February 26

Generosity and the Poor (Proverbs 19)

Daniel Watts

My two adult children are married, raising families, and actively involved in their church. They are doing well and although I don’t get involved in their personal finances, I am sure that they both have excellent credit ratings. 

That was not always the case. When they were in elementary school there were a number of times where they needed to “borrow” five or ten dollars for various needs.

During those years, my wife and I developed a taxi service shuttling them around town for their various church, school, sports, and social events. When they both got older, we transitioned into the human ATM machine.

When they got their licenses, we were no longer needed as taxi drivers. However, so that we would feel connected, they engaged us as ATM machines. Many of the withdrawals were accompanied by the “can I borrow” and then the specific amount followed.

We never kept track, never charged interest, and never let it go to “collection 😊! We knew we were not lending them money and they were never going to pay us back.

One of our friends shared how their daughter set up a “tab” at a local sandwich shop and got a sandwich, chips and a drink walking home from school. The account was in his name. Awesome!

Looking back, if we were to total it all up, my wife and I could fund a nice vacation. Unlike teenagers, God has a perfect credit rating, and this is on the mind of the writer in Proverbs 19:17.

Giving Graciously to the Poor is a Means of Honoring the Lord

Giving Generously to the Poor
He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed. (Proverbs 19:17 NAS)

The passage falls within the Proverbs concerning the poor (14:21, 31; 22:9, 28:27) and recognizes the isolation often felt by those in material need (19:7).

The English translations adjust the word order in the translation but in the Hebrew, we find a beautiful poetic structure as follows:

  • מַלְוֵ֣ה יְ֭הוָה – One lending to the LORD
  • ח֣וֹנֵֽן דָּ֑ל – He who is gracious to a poor man
  • וּ֜גְמֻל֗וֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לֽוֹ׃ – He will repay him for his good deed

We might label this structure as follows and we can examine each element.

  • A – One lending to the LORD
  • B – He who is gracious to the poor
  • A’ – He will be repaid for his good deed

The focus is on generosity to the poor. While there are many forms of poverty including spiritual poverty, the sense is regarding material poverty.

This element of the proverb echoes Deuteronomy 15:1-11, particularly verses 7-11:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

The Israelites are warned against being hardhearted and tightfisted (vs.7), giving to the poor begrudgingly (vs.10). They are encouraged to be open-handed, lend freely (vs. 8), give generously (vs. 10) and be open handed (vs.11).

These ideas all are wound up in the idea of gracious giving in the central phrase of the proverb. Regarding the poor, the Israelites are to give generously.

Finally, we note that there will always be poor among the people of God and God has a particular concern for how they are treated.

This is seen as making a “loan” to Yahweh. Certainly, this is not to be understood in a literal sense as God is the owner of all things (Psalm 24:1), but rather a way of Yahweh identifying with the poor.

This is entirely consistent with other proverbs identifying God with the poor (17:5, 22:22-23) and Proverbs 14:31.

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31)

Here God’s honor is tied to the poor and treating them improperly is to dishonor God. In Proverbs this is phrased positively where graciousness to the poor is a means of honoring God, caught up in the phrase “lending to the LORD.”

Giving graciously to the poor is a means of honoring the LORD. As such, the gracious giver can expect Yahweh to repay the loan.

The Proverbs concludes with a promise that God will repay the loan. In other words, His credit rating is excellent, and you can count Him to return gracious giving with repayment.

While that repayment may be spiritualized and refer to a spiritual blessing, the sense is that of material repayment. The Proverb indicates that generosity to the poor, a means of honoring God, will be repaid by God.

Closing Thoughts

Generosity and the Poor

With these observations we can summarize the teaching of the Proverb as follows:

  • There are people among us that are poor 
  • God is concerned with the poor and identifies with them
  • A characteristic feature of God’s people should be concern for the poor
  • Material generosity to the poor is a means of honoring God 
  • We can count on God repaying our generosity

We can draw some conclusions from this piece of wisdom.

Many of us can be counted on as blessed in terms of our material possessions and have the ability to act graciously towards others in our community.

Regardless of our setting, there are poor among us who are lacking materially. Sometimes they hide behind a façade that hides their situation, others feel shame and guilt.

Many feel the kind of isolation that is spoken of in Proverbs 19:7:

The poor are shunned by all their relatives—how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found. (Proverbs 19:7)

The people of God are called to honor God by graciously attending to their material needs.

We can replace concerns about the causes of poverty and a general sense of negativity with the knowledge that generosity to the poor is an enormous opportunity to express our love for God and desire to honor Him.

In so doing we not only honor God but make ourselves a blessing to the “nations” beginning in our own communities. For that, He promises to repay our generosity an amazing act of grace.

This is God’s response not our small act of generosity to the poor which is a way of honoring Him.

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