Wealth, poverty and power in the Old Testament

Chris Wright's Old Testament Ethics for the People of GodAs well as teaching on specific biblical modules at Redcliffe, occasionally I join other classes for one-off sessions looking how an aspect of the biblical material relates to their subject. The most recent class like this was on Friday when I joined the Diploma and Professional in Mission class on ‘Wealth, Poverty and the Environment’ to look at how the Old Testament addresses the themes of wealth, poverty and power.

I found Chris Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God particularly helpful in preparing this session. He outlines the Old Testament’s understanding of poverty in three ways: what causes poverty? how are God’s people to respond to poverty; and a future vision of a new creation without poverty.

We then looked at three passages, Deut. 15 and Job 29, 31. The Deuteronomy passage is well-known for its discussion of how Israel is to approach the issue of poverty. Indeed, in his excellent NIBC commentary on Deuteronomy, Wright (again!) suggests that the passage ‘offers limitless opportunity for ethical and missiological reflection and action’. OK, there is hyperbole in this statement but it is undoubtedly true that the passage (and other parts of Deuteronomy) contains much food for missiological and ethical thought. My own Master’s dissertation was on the orphan, widow and alien in Deuteronomy. A couple of years ago I also had a student here at Redcliffe who wrote her dissertation on the book’s approach to poverty and how that might inform how the church addressed the issue in the contemporary UK context.

The Job passages are more obscure to most, but in an attempt to defend his righteousness Job provides us indirectly with a window into an ideal ethical life where those with power protect the weak and address injustice. At one point Job claims that ‘The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.’ (29:13, ESV)

Wouldn’t that verse make a great epitaph?

Mission-Net, Deuteronomy and the University Alien

mission-net: congress 2009
mission-net: congress 2009

It’s been a little while since I’ve blogged, what with Easter, going to Mission-Net and then having a few days holiday.

It was great to be at Mission-Net. My two seminars looked at (1) The ‘missional basis of the Bible’ along with an overview of the Old Testament; and (2) A study on Deut. 10:12-22 and what it tells us about our missionary God and our role as his people in the world.

The highlight for me was at the end of the second session. I had touched on the importance God places on caring for the vulnerable in society, as exemplified in the laws concerning the marginal groups (widow, orphan, alien). I had relayed a story from my student days where I had been lazy, sticking to people like myself rather than looking out for and befriending the ‘international’ students. A Greek student in the seminar talked about how she was going to make more of an effort to spend more time with a South-East Asian student she was aquainted with. It thrilled me to hear her say this! My prayer is that as she returns to her university she will learn from my mistake and, more importantly, allow God to mould her character and attitudes.

Human trafficking and mission

A practical question for those engaging in Bible and Mission: How do we relate verses like the following with the MTV Exit video below? Check out Stop the Traffik as well.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. (ESV)

Psalm 68:5-6
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
   is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
   he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
   but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. (ESV)

Job 31:16-23
“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired,
   or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail,
or have eaten my morsel alone,
   and the fatherless has not eaten of it
(for from my youth the fatherless grew up with me as with a father,
   and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow,
if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing,
   or the needy without covering,
if his body has not blessed me,
   and if he was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep,
if I have raised my hand against the fatherless,
   because I saw my help in the gate,
then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder,
   and let my arm be broken from its socket.
For I was in terror of calamity from God,
   and I could not have faced his majesty. (ESV)

(If you are having trouble viewing the embedded video, click here to see the video)