and worth in this world often discounts the Bible as a tried and since rejected piece of literature. In the following verses we see incredible wisdom and depth of insight into the life of the poor and God’s compassion for them. Not only that but the commands to the non poor Israelites (not just the wealthy) show great insight into the nature of power and our ability to abuse it. While benefiting the poor many of these commands ‘benefit’ the rich as it turns them from this path of increasing hardness to compassion for their brothers and sisters.
Exodus 22:26  If you take your neighbour’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset,
Leviticus 19:9-10  'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 25:14-16  " 'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 15:1-11 1 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for cancelling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you. 4 However, there should be no poor 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. 6 For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
 7 If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tight fisted toward your poor brother. 8 Rather be open handed and freely lend him whatever he needs. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: "The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near," so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to him 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 open handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
 
Psalm 33 5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
 
Psalm 35 10 My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."
 
Psalm 41:1   1 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
 
Psalm 82:1-5   1 God presides in the great assembly;  he gives judgment among the "gods":  2 "How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?  3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.  4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.  5 "They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
Psalm 106:2-3 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare his praise? Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.
 
Psalm 112 4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. 5 Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice…..9 He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor,  his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honour.
 
Psalm 113 Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, 6 who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?  7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;  8 he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people.  9 He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD.
 
Psalm 140 12 I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor     and upholds the cause of the needy.
 
Proverbs 11:1    The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
 
Proverbs 21:3 To do what is right and just  is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
 
Proverbs 21:13 Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
 
Proverbs 22:21-23      Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life.
 
Proverbs 31:8    "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
 
Isaiah 3:14-16  The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
 
Isaiah 5:1-7 1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: 
My loved one had a vineyard  on a fertile hillside.  2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard  than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you  what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it." 7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;  for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
 
Isaiah 10:1-4      1 Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,  2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. 3 What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? 4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
 
Isaiah 11:4    but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
 
Isaiah 58  True fasting – justice
v 3 “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
 
V 6-7 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them,  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
 
V9-10 “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness,  and your night will become like the noonday.
 
Isaiah 59  Speaking up
1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 But your iniquities have separated
you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely,  and your tongue mutters wicked things. 4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil……
..9 So justice is far from us,and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness;  for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. 10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,    feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. 11 We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none;  for deliverance, but it is far away. 12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. 14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil  becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased  that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
 
Jeremiah 5: 23 ff     23 But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;        they have turned aside and gone away. 24 They do not say to themselves, 'Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.' 25 Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good. 26 "Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. 27 Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful 28 and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit;   they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor. 29 Should I not punish them for this?" declares the LORD. "Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this? 30 "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?
 
Jeremiah 22:13 A word to Jehoiakim 3 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,  his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labour. 14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it,  panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. 15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just,  so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. s that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD. 17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
 
Ezekiel 16:49  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her sisters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned: they did not help the poor and the needy.
 
Ezekiel 18:8  He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man.
 
Ezekiel 28:16  Through your widespread trade     you were filled with violence, and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub,  from among the fiery stones.
 
Amos 2:6-8
6 This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Israel,even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.
8 They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.
 
Amos 4:1-4   Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
2 The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.
3 You will each go straight out through breaches in the wall, and you will be cast out toward Harmon" declares the LORD.
 
Amos 4:7-15
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness  and cast righteousness to the ground. 8………..
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.
11 You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,  you will not  live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,  that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.
 
Amos 8:4-9   Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,
5 saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,
6 buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
7 The LORD has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.
 
Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
 
Matthew 20: 1-16 13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'  16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
 
Matt 23:23   "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
 
Matthew 25:31-46     31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'  40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
 44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
 
Luke 3     And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." 10"What should we do then?" the crowd asked. 11John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." 12Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" 13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. 14Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay."
 
Luke 10    25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[c]; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' 28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbour?"  30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
 
Luke 11  "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
 
Luke 14    12Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
 
2 Corinthians 8:13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality
 
Galatians 2:10    All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
 
Colossians 4:1   Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
 
1 John 3:17    If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
 
James 1:27   Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
 
James 2:14    What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
 
James 5   Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
 
Revelation 18:1-13
 3….and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
7 Give her as much torment and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;[c]  I will never mourn.’
11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore — 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves. (some versions use “the souls and bodies of men”)
 
On Slaves
1 Cor 7:21 Paul tells those who are already slaves to “don’t let it trouble you” and in other places encourages slaves to “obey your earthly masters” Eph 6:5. If the bible finished here it may be fair to assume that slavery was fine. However in 1Timothy 1:10 Paul draws the line where he groups “slave traders” together with “those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers for adulterers and perverts” It is fair to deduce that while you were in this system of employment it was OK (and for employers/slave owners who treated them well) but to be one of those who promoted, proliferated and profited from it was evil.