Christianity and the Poor, Part 1

Preston Sprinkle —  June 13, 2011 — 3 Comments
This entry is part 1 of 3 in the seriesChristianity and the Poor

I’d like to start a series of blog posts dealing with what the Bible says about the poor.

My interest in this topic began a few years back as I was preparing to teach the book of Ezekiel. With much excitement, I got to chapter 16 in my study, which is a rich allegory about God’s grace, and I found myself stunned about two thirds of the way through. If you’re familiar with this chapter, you know that it’s one of those sermons of Ezekiel where he lays into Israel with some hard-hitting words about their sin. The nation is charged with pride, selfishness, idolatry, and even child sacrifice. Their political alliances with other nations are described as prostitution of the most aggressive sort, earning accolades of wickedness that far exceed the city of Sodom—the poster child of depravity.

Sodom! They are worse than Sodom, Ezekiel says.

And then the prophet says why. Now, I must have read this passage a dozen times and never caught the shock (and relevance) of what comes next. I was expecting another sexually charged image of homosexuality or gang rape; after all, this is what readers of Genesis 18 will think of when they anticipate the sin of Sodom. And this is why I was astonished at Ezekiel’s window into Israel’s Sodom-like behavior:

Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. (Ezek 16:49 NLT)

When I first noticed this verse, I was astonished. I immediately thought that Ezekiel had dropped the ball. Think about it. He has offered a scathing review of Israel’s sinful history that has been escalating. He’s gone from pride to child sacrifice and has now reached a point where Israel’s sin far exceeds that of Sodom. To smuggle in some critique of Israel’s greed and lack of concern for the poor, I thought, was anticlimactic. These things may be bad, but surely they belong at the beginning of the rhetorical trek, not at the peak! But then my astonishment was thrown a curveball. Could it be that my rhetorical—and moral—standards are different than Ezekiel’s; and could it be that the prophet has placed at the peak the stuff that belongs there—the big sins, those that are nastier than child sacrifice? Could it be that Ezekiel put the emphasis where it belongs, and that my moral standard was off? Could it be that God abhors greed and withholding material goods from poor people?

I ended up siding with the prophet. And as I closed the pages of Ezekiel, I couldn’t help but wonder: While the church is disgusted at sick in the head sinners, who commit crimes of sodomy (illegal sexual acts), I wonder how often the church commits sodomy of the Ezekiel 16:49 sort every day.

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Great blog post. I agree with your question, “Could it be that my rhetorical—and moral—standards are different than Ezekiel’s,” and your conclusion, “I ended up siding with the prophet.” Good call.

    As the first commenter mentioned, “it revelas an area in which our worldview differs from God’s.”

    To push that worldview and it’s hierarchal view of human depravity a bit… we might read that those sins which seem to be so often our focus of outright disgust and outrage are actually resting atop a foundation of the very sinful actions and attitudes that the American Church still sweeps under the rug with purposeful ignorance of the fact that they are fruit-bearing sins: PRIDE, GLUTTONY, LAZINESS, and OPPRESSION (in the form of indifference, cruelty, and uncaring). If we see Ezekiel’s chastisement of Israel as an upward growing and blossoming tree of sin, then the root of the infamous acts of Sodom (sodomy) can be found in the fertile soil of these “lesser sins” (as perceived by the paradigm of the West).

    Now play that back as a dub over the history of America. The escalation in the blatant and open practicing of “the big no-no’s” in the U.S. has actually grown in the petrie dish of pride, gluttony, laziness, and indifference to the poor and needy. I cannot help but to recognize the stereotypical independent spirit of the modern American christian in the description of Sodom: proud of my “freedoms” and “independence” and success, overindulgent in food, drink, entertainment, pleasure, and anything else I can get my hands on, spiritual laziness and apathy that is directly connected to prosperity at whatever level I may have it, and a lack of concern for anybody who hasn’t done as well as me because they should have just worked harder and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps!

    It would seem that this kind of lifestyle is fertile ground, indeed, for the kind of blatant disregard required for the open practicing of the sins that Sodom gave her name to.

    • Preston Sprinkle

      Jon,

      Thanks for dropping in and for your very astute comment! Your take on the various pitfalls of our American culture are very relevant, if not convicting!

  • Mark Beuving

    This is such a great point, Preston. I’ve seen this passage used as a justification for homosexuality, and then I’ve seen conservatives respond by downplaying Ezekiel’s point and “proving” that Sodom’s worst sin really was homosexuality. It reveals some significant blindspots that we can read such a potent warning against greed and turn the conversation to something else.

    I love your point here. Anytime we find ourselves surprised by a biblical truth or emphasis, it reveals an area in which our worldview differs from God’s.