“She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” (Proverbs 31:20, KJV).
My husband and I have this joke, when life gets overwhelming, that we’re going to run away to Canada. Only sometimes it’s not a joke. Life really can get overwhelming, and we really can wish that we could sneak out of bed in the middle of the night, throw a few clothes into a suitcase, and hop into the car, driving as fast as we can to the border. We just want to escape, to get away from the pain.
For many people, the overwhelming desire to escape is a reality, and often the stresses that push them over the edge are related to money. Some people are poor because they’re lazy, but it seems to me that many of the people I’ve met are poor because circumstances beyond their control started a spiral of events that landed them without any source of income and with a mountain of bills to pay. Maybe one bad choice, one single decision, cost them everything… and years later, they’re stilling paying for it. Maybe one single event, a catastrophe, a flood, a car accident, stole their dreams as well as their credit history.
Now day after day, the pain of financial problems eats at their insides, yet no options are in sight. No relief has presented itself. In the middle of the night, the fear wakes them up. In the morning, the tears flow. All day long, there’s a mad rush to catch up. At night, exhaustion takes over, but the fear is still there.
At the moments I’ve wanted to escape to Canada, I’ve found help. Yes, God is my ever-present help in time of trouble. But He often encourages my heart with a friend. Someone stretches out her hands and reaches into my life.
I think of my parents, back many years ago, when they were just pursuing God’s leading in their lives and had made the decision to become missionaries. Finances were very tight, yet they didn’t complain or talk about it too much. They simply prayed.
A trip was coming up on the calendar, a visit to the field where they would serve. Yet they had no way to pay for this trip. They packed their suitcases, but deep down, they knew there wasn’t enough money to get out of the driveway. They continued to pray, yet the night before the trip, there had still been no answer. Was God saying that they shouldn’t go? I can imagine that the questions were looming large and the fears might have been mounting.
Yet at 9:00 p.m., some dear saints of God, living on the other side of town, responded to God’s call. They “stretched out their hands,” having no idea why God wanted them to do so. They brought an envelope to my parents’ door, knocked, and said, “God wanted us to give this to you.” As you can guess, it was enough money for the trip.
What would have happened if they had heard God’s whisper for action — yet ignored it? I can tell you! The entire course of my parents’ lives — and MINE as a result — would have changed. A church wouldn’t have been planted on the mission field. Many souls would have remained in darkness.
God is faithful in His Word to not only give us commands but to tell us HOW to obey, in practical terms. He never leaves us in the dark. For this woman in Proverbs 31, she had learned to obey God’s laws. She didn’t love just in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). She wasn’t just a hearer of the word; she was a doer (James 1:22).
- The poor were to be given fairness in court, even if they couldn’t afford a lawyer (Exodus 23:6).
- Every seven years, the fields were to lie fallow and rest. During this year, anything that grew on its own was to be given freely to the poor (Exodus 23:11).
- Vineyards were only to be picked one time. The corners of fields were to remain unpicked. Anything that remained was to be left for the poor (Leviticus 19:10).
- If a poor man had to sell his property, his relatives had first opportunity to purchase it on his behalf (Leviticus 25:25).
- If a neighbor became poor, everyone was to help him so that he wouldn’t have to move away (Leviticus 25:35, 39).
- Wages were to be paid daily, before sunset, so that the poor wouldn’t have to wait for relief (Deuteronomy 24:15).
- Exorbitant interest was not allowed, nor could food be sold at a profit so that the poor couldn’t afford it (Leviticus 25:36-37).
- The poor were not to be sold as slaves but were to be treated as hired workers, with full rights and dignity (Leviticus 25:39-43).
- Best of all, during the year of Jubilee (every 50th year), land was returned to its original owners, debts were canceled, and the poor and needy were finally able to make a clean start! (see Leviticus 25)
In obedience to God’s merciful law, our Proverbs 31 woman not only made provision for the poor in her fields and vineyards and promptly paid her servant girls and hired helpers, she also set aside a portion of her income as a gift for the poor and needy.
“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, NIV).
Finally, she offered hospitality and care to all those she saw with needs. “She stretcheth out her hand… she reacheth forth her hands…”
How can we use these gracious laws of God in 2009? How could we make provisions and ways of escape for the poor and needy who surround us? How can we stretch out our hands with mercy, kindness, and relief for those who are drowning in fear and financial care?
We could start by always leaving a little leftovers, making a little extra food, setting aside just a tiny bit each day. Maybe it could be a jar for loose change. We could also set aside an extra bit, over and above our tithe, to be given to those who have a need. Maybe we could fill up someone’s tank with gas. Maybe we could get an extra pair of shoes when they’re on clearance and drop them off at someone’s house. These things are small… and that’s the point. If we all did something small, it would add up, and the poor and needy would have relief.
If someone were to stretch out their hands to them, maybe the urge to escape to Canada would disappear. Maybe the fear in the pit of their stomachs would lessen. Maybe they’d find a shoulder to cry on. Maybe they’d find someone who could counsel and guide them toward a better job, or show them how to save, or help them pay off that last credit card bill. Maybe they’d be more willing to listen to the gospel when they saw Jesus living in us.
“Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am YHWH your God” (Leviticus 25:17, NIV).