Poverty in the Old Testament: Loss of Influence

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on April 5, 2018 | Print

A Loss of Influence

When a person became poor in the Old Testament, a loss of possessions, if not quickly rectified, quickly snowballed into a loss of influence. Much like today, the rich were the power-brokers. They are the ones who had the influence to change things. Who would listen to the poor man? Who was the poor man to think that he would have a voice in any matter? In a word, being voiceless was the next level that people fell into when poverty became their constant companion.

In the story of the enslavement of the Jewish nation in Egypt, things started well.

Joseph had established a positive relationship with the Egyptians and Pharaoh, establishing the Hebrews in a fairly rich area (Goshen), where they not only survived the drought…they thrived. Unfortunately, they thrived a little too much. Over the years, after Joseph’s death, the Hebrews proved to be abundantly fertile, their numbers growing exponentially over time.

Their numbers eventually made the Egyptians uncomfortable enough to resort to extreme population control methods; namely, slavery.The Bible says that the Egyptians, “made their lives bitter with hard labor…in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.” (Exodus 1:14)

For 400 years, the people suffered as they built great cities for the Egyptians. As many of them as they were and dire as their circumstances proved to be, they didn’t rise up against their oppressors. They didn’t pack their bags and head back towards the Promised Land. Why? For them, it came down to a shift in power.

Joseph had been the number two guy, directly under Pharaoh. With his death, the Hebrews lost their proximity to power. The Israelites had lost their influence and the voice with access to the ear of those in power. At first, it was probably a minor change but nevertheless one with far-reaching consequences. Undoubtedly, it was a part of God’s overall plan for the forming of Israel as a nation. But the fact remains that Israel had lost its influence and voice among the Egyptians and, as a result, slid into a different level of impoverishment.

When David left Saul’s court, fleeing for his life, he wound up in the wilderness with his band of malcontents (1 Samuel 22:2).

One day, David had the ear of the King of Israel and command over a mighty army. The next day, he was in the wilderness, constantly on the run for his life, and hiding in caves for his own safety. He not only lost the possessions he enjoyed when he was with Saul; his sphere of influence as a person diminished.

When Job had lost almost everything, he recognized that he lost his influence and standing in the community as well.

He lamented (Job 29) that in the days that God watched over him, he was well respected at the gates of the city. Young men would consult him. Wise men would seek him out. But when he became afflicted, they began to withdraw from him and view him differently.

In each of these cases, the people had not only lost their possessions; they also lost their influence and, subsequently, their voice in any matter of their future development. It should now be pretty evident that the road to poverty is a slippery slope. The loss or decline of one aspect of life has a cascading ripple effect. In the next installment, we’ll discuss how those who have lost possessions and influence tend to also lose their identity and eventually their hope. These Old Testament observations are key to understanding God’s view of poverty, which we can then use to inform our approach in contemporary development.

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David Nam 2 years ago

Dear Jeff, thank you for the meditation. It is very insightful. I agree that the poor lose their influence and voices in society. I pray that the marginalized by poverty in my land of ministry will not be violent and revolutionary as in the case of last Russian empire. I am anticipating your next article in which you will articulate the relationship between poverty and self-identity because that was one of the main message of our Lord in Matt. 5:1-13. Blessings!


Jeff Palmer 2 years ago

David, thanks for the insightful and kind comment. You are so right. How we see ourselves and how we see others does influence the way we approach ministry. And, how people see themselves is a key factor in how we begin to address issues with them. If they see themselves as "less" than something, there is a poverty of self that needs to be addressed. And our goal is to help them see themselves as God has created them to be - unique individuals, living in community, created in God's image. It is truly transforming!