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Dictionaries :: Poor

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


poor ('ebhyon, dal, ‘ani, rush; ptochos):

I. In the Old Testament.

The poor have great prominence in the Bible; it is said, indeed, that there should be no poor among the Hebrews because Yahweh should so greatly bless them (De 15:4 the Revised Version (British and American) and the King James Version margin); but this was only to be realized on certain conditions of obedience (De 15:5), and in De 15:11 it is Said,"the poor will never cease out of the land"; but they were to see to it that none was left in destitution. The very foundation of the Hebrew religion was God's pity on a poor and oppressed people.

1. The Terms Employed:

The words for "poor" are chiefly ‘ebhyon, "desirous," "needy," "poor" (Ex 23:6, etc.); dal, "moving," "swaying," hence, weak, poor, lowly (Ex 23:3, etc.); dallah, "poverty," "weakness" (2Ki 25:12, etc.); rush, perhaps "to shake," "tremble," "to be poor," "impoverished" (1Sa 18:23, etc.); ‘ani, also ‘anaw, "poor," "oppressed," from ‘anah, "to bend" or "bow down (Ex 22:25, etc.); ‘aneh, Aramaic (Da 4:27), chelekhah, "wretchedness" (#/ Av Ps 10:8,14); yarash, "to make poor" (1Sa 2:7); machsor, "want" (Pr 21:17); micken, "a needy one" (Ec 4:13; 9:15 bis, 16).

2. Representations:

(1) Generally.-God (Yahweh and ‘Elohim) is represented as having a special care for "the poor," which was illustrated in the deliverance of the nation from Egyptian poverty and bondage and was never to be forgotten by them (De 24:22); as punishing the oppressors of the poor and rewarding those who were kind to them; God Himself was the Protector and Saviour of the poor (Ex 22:23): "If thou afflict them at all, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot," etc. (De 15:9; 24:15; 1Sa 2:8; Job 31:16; Ps 9:18; 12:5; Pr 19:17; Isa 25:4; Ec 5:8, "one higher than the high regardeth," etc.).

(2) Liberality to the poor is specially enjoined (De 15:7 f), and they were to beware of self-deception and grudging in this (De 15:9,10).

(3) Special provisions were made on behalf of the poor:

(a) Every third year a tithe was to be given "unto the Levite, to the sojourner, to the fatherless and to the widow" that Yahweh might bless them (De 14:28,29; 26:12 f);

(b) the poor were to have the free use of all that grew spontaneously in field or vineyard during the Sabbatic year (Ex 23:10 f; Le 25:5,6);

(c) each year the gleanings of the fields and vineyards should belong to the poor, the corners of fields were to be left for them, and if a sheaf was forgotten it should remain (Le 19:9,10; 23:22; De 24:19);

(d) fruit and ripe grain in a field might be eaten by any hungry person, but none should be carried away (De 23:24,25);

(e) in the Feast of Weeks the poor were to participate (De 16:9-12);

(f) every seventh year there should be a "release" of debts (De 15:1 f); in the seventh year of servitude the Hebrew bond-servant should go free (Ex 21:2), or in the Jubilee, if that came first, on which occasion-the fiftieth year-property that had been sold returned to its owner or his family (Le 25:8-17);

(g) they were to lend readily to the poor, and no interest or increase was to be taken from their brethren (Ex 22:25; Le 25:35-37; De 15:7 f); in Le 25:39, no poor Hebrew was to be made a bond-servant, and, if a hired servant, he was not to be ruled with rigor (25:43); his hire was to be given him daily (Le 19:13; De 24:15); no widow's raiment was to be taken in pledge (De 24:17), nor the handmill, nor the upper millstone so essential for daily life (De 24:6), a man's garment should be returned to him before sundown, and no house should be entered to seize or fetch any pledge (De 24:10-13); breach of these laws should be sin and their observance righteousness (De 24:13,15, etc.; see ALMS, ALMSGIVING);

(h) justice was to be done to the poor (Ex 23:6; De 27:19, "Cursed be he that wresteth the justice due to the sojourner, fatherless, and widow"); (i) offerings were graduated according to means (Le 5:7; 12:8).

(4) Definite penalties were not always attached to those laws, and the prophets and psalmists have many complaints of the unjust treatment and oppression of the poor, contrary to the will of God, and frequent exhortations to justice and a due regard for them (Ps 10:2,9; 12:5; 14:6; Isa 3:14,15; Jer 2:34; Eze 16:49, "the iniquity of.... Sodom"; Eze 18:12,17; 22:29; Am 2:7; 4:1; Hab 3:14; compare Job 20:19; 24:9,14, etc.; Pr 14:31).

(5) The duty of caring for the poor is frequently and strongly set forth and divine promises attached to its fulfillment (Ps 41:1; 72:12 ff; Pr 17:5; 22:9; 28:3,17; Isa 58:7; Jer 22:16; Eze 18:17; Da 4:27; Zec 7:10, etc.; compare Job 29:12,16; 30:25; 31:19; Ps 112:9).

(6) The day of the divine manifestation, the times of the Messiah, should bring deliverance and rejoicing to the poor (Ps 72:12-15; Isa 11:4, "With righteousness shall he judge the poor," etc.; Isa 14:30; 29:19; 61:1 the Revised Version margin).

(7) The equality of rich and poor before God and the superiority of the righteous poor to the ungodly rich, etc., are maintained (Pr 19:1,22; 22:1,2; Ec 4:13).

(8) Ways in which men can willfully make themselves poor are mentioned (Pr 6:11; 10:4; 12:24; 13:4,18; 14:23; 20:13; 21:5,17; 23:21; 28:19).

3. The Godly Poor:

The chief words given above all mean poor, literally, but ‘ani (rendered also "afflicted") may also denote Israel as a nation in its afflictions and low estate, e.g. Ps 68:10; Isa 41:17; 49:13; 51:21; 54:11; in Ze 3:12, it is "the ideal Israel of the future." Dr. Driver remarks (art. "Poor," HDB) that such passages show that ‘ani (as also its frequent parallel ‘ebhyon, and, though somewhat less distinctly, dal) came gradually "to denote the godly poor, the suffering righteous, the persons who, whether ‘bowed down' or ‘needy' or ‘reduced,' were the godly servants of Yahweh." The humble poor became in fact distinguished as the line in which faithfulness to Yahweh was maintained and spiritual religion developed. The less frequent word ‘anaw, often translated "meek," "humble," is regarded (see Driver in the place cited.) as having from the first a moral and religious significance. It is used of Moses (Nu 12:3) and occurs in Ps 10:12,17; 22:26; 25:9, etc.; Pr 3:34; 16:19; Isa 29:19; 32:7; 61:1; Am 2:7; Ze 2:3.

II. In the New Testament.

In the New Testament ptochos, "trembling," "poor," "beggar," is almost exclusively the word translated "poor." It does not occur very frequently, but we see the same regard for the poor maintained as we have in the Old Testament; besides, the new principle of love and the example of Him who "though he was rich, yet for your sakes.... became poor" (ptocheuo, 2Co 8:9) necessarily carry in them this regard even more fully than in the Old Testament. Jesus announced His mission (Lu 4:18) by quoting Isa 61:1, "to preach good tidings (the King James Version "the gospel") to the poor" (or meek or humble); He gave as a proof of His Messiahship the fact that "the poor have the gospel (or good news of the Kingdom) preached to them" (Mt 11:5; Lu 7:22); according to Lu 6:20, He pronounced a beatitude on the pious "poor" because the kingdom of God was theirs; in Mt 5:3 it is "the poor in spirit" (the humble); we have the injunction to "give to the poor" (Mt 19:21; Mr 10:21; Lu 18:22) who are "always with you" (Mt 26:11; Mr 14:7; Joh 12:8), which does not mean that there must always be "the poor," but that, in contrast with Himself who was soon to leave them, the poor should remain and kindness could be shown to them at any time, which was His own practice (Joh 13:29); we are enjoined to call not the rich or well-to-do to our entertainments, but the poor (Lu 14:13; compare Lu 14:21); Zaccheus cited in his favor the fact that he gave ‘half of his goods to the poor' (Lu 19:8); special notice was taken by Jesus of the poor widow's contribution (Lu 21:3). The first church showed its regard for the poor in the distribution of goods "according as any man had need" (Ac 2:45; 4:32; 6:1); when the council at Jerusalem freed the Gentiles from the yoke of Judaism, they made it a condition, Paul says, "that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do" (Ga 2:10); contributions were accordingly made "for the poor among the saints that are at Jerus" (Ro 15:26), and it was in conveying such contributions that Paul got into the circumstances that led to his arrest. God's ability and will to provide for those who give to the poor is quoted from Ps 112:9 (2Co 9:9); James specially rebukes certain Christians of his day for their partiality for the rich and their dishonor of the poor (Jas 2:5-9), and John asks how, in the man who "hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him," the love of God can dwell (1 Joh 3:17,18).

Ptochos is translated "beggar" (Lu 16:20,22) and "beggarly" (Ga 4:9); penes, "one who works for his daily bread," "a poor man," is the word in 2Co 9:9; the poor widow of Mr 12:42 is described in Lu 21:2 as penichros, "very poor."

III. In the Apocrypha.

In the Apocrypha the poor are often mentioned; God's regard for them (Ecclesiasticus 21:5 (ptochos); 35:12,13); their oppression and wrongs (The Wisdom of Solomon 2:10 (penes); Ecclesiasticus 13:3,19,23 (ptochos); Baruch 6:28); the duty of care for and of giving to the poor (Tobit 4:7 (ptochos); Ecclesiasticus 29:8 (tapeinos); 29:9 (penes); 34:20-22); of justice and kindness to such (Ecclesiasticus 4:1,5,8; 7:32; 10:23 (ptochos)); "poor" in the sense of pitiable occurs in 2 Macc 4:47 (talaiporos), the Revised Version (British and American) "hapless."

IV. The Revised Version (British and American) Changes.

For "the poor of this world" (Jas 2:5) the Revised Version (British and American) has "them that are poor as to the world"; for "The poor.... shall trust in it" (Isa 14:32), "In her shall the afflicted.... take refuge"; instead of "Whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor" (Ec 4:14), "Yea, even in his kingdom he was born poor"; "poor" for "humble" (Ps 9:12; 10:12, margin "meek"), for "lowly" (Pr 16:19, margin "meek").

Written by W. L. Walker


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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