Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15

Read Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15 today. This devotional is about

Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God.  If you want to know God, you must also desire to become holy. This chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer.

Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did create us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy.

In Christ believers are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to the ways that were common and their natural moral instincts. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4 or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19.

But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a where he said, “Do not steal.” That command tells us people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else.

Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, woodworking tools, trucks, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive and keep the product of that production. That’s why people are allowed to own land, farm land, and harvest what they have planted.

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live.

This kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart God’s people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor-because we want to live a holy life that emulates God.

That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program but it does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. This goes against our instincts to watch out for ourselves alone; that, too, is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them.

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Today, read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That might not be bad advice but to me it justified doing nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people like my wife are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.