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Poverty in the Old Testament: Grace Abounds

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The Old Testament, as discussed before [1], is teeming with examples of God’s bounty emerging in times of despair and poverty.

When meditating on the exodus of Israel from Egypt, it’s not uncommon to assume that that’s the end of the story. But no! God is a thorough God.

God lavished blessing upon them. Once they were living in the Promised Land, He did it again and again. When other nations oppressed them the Bible says, “…when they cried out to the Lord, He raised up for them a deliverer…” (Judges 3:9).

In the story of Gideon, when the people cried out to the Lord because of the affliction upon them by the Midianites, God sent a prophet to remind them of His provisions, care for them and to urge them to repentance (Judges 6:7-10).

Call it a broken record or merely consistency…each and every time the people were at their lowest, they cried out for help and received it. The leaders of the Israelites, such as Moses and Joshua, constantly reminded the people of God’s provisions for them when they cried out to Him for help (Numbers 20:16, Joshua 24:7).

The prophets of Israel cried out to the Lord on behalf of the people, especially in times of distress (1 Samuel 7:9).

Even the kings of Israel and Judah, often after they had exhausted other resources, cried out to the Lord with no hope of deliverance outside of divine intervention. This is best seen in the actions of Asa, the third king of Judah, when the Cushites marched out against him. The Bible tells us, “Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, ‘Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you’” (2 Chronicles 14:11).

The pattern continues with King David.

As a man after God’s own heart he writes, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell all my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me…I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’ Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need” (Psalm 142:1-6).

Job possibly has one of the most compelling accounts of the discovery or rediscovery of God in the midst of depravity.

Job lost everything–family, home, wealth, health, status, the list goes on–and, while slogging through the miry clay of utter poverty and tragedy, he turned to the only thing that could possibly redeem the situation–God. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

Therefore, an Old Testament definition of absolute poverty can be manifested as a total and complete trust in God. When all else fails, God prevails. When the arm and might falter, God will fight for us. When all the resources are consumed, God becomes our portion. And when there is no hope of deliverance, there is God!

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