Who are 'the Poor' in the scriptures?
Who are 'the poor' and what does the Bible say about them?
How do you stay in touch with your commitment to the poor while living in the West? How can you fully communicate the state of the poor to people unless you have lived among them or been touched by poverty yourself?
These are two big questions which we hope the following excerpt will help you deal with. It is written from the perspective of Viv Grigg, a man who at that time had ‘done’ western models of mission among the poor and was looking for a new path. His insight into the state of the poor in their world and the scriptures is a great challenge and reminder to us.
We hope it can help you:-
· see why people are poor
· understand the massive pressures of poverty
· see the poor in God’s plan, his heart for them and our responsibility to them
Please use the stories and bible verses to:-
· kick off discussions as to how this level of poverty may change:- change your faith ; the things that you may give in to
· add real stories to sermons and talks
· move you to a greater understanding of how the world lives and inspire you to remember the poor (Gal 2:10) more readily in your daily life.
With permission quoting the whole of Chapter 3 from the book ‘Companion to the Poor’ by Viv Grigg
You can visit his ministry, Urban Leaders
and also buy this and other books by clicking here.
God's Happy Poor THE POOR IN THE SCRIPTURES
I WAS SITTING IN A MOSQUITO-INFESTED ROOM in the depths of despair. Suddenly, ten years of our life's work had disappeared. Ten years of building relationships, moulding ideas, ministering to each other and building towards what we believed was a near perfect multinational missions structure had collapsed about our ears.
The issues were complex and I knew I did not fully comprehend. But as I understood it, the problem related to this need 'to ·preach the gospel to the poor'.
To understand what Jesus wanted us to do for the poor, I sat down with a friend one day and copied out every verse in the Bible about the poor on to small, white cards. I carried them with me for four years. They were my meditation day and night: they determined every major decision.
Questions continually rolled around my mind: 'Why are the poor, poor?' 'Why are they blessed?' 'Which poor are blessed?' 'Why does James call them rich in faith?' 'Who are the poor Jesus spoke of?'
My concordance to the Bible listed 245 references to 'the poor', 'poverty', or 'lack' in the English scriptures. They made an interesting study. I observed there were six main root words:1
Ebyon - needy and dependent (61 times)
Da - the frail poor, the \.(\leak (57 times)
Rush - the impoverished through dispossession (31 times)
Chaser - to suffer lack of bread and water, to hunger (36 times)
Ani - poverty caused by affliction and oppression (80 times).
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The word Jesus uses in the New Testament for 'poor', ptochos, is the translation of the word anaw, which in turn is derived from ani.2 Anaw at times means 'the humble, but elsewhere, as in Isaiah 61:1 from which Jesus quotes, it has the meaning of 'the oppressed poor'.
The concept of poverty and the analysis of its causes and effects change as the history of God's dealing with his people progresses. Before the monarchy of David and Solomon, in the Pentateuch and in Job, societies were built essentially around extended family or clan structures. Riches were the blessing of God; poverty was brought about by some misfortune or through judgment of personal sin. The poor man was to be helped from his poverty.
From the time of the monarchy, a centre of privileged people began to develop. Excavations in Tirzeh indicate that before the monarchy all houses had similar dimensions and furnishings. During the 8th century BC however, different districts had come into being: a well-to-do neighbourhood for the rich; slums for the poor.
The rich began to treat the poor as though they belonged to a lower order. Poverty came to be seen as a much deeper deficiency in a person, particularly in the Wisdom literature (the Book of Proverbs and so on).
The poor, for their part, began to see their poverty as synonymous with being oppressed. The standard expression, 'who oppress the poor', attributes the cause of poverty to the rich.
Hence we find the prophets denouncing constantly the rich (called the oppressor or the unrighteous) and upholding the 'godly poor'.
These are the ani, the oppressed poor with whom Jesus identified - 'the poor of Yahweh'. 'Poor in spirit' is an expression primarily describing this social class and its response to such oppression.
Leaves off the bushes
Some time after the mission had collapsed, I had returned to the Philippines to work with some of my former co-labourers who, because of their commitments to the poor of the Philippines, had established an indigenous discipling movement known as the Lakas-Angkan (the strong clan). In returning I determined to refuse to be trapped by mission expectations into a middle-class missionary lifestyle. I must dwell amongst the poor. I must enter
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into the knowledge of God. I must learn to die to self, to security, to my own culture, to my wealth.
The first step was to learn the language and culture of the poor. I arrived in a small city out in a Tagalog province in a crowded bus. Here I was to study the language of Manila's poor, Tagalog, in one ·of its purest provincial forms.
I prayed: 'Lord, I have no home here, no contacts, but I'm sure you'll provide. Find me the poorest families. Since I'm unused to living amongst the poor, let it be a well built home, with a good toilet so I can maintain my health:
There was one church in this town of 100,000 (apart from the historic Catholic cathedral, sadly full of images). I walked down to the pastor's house and asked for accommodation for a few days. He was gracious, but could ill afford to provide for me. My respect for him knew no bounds, for I had known this man as a fine preacher in a city church. He had chosen to minister to the rural poor at no little cost.
After a couple of days, the pastor's assistant came to take me to his home. We travelled by tricycle (a motorbike with a highly decorated and stylized sidecar costing about 5c a ride) along the half-formed muddy tracks into the unfinished government subdivision. The local wisdom was that corrupt government officials had embezzled the development funds through various means. All down the track I met shy smiles and calls of 'Hey Joe!'
At the house, I thanked the Lord. It was perfect.
Ka Emilio, the old man (he was sixty-eight years of age) told how the family had constructed the house in one week at a cost of $130. It was all I'd prayed for: concrete walls and a tin roof (Filipinos call it a G.I. sheet). The toilet had a concrete floor, with enough room to shower on by scooping water with a tin can from a ~ plastic bucket. The old frog and some neighbourly lizards kept it clean. Next to my bedroom was the community pump.
We put a bunk above my friend's bed and pushed out the wall six inches since I was ill-suited to a Filipino-sized bed. This gave us a good five-by-six foot bedroom to share.
Ka Emilio was a man of old Tagalog dignity, a gracious and hospitable host. He coughed constantly, for one lung was rotten with tuberculosis. He maintained his health by his industry in planting and watering vegetables and the trees around his home.
I knew no Tagalog, he knew no English, but we had many long conversations. Once he described for me the Japanese invasion of their City, complete with dive bombing and its effects on the
God's Happy Poor/37
frightened people, all in dramatized Tagalog. He taught me much of the dignity and pride of the Tagalog people whom I had come to serve.
I ate next door at his daughter and son-in-law's home, but often I would watch Ka Emilio cooking his rice. At times all he had to eat with his rice were the leaves off the trees he'd planted.
Job 30:3 tells us of such poor:
Through want and hard hunger they gnaw the dry and desolate ground; they pick mallow and the leaves of bushes and to warm themselves the roots of broom ...
Ka Emilio was one of the chaser: those who lack the basic necessities of life, those who lack, those who want.
At nights I would lie sweating on my plywood bed and search for answers. 'Why was he poor?' 'How could such a poor man be blessed?' A study of the word chaser told me some causes of this kind of poverty.
Proverbs tells us that wickedness causes the belly to suffer want (13:25); too much sleep and want will attack us like an armed robber (5:10,11); hasty planning leads to want (21:5); oppressing the poor to increase our own wealth, giving to the rich, (22:16); loving pleasure (21:17) or miserliness and gambling (28:22) all bring us to want. This poverty is caused by personal sins.
The scriptures also speak of the solution:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1) Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10)
His son understood such promises. One day through an evangelistic crusade, Ka Emilio came to believe that Christ had died for him .
I gave him a Tagalog Bible in comic form (the poor read comics, not books). Perhaps time would lead him to a complete obedience to this Lord who is Shepherd, and this would lead him and his family out of want.
But I knew even then, that such a solution was insufficient. There are deeper causes to such poverty than personal ones: communal and national and global problems requiring biblical solutions at each appropriate level.
But I needed, along with Jesus, to begin at the level of the personal and spiritual and explore outwards. First we explored
rabbit-raising. I bought a goat for Ka Emilio to supplement his income, but he eventually sold it, as he was too old to constantly take it out to feed. Ultimately, the solution for Ka Emilio was a son who got a job in Saudi Arabia and sent back American dollars!
Some poverty is caused by sin. But poverty also causes sin. The broken social structure of the squatter areas creates an environment which exercises little social control over sin.
One result of poverty is that it causes people to steal. Proverbs 30:8-9 offers this sound advice:
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.
A favourite meal in the Philippines, to go with the beer, is cooked dog meat. One day I was walking round the corner of the track and came across three men quietly pushing a jeepney loaded with dogs. They had stolen them and would sell them to a restaurant for meat.
That same week I walked past a big Roads Board truck. They were draining it of gasoline. Poverty causes us to steal.
Ninety per cent proof
Poverty also causes drunkenness. The first thing one notices amongst areas of poverty is drunken men. Everywhere there are groups of men drinking - at all times from morning to night. Drunkenness and alcoholism cause destitution, but most drunkenness amongst the squatters is a result of the poverty in which the men find themselves.
Unemployment results in drunkenness. Even Proverbs indicates this. When it advises against kings becoming drunk, it suggests:
Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty. and remember their misery no more (Proverbs 31:7).
(We ought to be careful not to interpret this as a licence for the poor to drink, but rather as a plea for sober kings!)
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An environment of unemployment is a surface prescription for drunkenness. One Filipino study of a slum community indicated that 68% of the employable adults are unemployed.3 In Tatalon it Was 42%.4 Drinking with friends is a way to fill up the day and drown out the sorrow, despair and lack of self-respect inherent in unemployment.
Ka Emilio's two sons became my good companions. Living with them began to reveal some of the inner workings of poverty to me. Seraphim had been a soldier but lost his job and income for two years because of a wound. In my diary one night I jotted:
Tonight Seraphim will drink himself to sleep. It is hard to be without work. If he had work, he could get married. His girlfriend is already working and has graduated. He melancholily plays his guitar on the doorstep as the sun sets. A man of dignity a soldier of honour seeking to maintain his dignity with the Beatles and a bottle. How do I help his soul and body? How can this poor man .be blessed except in the kingdom?
What is the solution to drunkenness? Some years before I had travelled through a valley in Bukidnon. The homes were amongst the poorest I had seen - thatch huts, but only a few metres square. I asked around to discover why.
There was a local rice wine which was ninety per cent proof.
Everybody drank it. The women were pregnant at thirteen or fourteen years. The children were born to drunken mothers and so grew up with the taste and desire for wine. People died before they were thirty. So it went on for generation after generation.
Then an older lady missionary had come in and started an orphanage. From this base people had fanned out, preaching the gospel. The preaching of the gospel had broken that cycle. These chaser, those whose personal sins have caused poverty, are blessed by receiving God's kingdom.
The poverty of immorality
Poverty provides an environment not only for drunkenness, but also for immorality. In the immediate cluster of houses around our home, very few couples were legally married. Many of the women had lived with two or three husbands. A number of men had a kabit (a second wife). In one survey we did informally, over thirty per cent of the men indicated that their becoming squatters had
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been caused by some form of immorality', often in the process of 'eloping' or taking a new wife and hence leaving their provincial home.
The squatter area seems to be the ultimate collecting pot for the moral outcasts of' society. Perhaps this is because they are areas where social norms and values have broken down almost totally, immorality and infidelity running unchecked and unashamed.
In a survey of the forty-three neediest families in one slum area, only one sixth of those interviewed had been legally married when first living with their wife. Six men and four women had been previously married,
Types of initial union
% of sample
Elopement and living together
Cheated and living together
Raped and living together
The figures are each a symbol of pain, anguish and frustration.
This was typically expressed the day I was sitting in my upstairs room, preparing a message in Tagalog. Suddenly, an angry upset voice was heard in the rooms below: 'I'm going to leave him! I'll file a law suit!'
Two or three neighbouring relatives rapidly materialized to quieten down their niece, each passing on a piece of advice.
The best thing is to stay with him: one lady said, 'I remember when I first heard that the Bombay [Manilan terminology for an Indian - her late husband had been one] had another woman. I was furious, So I followed his jeepney and watched. They met at a bookstand, so I went and talked nicely to her. I didn't let her know I was his wife. She told me she had three children also. I have even had her children in my home when she could not cope!'
Her daughter added her own story: 'I cried for months when the father of my son married her, but I've learned to forgive.'
But the woman in distress would not be quieted. What could she do? He had another woman! There were many discussions
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during the next few days as the women sat for hours at a time analysing what options were open when their common-law husbands moved on to the next woman. Would they remain faithful themselves? Or find another, kill him, or shift elsewhere?
Immorality creates poverty by generating bitterness, jealousy, insecurity, family disorganization, hatred and murder. It is difficult for a man to adequately support more than one family. When relationships have been destroyed and broken, it is difficult for the children to learn how to relate to any form of authority, or develop the management skills necessary for many jobs.
Personal sins help create poverty. Poverty, in turn, provides an environment for personal sin. This kind of poverty is only transformed by a gospel and a discipleship that enables people to be freed from these sins.
Deaf and dumb stowaway
Of course not all poverty is related to personal sins. The words ebyon and dal describe another kind of poor. Ebyon is the designation of the person who finds himself begging: the needy, the dependent.
Job indicates the appropriate response to these ebyon when he describes his personal identification with those in need:
I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was father to the poor (ebyon) and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know (Job 29: 15-16).
Job's response was the only possible response when we met a deaf and dumb stowaway. We had parked a borrowed jeep downtown after transporting some people back to Manila from a conference. It was late, but the crowds continued hustling and bustling. A boy in ragged clothes indicated he would watch our jeep for us and make sure that no one stole it. We nodded agreement, knowing that for many boys this was their only income.
On returning, we gave him a peso for his trouble. He signalled his thanks, but seemed strangely silent. He went and sat down again in the shop doorway.
I got into the driver's seat, but the compassion of Christ would
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not let me start the jeep, 'Do you think he's deaf?' I asked my companion, a social worker.
She nodded, I sat and thought. How could I return home to my luxury and leave one in such destitution,
'Let's go talk with him: I called back, leaping out of the jeep and squatting beside him, I tried speaking, but he just nodded his head. Fortunately my companion had some training in sign language. Here is the sign language story he told:
'I came from Cebu (a city on an island south of Manila). I stowed away on a boat. It travelled three days and three nights. I arrived in Manila with three pesos in my pocket:
The signs were accompanied with fear and hope. My friend translated them into English.
'Why did you leave home?' I asked. 'Why did you leave home?' she signalled.
He nodded and with great rapidity of hand action explained “They always used to laugh at me. My father used to beat me because I was deaf”
She translated. I nodded.
“Where do you live” she signalled. His home was in a six-by-three-foot packing case, slotted in amongst the others by the river. He looked at me hopefully.
I knew a restaurant in the park that was staffed by people from a school for the deaf. We signalled to him that we would fetch him the next day and take him there. The next day we collected him and from there found a school for the deaf run by some fine Catholic laymen, Some years later I heard of him successfully working as a chicken farmer.
This is not poverty caused by sin; it is poverty caused by natural calamity. It is of these poor that Jesus spoke when answering the query of John the Baptist (,Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'):
the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear. (Luke 11:3-4).
Jesus also describes them quoting Deuteronomy 15:11:
For the poor (ebyon) will never cease out of the land, therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy (ebyon) and to the poor (ani) in the land.'
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It is to these ebyon that God's kingdom brings healing and socio-economic uplift.
I'm too frail to work
'Oy, Kumusta?' (How are you?) 'How's your job-hunting going?' She smiled, embarrassed and replied, 'I can't take a job’
'Oh, why is that?' She had studied in the same class as Coring, who was sitting typing for me at the plywood table of my kitchen~cum-office.
'I'm too weak. I cannot work five days a week, so I cannot take a job’ She looked away, staring sadly at the drawn-back sack that acted as a curtain.
I went to my room and wept. I felt something of the sorrow ' God must feel for such people. Who would rescue these poor?
Poverty is frailty and weakness .. In Hebrew the root word is dal. This word is connected with the word dallah, the 'class of the poor'.
The Old Testament (2 Kings 24:14) describes the poorest in the land who were left behind during the exile to Babylon. .
Jeremiah (5:4) tells us that these poor ones were looked down upon, while Job (20:19) tells us that they are easily crushed and abandoned, without the means to recover from loss or calamity.
These dal are blessed in the kingdom: In the song of Hannah we read:
He raises the frail poor Ida') from the dust He lifts the needy (ebyon) from the ash heap, To make them sit with princes And inherit a seat of honour (1 Samuel 2:8).
Husband of widows
Widows also fall into this category of those made poor by calamity.
Quietness stole softly over the lighted rooms beneath, replacing the cacophony of the sound of a thousand people crowded into the plywood homes I'd grown to love. The moon and the stars silhouetted the patchwork of old tyres holding down the roofs from typhoons. It was midnight, the hour for quiet prayer.
My heart ached for the situation of the widow next door. She had been kind to me. My prayers ranged over the houses of other widows. I thought of the rice they'd cooked that night for their children, some without fish, meat or vegetables.
I prayed, 'Lord, if perhaps I could marry all these widows I could meet their needs!' Quickly I thought to myself What a stupid prayer', so I added, 'But I can't do that!’
Suddenly, I realised, 'Lord, I don't have to for, If you are the Father of orphans, surely that makes you the Husband of widows. They are especially yours!'
I began to pray for ways to help these women, Who made the calamity of their poverty? They were poor through no sin of their own, nor even the sin of others. Their circumstances had simply happened. And so God takes responsibility for them:
The Lord watches over the sojourners, He upholds the widow and the fatherless (Psalm 146:9).
We, too, are to incarnate his love amongst these dallah.
Children of sweat
Children, too, are important to Jesus. They also belong among the frail and the weak - the dallah. How can one help but love children? As I walked down the back paths into the community, I would hear all down the road 'Kuya Viv! Kuya Viv' (meaning 'Big brother Viv!'). Small children would laughingly greet me all the way until I reached my own house. Often we would play games together.
Yet ninety-two per cent of the children and eighty-seven per cent of the total population suffer from intestinal parasites. Sixty-nine per cent of Filipino children under six years of age are in various stages of protein calorie malnutrition. A further forty-five per cent of them have first degree malnutrition, meaning they are ten to twenty-four per cent below their standard weight.6
Indelibly lined in my mind is the memory of my friend, holding in her arms a little child with swollen stomach, spindly arms, swollen head. He was sick and retching constantly. She tried to comfort him while telling me that, when his father came home, she would get some money for him for medicine. I knew he had no money. On the mat slept five of the other eleven children.
There is a Tagalog phrase, 'anak-pawis', which means 'child of sweat', 'child of poverty'. John the Apostle said:
If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (1 John 3:17).
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Poverty is dispossession
There is yet another cause of poverty beyond the realm of personal sin and the calamities of life.
The cause of much poverty is oppression and exploitation. This is poverty caused by the sins of the rich, the leaders of a people or the oppression of another conquering nation. Two Hebrew words are related to this: rush and ani.
Rush means 'the dispossessed poor, the impoverished'. Such is the poverty of the tenant farmers forced off their lands to make way for the transnational’s sugar and banana plantations, or because of land reforms.
Proverbs 13:23 tells us:
The fallow ground of the poor yields much food, but it is swept away through injustice.
Many squatters come to Manila because their livelihoods have been swept away by injustices. The story of Tatalon itself is the story of injustice and dispossession. It all began with the oppression of the Spanish.
At one point the Spanish propagated a law regarding the need to file for titles to land. Since the peasants knew little Spanish, they were unaware of the law and unable to gain titles to their lands. Those families close to the Spaniards utilized the law for their own ends. This resulted in the land around Manila being owned in vast tracts by just a few families.
One of these families was that of J.M. Tuason. He owned the land now known as the Tatalon Estate. Dating back to the pre-war period, the Tatalon Estate's history was characterized by claims, counter-claims, controversies and court cases between J.M. Tuason and Co. and several other claimants.
Barely noticed in the thick of the ownership controversies was the steady growth of an unwanted population in Tatalon.
Social unrest began gripping the area, almost reaching boiling point in the late 1950s when Tuason and his administrator, Araneta, carried out mass ejectment and demolition on the basis of an 'authority to eject' issued by the courts.
I learned of the battles that raged when I sat one evening with Aling Cita, leader of the women:
'In those days Araneta came in with bulldozers to bulldoze down the squatter homes. We put them up the next night. Sometimes we surrounded the bulldozers. Some people lay down
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in front of them so they could not move. It was during that time that the old man up on the hill had his face beaten, so his lip became twisted and curled and his teeth were broken. He was one of the first people here - our leader. He was beaten by Araneta's henchmen.
'But through it all the community came together. As time went on, the National Housing Authority was able to buy the land from Araneta. Now the squatters can own their own land. I went to General Tobias myself and asked him to put in the water pumps. These are better days .. :
Poverty is dispossession. This is essentially a passive phenomenon. It is the people being disinherited: first in the province, then in the city. God looks for an intercessor who will seek justice for these poor:
But this is a people robbed and plundered... they have become a prey with none to rescue, a spoil with none to say 'restore!' (Isaiah 42:22).
The dispossessed also include slaves. One week, Aling Ada had her daughter taken by a syndicate that enslaves girls in drugs and prostitution. These syndicates jail their girls in barred houses, force them into prostitution and, after a couple of years, not only physically but emotionally they're enslaved for life. It's called white slavery. She escaped a week later. One talks of darkest Africa, or General William Booth's 'In Darkest England'. The tourist belts in the Asian cities can rightly be called darkest Asia.
As slum statistics are unmentioned in the Year Books of Asian nations, so slavery is officially not spoken of. In the provinces, recruiters tempt girls with offers of good jobs in Manila. But upon reaching the city, they find themselves locked into these 'safe houses' from which there is no escape. Once forced into the trade, the desire and ability to escape such a lifestyle goes. Few get out. 7
Others are sold by employment agencies to men in the Middle East, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere, often under the guise of being waitresses or house girls.
Bangkok's population, for example, of 8.3 million includes a small army of 60,000 women, mostly prostitutes, working out of 350 go-go bars, 130 massage parlours and 100 dance halls.
The women who make the sex business successful in Bangkok see few profits for themselves. Travel agents skin off fifty per cent
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of the take, bars and brothels pocketing most of the remainder with varying cuts from that share for the B-girls.
'We are down to our last resource; says Karina David, a professor of community development at the University of the Philippines. 'Once you sell your women and debase your culture there is not much left’
Amos pronounces God's judgement on a nation for the same sin:
Because they sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes, they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted (Amos 2:6-7).
God looks for women of commitment who would both give their lives to rescuing these girls and to effecting changes in the law to break the horrendous sale of flesh that parades itself under the name of tourism. It is a dangerous task. Two Japanese friends who tried to combat it at a government level were threatened so often they gave up. Yet Proverbs 31:9 tells us to 'open your mouth, judge righteously, maintain the rights of the poor and needy'.
.Perhaps we are more concerned with make-up and beauty than with the rescue of slaves in the context of possibly being murdered! God looks for women who know that God is our protector, as he was for Amy Carmichael and her band of women rescuing temple prostitutes in India.
Who are the blessed poor?
The fifth Hebrew word used in the Old Testament is ani and its derivative anaw, which is the word Jesus used when he talks of the blessed poor.
The root word means to bring low, to afflict, to ravish, to violate or force and is used for a whole range of exercises in domination such as when the people of Israel were afflicted by their taskmasters in Egypt (Exodus 1:11-12). It was used also to denote the response of humble dependence on God to such oppression (Job 34:28; Psalms 34:6). The ani is one who is bowed down under pressure, one occupying a lowly position, one who finds himself in a dependent relationship. It means 'the humble poor of Yahweh' or 'God's poor ones'.
The ani are not contrasted with the rich, but with the men of violence, the oppressors who 'turn aside justice from them' (Amos
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2:7), who rob the poor of their right by making unjust laws and publishing burdensome decrees (Isaiah 10:1-2). Much of the poverty of the Third World countries can be attributed to such causes. Several centuries of such iniquitous decrees by both the Spanish and the rich 400 families that rule the Philippines have resulted in a society oppressed, afflicted and impoveoverished.
These blessed poor, then, include the needy (ebyon) and the frail (dal), the dispossessed (rush) and those who lack (chaser). But within these categories, also, underlying them, is poverty caused by the ruthlessness of the powerful, who both deny their rights and do not respond to their calamities.
Is poverty blessed? .'
No! God rebels against this poverty, for it destroys his whole creation. Nowhere in the Bible is poverty an ideal, as it is with the later mystics. Nowhere is poverty glorified or romanticised. The fact that the poor are sometimes, and with increasing frequency in the scriptures, called righteous is not so much to their own credit. They are righteous because their oppressors are so terribly unrighteous. The poor are therefore righteous in comparison with the oppressor who withholds their rights.. .
Nor are the poor blessed because of their material lack or their economic class. This would ignore salvation by grace and imply, with the Marxists and Liberation theologians, that salvation is by economic and sociological status. Poverty is not blessed, but the poor are - those poor who become disciples. For the Beatitudes were spoken to Christ's disciples. These poor were truly 'the poor of Yahweh'. Because of their poverty, they trusted in God in a spirit of dependence. Matthew5:3 ('Blessed are the poor in spirit') and Luke 6:20 ('Blessed are you poor') are both expressions of this idea.
The solution: discipleship
In summary we may split the causes of poverty into three main categories: poverty caused by personal sin (chaser); poverty caused by calamity (ebyon and dal); and poverty caused by oppression (ani, anaw and rush).
Discipleship changes the poverty caused by personal sin.
Membership in God's kingdom brings love, releases guilt, heals bitterness and breaks the power of drunkenness, immorality and gambling. It results in a new motivation for work. Our response to such poverty must be to live amongst these poor and preach the
God's Happy Poor/49 gospel by deed and by word. (This is the theme of chapter 9.)
Discipleship changes the poverty of the frail and the weak, for true disciples will aid the widows and orphans, welcome the stranger and the refugee and help the destitute. God's power can heal the blind and the deaf. Our response to such poverty is relief, economic projects, and protection of the weak. (This is the theme of chapter 10.)
Discipleship also . changes poverty caused by oppression, injustice and exploitation. Disciples defend these oppressed poor by bringing justice. (This is the theme of chapter 11.)
In the context of poverty, the gospel is a gospel both of judgement and of mercy. To the rich and oppressor it is a message of judgement and woe, requiring repentance. As Jesus says:
Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full how, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep (Luke 6:23-26).
But to the poor the gospel is a message of uplift, if they would but repent and believe:
'Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. . .' (Matthew 12:28).
To the poor the gospel is a message of blessing, both now and in the future:
Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now\/, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you 'that weep now, for you shall laugh (Luke 6:20-21).
For the poor receive the kingdom gladly now. There will come a day when all oppression will cease and all the unjust receive their dues. On that day the poor will laugh and leap for joy, for each will have his mansion. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears!
Blessed are you poor, for yours is - and shall be - the kingdom of God!
50/God's Happy poor
Footnotes on chapter 3
1. For a fuller analysis, see Harvey L. Perkins, The Poor and Oppressed:
The Focus of Christian Participation in Human Development, Colleagues in Development; Bible Study Series, Singapore, Christian Conference of Asia (mimeo-series, 1977 to present). Also, Julio de Sta Ana, Good News to the Poor, Geneva, World Council of Churches, 1977.
2. Conrad Boerma, 'Rich Man, Poor Man - and The Bible: SCM, London 1979. Chapters 2 and 3 have a brief summary of the themes in the Bible related to poverty including a brief 'contrast between ptochos, the beggar, and penes, the industrious poor man.
3. F. Landa Jocano, Slum as a Way of Life, University of the Philippines Press, Quezon City, 1975, P 31
4. Figure from a description of the Tatalon Estate Zonal Improvement Project, furnished by the National Housing Authority, Quezon City.
5. Donald Denise Decaesstecker, Impoverished Urban Filipino Families, UST Press, Manila, 1978, p 126, an in-depth study of the structure and problems of impoverished slum families in one of Manila's slums.
6. Tom Steers, Understanding the Philippines, Navigator Orientation Manual
7. F. Landa Jocano, op. cit., chapter IX, 'Deviant Females'
8. Quoted in 'An Ironic Furor about Photographs', Newsweek Magazine, May 31, 1982, P 24. An article on the growing sex trade in Manila. See also 'Lust City in the Far East', Time Magazine, May 10, 1982, P 29, for a description of a similar problem in Bangkok.