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.