13 ¶ Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
This is a warning from God to the ancient Hebrews under the Law not to turn their backs on the needs of the poor. No matter what the society, there are always poor people.
Jesus said in Matthew 26:11 “For ye have the poor always with you;”.
The ancient Hebrews, to whom the Law of God was given, were given specific instructions on how to take care of the poor. They were not to be completely efficent in their harvests and crop taking but to leave grain in the field and grapes on the vine so that the poor of the land could come behind and have food for themselves. It was admitted by God that they would always have poor people and that they were to be generous with them.
Deuteronomy 15:11 For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
God was seen as the champion of the poor.
Job 36:15 He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression.
Psalm 9:18 For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Psalm 35:10 All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?
While the Christian has no physical country like the ancient Hebrews did, in the New Testament there are references to how we should individually and as the church treat the poor.
First, in Luke Jesus said;
Luke 14:13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: 14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
Paul took up collections from churches to help other churches that were suffering in want.
Romans 15:26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
Galatians 2:10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
Charity, the word that denotes the love that a Christian is to feel for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, an active love that doesn’t just speak but performs in deed, is considered an essential facet of giving in a way that God approves. If you don’t give in love but out of duty then your giving accomplishes nothing for you.
1Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Again, to the Jewish believers the statement is made to “put your money where your mouth is.”
James 2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
The early Christians took care of their own poor and, as I read one Roman politician complained, of many non-Christian poor, as well, in Rome to the shame of the Romans. Modern churches that surrender the needs of their own poor to government programs can hardly call themselves New Testament churches. However, today’s church has given up some of its New Testament functions to the state as a matter of compromise.
Where then does the Christian doctrine fit in with the modern nation and its social programs to help the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled? In that, God has stated very clearly in both Testaments that He holds His people responsible for the poor, to care for them and to provide for their most basic needs, there is no excuse for Christians to take the approach that it is not their responsibility to help the poor, lest they be in conflict with God Himself and His words in the Bible.
The question, politically, can only be how are we to care for the poor, in what measure, and what can we do to make sure the money is spent wisely. The question, for the Christian, should never be, do I have any responsibility for the poor.
In America the poor have been made into a political football. Some would insist that you put no restrictions on the benefits given the poor. Others would say that if you don’t put conditions on welfare you encourage poverty and sloth rather than a desire to lift oneself up when able.
Whatever your belief in how aid should be administered there is no question of the need for it. This Proverb is a very clear warning to the Hebrew and to us that God takes our responsibility to help others less able than we are to provide for their basic needs very seriously. But, the best help for the poor is to create conditions where they can help themselves out of poverty. The old saying goes, “give a man a fish and he will eat today, but teach him to fish and he will always have food.” Even so, there are people who will never be able to help themselves in any given society.
A long time ago, we decided as a people that we would help those who could not help themselves. In the process some undeserving people exploit “the system” and use it. But we must never forget through cynicism and anger placed on the undeserving for taking advantage the responsibility that God has laid on us to help those who are truly in need. If we do, we do so at our own peril. None of us are ever very far from poverty.