Better Than Bankruptcy

Hard times come to many people, sometimes even to those who serve God. When we view such people, what do we think? God gave instructions to ancient Israel to guide their thoughts and behavior toward the poor. Those instructions reveal much about God and should cause his people today to reflect.
Leviticus 25:35 introduces the idea: “And if one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him . . .” (NKJV) Following this are many details about the kind of help to be given. For example, “You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit” (v. 37). Where some might see an opportunity to exploit the brother’s hard times for personal gain, God commanded that they show selfless compassion.
Another example of God’s prescribed treatment of the poor is in verses 39,40: “And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. But as a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.” Added to these directives was this: “You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God” (v. 43).
Later in the chapter, other rules of conduct were given for servants from other nations — non-Israelites. These could be regarded as “permanent slaves” (v. 46). “But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor” (v. 46). Obviously, the people of Israel were to look upon the plight of their brethren differently than they might with other peoples.
A passage in Deuteronomy adds to this beautiful portrait of God’s benevolent attitude. At the end of an Israelite’s term of service, “you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord has blessed you with, you shall give to him” (Deuteronomy 15:13,14). Thus would end a relationship of compassion (not exploitation). The well-to-do (if they followed God’s commands) would not have abused the poor, but would have extended the help needed for a period of time. The poor would leave their indentured servanthood in better shape than when they came.
As we well know, people don’t always keep God’s commands. We can only wonder how often these instructions were followed in Israel. But that’s not the point: Consider what a good life it would have been if Israel had followed God’s will. Instead of driving someone to a debtor’s prison, the poor would be given opportunities to work through their difficulties with their dignity intact. At the end of their service, they could return to their own land to make another attempt at an independent and prosperous life. How wonderful this ideal appears when compared with the typical ways of the world!
The spirit of these laws lives on in the Christian age. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Christians are under mandate to do good to all people, regardless of their standing with God. But when those in need are fellow Christians, our responsibility is even greater.
Hard times come to many people. When God’s will is followed, the times aren’t nearly so hard.

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