Poverty in the Old Testament: Material Loss

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on April 2, 2018 | Print

The Old Testament has a rich overview and insight to the poor in Israel at that time. As discussed in the previous post, I’ve observed five discernable types and/or levels of poverty:

  • A loss of things
  • A loss of influence
  • A loss of identity
  • A loss of hope
  • A complete and total dependency on God

We’ll dive into the first here–loss of things.

A Loss of Things

Losing possessions was not uncommon for the people of Israel. In fact, it seemingly occurred with regularity, but for a variety of reasons. From natural disasters, political and personal conflict to a test of faith, this chosen group of people was not immune to anything capable of taking away things.

One of the most well-known and poignant instances of great loss was the famine in Egypt.

Brought about by seven years of drought–which God had revealed to Joseph who then warned Pharaoh of what was to come–was a nearly catastrophic natural disaster, leaving those in and around Egypt in desperate need of provision.

Joseph’s father, Jacob (Israel) sent his sons to Egypt in hopes of acquiring food their dry, thirsty land could no longer provide. “Why do you just keep looking at each other…I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (Genesis 42:1-2) The sons did as their father said, setting into motion a seismic shift that would affect the Hebrews for centuries to come.

Conflict is a frequent impetus for loss.

David, the young shepherd, who would be King quickly discovered the impact of shifting alliances and the toxicity of jealousy. After downing Goliath and becoming a successful leader of King Saul’s army, the King was none too pleased as he observed the accolades David was receiving from his people.

“Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” (1 Samuel 18:7)

That didn’t go over so well. Soon, David was the object of Saul’s target practice with his spear. David flees the grandeur of the King’s court into the wilderness where he trades his life of leading Israel’s army for being the leader of a band of 400 misfit, rabble rousers.

Job is probably the greatest example of losing possessions and discovering the slippery slope leading to poverty.

He was a man of integrity, a man who walked with God. But God, in His divineness, gave permission to the accuser, Satan, to bring woe upon Job. Satan attacks Job by taking away the “things” in his life: wealth, livestock, crops, and even his children.

All these are examples of losing “things” but in the Old Testament/Hebrew mindset, this is only a first, shallow stage of poverty. It is worth noticing that each of these instances played a critical role in the history of the Israelites. Getting food in Egypt was the first step to the 400 years years of slavery that God would one day bring to an end through Moses. David curried no warm feelings from King Saul, but his army and the people revered him. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest Kings Israel ever had. Finally, Job’s losses and eventual restoration is one of the most powerful examples of holding on to faith and hope in the midst of misery. His is a story in which people for generations have found solidarity and hope.

So what’s the takeaway? Perhaps these stories are a reminder that there is always something bigger, greater, and divine in the works. This theme continues throughout each level of poverty, the second of which, loss of influence I’ll discuss next time.

Other posts in this series:

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