Public Square & Theology 101

What the Old Testament Teaches about Business and the Poor

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Does the Bible teach that business owners should give to charity? And if so, what should that look like?

Gleaning as Work, not Charity

In a previous blog, I introduced the Old Testament concept of gleaning as a way the Israelite landowners were instructed to steward their work and care for the poor. What some people get confused about is gleaning vs. charity. Gleaning was not about charity. In Leviticus 19:9-10, the Israelites are actually instructed against charity. While good and noble in its proper context, charity is not what the passage is calling for.

Landowners were not commanded to merely give away their good gifts but instead were obligated to provide an opportunity for the poor and marginalized to have access to the means of production so they could work it for themselves.

As is noted in commentaries surrounding the passage, this functioned much more like taxation than a charitable opportunity for landowners, except in this case, the benefit is provided by the giver directly to the receiver without need for a costly mediating institution removed from the situation.

Unlike receiving a handout, the poor earned a living the same way as the landowners: by working the field with their hands. Both parties ate by the work of their hands (Psalm 128:2), and everyone had a right to access provisions created by God.

Faithful Stewardship Blesses and Empowers Others

While this passage in Leviticus doesn’t offer us a complete road map for restoring justice to those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, it does place a directive on those in possession of assets to ensure that the marginalized have the opportunity to work for their living.

The principle cannot be taken too far either. To say one business owner (or landowner in our case) could provide for every unemployed person would obviously be shortsighted. But the call of those in possession of much to provide opportunities for those without protects not only the vulnerability of the sojourner but also the vulnerability of the landowner, who could just as easily fall prey to the blindness of the idolatry of wealth.

In his reflection on Leviticus 19, author and founder of Redeemer City to City Tim Keller exhorts us to obey the principle of gleaning:

Finally, we turn to the law of God because sometimes we need to do things just because God says so. In the garden, God told Adam and Eve not to eat the tree, but he never told them why. Some of us simply hate to follow a direction unless we know all the reasons why the direction was given, how it will benefit us, and so on… [Rather we should] do it because he is your Lord and Savior and you are not. Do it because it is the law of the Lord. And if you do it—if you obey him even in the little things—you will know God, know yourself, find God’s grace, love your neighbor, and simply honor him as God. Not a bad deal.

What would the world look like if the biblical truth that Christians have been “blessed to be a blessing” took root in the way we approached not just the spiritual needs of our neighbor but also their physical, emotional, and vocational needs?

Better yet, what would it look like to follow God’s commandments and trust him because he is God and we are not?

While it would be easy to overlook the value behind the letter of the law set in place here in Leviticus, the principle spirit of creating means to care for the sojourner can help us approach our blessings with open hands, knowing Christ is the true giver of all good gifts, and thus worthy of glory, honor, and praise.

Editor’s note: This article was republished with permission from the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles. See the original article here.

Read more about biblical and economic principles for poverty relief in For the Least of These: A Biblical Response to Poverty.

Help empower Christians with the biblical and economic principles that lead to human flourishing! Support IFWE today.

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