Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

It Involves More Than Your Backbone

(Please read Deuteronomy 31:1-8.)

THESIS = God calls us to follow Him with a courageous faith.

Courage is needed in times of change.

        The people of God were changing leaders: from Moses to Joshua.

MOSES…SPOKE THESE WORDS TO ALL ISRAEL, “I AM NOW A HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS OLD AND I AM NO LONGER ABLE TO LEAD YOU.” 120 is WAY past the mandatory retirement age!  The text literally says, “I am no longer able to go out or come in,” a way of saying, “I can’t work any longer.”

Moses was guilty of his own personal rebellion against God at Meribah.  The details don’t matter at this time; the point here is simply that Moses was done and Joshua was going to be taking his place. “JOSHUA ALSO WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU, AS THE LORD SAID;”  the implication is that no one individual is indispensible; God can use anybody, even YOU to accomplish His will.

In verse seven it is written, THEN MOSES SUMMONED JOSHUA AND SAID TO HIM IN THE PRESENCE OF ALL ISRAEL. This was the ceremony of Joshua’s commissioning. God commanded Joshua to BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS here and in Joshua 1:6+9.  This word is not just for leaders, but for all of God’s people.

Human nature has not changed in all the time we’ve existed outside the garden. We need to be lead and we want strong leaders up until the moment they say “no” to us.  God raised up leaders for his people, men who made their own mistakes too.  What was needed to succeed was trust and obedience in God and in the men He had chosen to lead.

The people of God were also changing locations: from the wilderness to the Promised land. They were in this mess only because the previous generation had stood at this very spot 40 years ago and had “turned yellow.”  They refused to go in and by their disobedience, condemned the nation to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that disobedient generation had died off. They are reminded twice of the promises of God concerning this land; “HE WILL DESTROY THESE NATIONS BEFORE YOU, AND YOU WILL TAKE POSSESSION OF THEIR LAND” (3). “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (7).

Having moved three times in the last 13 months, I can speak to the difficulties of changing one’s location.  I appreciate the courage it takes to be faithful in transitional times.  It is courage based on nothing less than trust in God that gets us through.

If the people lacked courage, these changes would be crippling, not creative.  The same can be said for us, on our walk.  We may not be in the process of forging a new nation, but we are always in some kind of process, countenancing some kind of change.

Courage is based on trusting God.

        We normally think of courage as being something like willpower; based on what I can do.  Instead, true courage is based on trust that God will do as He has promised. In this text we can discern at least three divine promises.

Promise #1: God will act in advance of His commands; He will prepare for your obedience.  As Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD HIMSELF WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU,” (verse three), and “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (verse seven), and in verse eight; “THE LORD HIMSELF GOES BEFORE YOU.”

Promise #2: God will act decisively and on your behalf. Moses told the people, “THE LORD WILL DO WHAT HE DID TO SIHON AND OG, THE KINGS OF THE AMORITES, WHOM HE DESTROYED ALONG WITH THEIR LAND” (verse four; see also 2:26-3:11) and “THE LORD WILL DELIVER THEM TO YOU” (verse five).

Promise #3: God will act alongside you. To all the people Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU; HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse six). He repeated this promise to Joshua, “HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse eight).

Be obedient to His commands. Even when you don’t understand God’s purpose, methods, or timing, be obedient ANYWAY!  Moses passed this message on from the Lord, “YOU MUST DO ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU” (verse five).

How did the fledgling nation of Israel do? Looking ahead to the book of Joshua, we recall that the first city the Israelites faced was Jericho. Remember how that city was taken?  Was it by military might or strategy?  Were any human powers at all responsible?

The only human agency at all was obedience.  In order to prove His point, God had them do something no one had done before or would do since. He commanded them to march around the city once a day for six days.  As He did on the six days of creation, God would be at work.  Though there would be no physical evidence of His work on this occasion.

If they were faithful to parade around the city – a procedure that had absolutely no military value whatsoever – God would deliver the city on the seventh day. The Israelites were faithful, the walls tumbled down, and for all time we have this wonderful example of how courage is trusting God even when what He wills or does makes no earthly sense to us.

Courage, then, is not based on our will.  It is based on our faith.  More than that, it flows from God, the object of our faith.  Courage is acting in obedience to the will of God and with assurance that He is guiding us on precisely the best path.  Our will and knowledge and foresight will certainly fail us.  We succeed as we look to God.