Posted by: timjdavy | January 31, 2011

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?


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