The Eradication of Poverty

“The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich.” —I Samuel 2:7

ON DECEMBER 18TH, 1995, the United Nations announced that 1996 would be the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali launched this International Year with a major address on that date before the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

It would appear from this announcement that the United Nations was undertaking a goal that belongs in the province of God alone to accomplish. The announcement was reminiscent of the task undertaken by President Lyndon B. Johnson when he was elected to the office of President of the United States in 1964, and declared an all-out war on poverty. He hoped to make the United States a “Great Society” and wanted to extend the same opportunity for greatness to all the world.

Of course, poverty was not eradicated in the United States, whose resources for doing so are much greater than those of the United Nations.

So the question asked is, “How can the United Nations achieve what the United States in the last thirty years was not able to do? What is so different about their plans and methods that would assure success in the light of U.S. failures?”

This is not a new program. The leaders of the world met in Copenhagen in March of 1995, where they committed themselves to eradicating poverty on our planet. They also pledged decisive national actions and international cooperation.

The Secretary-General’s address before the Trusteeship Council Chamber said in part: “The facts about poverty are now well known. But too often they are ignored. More than 1.3 billion people are struggling to survive on less than one single dollar each day.” He then cited statistics that definitely show that the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. He continued his address:

“More than one billion persons lack access to basic needs—safe water and sanitation. Over three million people die each year from preventable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.

“More than 130 million children, mostly girls, do not go to school. In the one hour that we are dedicating to this ceremony, 1,400 children below five years of age will die from malnutrition and preventable childhood diseases.

“How can we allow this to go on?

“An ethical progression of humanity takes place when moral ideals lead to specific legal obligations. The next step in this progression must be to accept that persisting poverty is not only inconsistent with social harmony and a durable political order, but morally wrong.

“It is a major cause of violent crime, ethnic clashes and social disarray. How can one expect the poor to feel any real sense of commitment to social structures when they appear to nourish poverty? Small wonder that heads of state and government, at the fiftieth anniversary session of the United Nations General Assembly, unanimously recognized that action to secure global peace, security, and stability will be futile unless the economic and social needs of people are addressed.”

The statistics expressed by the Secretary-General concerning the poverty in third-world countries is shocking, and the recognition that all should do something about it is most noble and laudable. Poverty in the United States was defined in the 1980’s by the federal government to be an income level of $8,500 per year for a non-farm family of four. With inflation that figure has increased. Those receiving below this amount were classified as impoverished. The latest figures released by the US Census Bureau in June 1996, indicate that the gap between the most affluent Americans and everyone else was wider than it has been since the end of World War II. From 1968 to 1994 the share of the nation’s aggregate income going to the top 20% of its households, increased to 46.9% from 40.5%. Even in the USA, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.

Similar conditions to the above have existed for centuries. An incident involving Jesus led to a statement by him which confirms that we should expect such conditions of poverty in the world. This occurred about one week before his crucifixion, and is recorded in John 12:1-8: “Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.”

It might appear from Judas Iscariot’s question, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?’ that Judas was more concerned about the poor than was Jesus. But this was not so. John, in writing about this incident, makes it plain that Judas was not concerned about the poor, but rather that he tried to use the poor as a means of getting more money for his own selfish ends. Judas Iscariot never escaped the influence of greed and selfishness that is so prevalent in this present evil world. He was the treasurer for the little band of disciples, and the small amount of money they possessed was entrusted to him. This responsibility became a temptation for Judas to steal from the treasury. Jesus was aware of Judas’ failings. Therefore, in replying to Judas, he made the observation that the poor would not be able to change their lot in this life, and that there would be many opportunities to do them good. This has been so. The greed and selfishness of this present evil world has made poverty a continual condition for great numbers of the people in the world.

Jesus could have said that as long as you tolerate selfishness, the poor you will always have with you—or, unless selfishness is abolished poverty will persist. As we look at the UN program for eradication of poverty we note that it does not include the elimination of selfishness. In 1996 each nation is to make proposals and establish policies for programs that will eradicate poverty over a ten-year period of time. What are these policies?

The Secretary-General of the UN outlined these in his speech. He said, “We need specific policies. Policies which will increase the access of the poor to productive resources. Policies that will improve and widen opportunities to use their skills. Policies that will not underestimate the willingness or the capacity of the poor to work for their own advancement. Policies that acknowledge that poor families will readily make sacrifices to put a child through school, to improve a small plot of land, to set up some small business. Policies that do not talk down to people or assume that they have to be provided with prepackaged schemes. Policies that are guided by the priorities of people, their perception of opportunities and their willingness to work for their own advancement.

“Policies that encourage localized community-based initiatives where participation is effective and meaningful. Policies which supplement income-generating measures and skill enhancement with action to reduce discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization. Policies that focus on the ‘feminization of poverty’, on the fact that more than two-thirds of the world’s poor are female. Policies that integrate specific welfare schemes and measures with the mainstream of economic policy, and that economic dimension with the social and political agenda of a society. And policies that are informed by sensitivity to the truth that sudden situations of crisis, including wars, ethnic conflicts, and natural calamities, hit the poor hardest.”

Will such policies be able to reverse the obvious trend mentioned in the Secretary-General’s address, which is that the rich have been getting richer, and the poor have been getting poorer, and their, disparity has doubled in the last thirty years? A close examination of these policies—if established—reveals that they tend to admit that a problem exists, more than to solve the problem. What can really be done for the poor to alleviate their sufferings? The policy of unselfishness, that of the Golden Rule mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 7:12—“All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”—is all-important for the successful eradication of poverty. This will be the policy of God’s kingdom, which alone can establish such a policy and enforce it.

In the meantime, while praying and waiting for God’s kingdom, what should be our attitude toward the poor? We should have genuine love for them, and put into practice the admonition of the Apostle Paul, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10) We know that Jesus loved the poor, and tried to help them when he had the opportunity.

There is no doubt that Jesus taught his disciples to give to the poor in order to alleviate their suffering. At the same time they did not have much in the way of worldly goods to give to the poor. How much money were they likely to have? Not very much. At one time, according to the account in Matthew 17:24-27, it appears that they had almost none. They had come to Capernaum and Peter was approached by the tax collectors concerning paying tribute. Although Jesus reasoned that they were not subject to the tax, he instructed Peter to cast a hook into the sea to catch a fish in whose mouth he would find the tribute money which would be used for payment of tax for both of them. The method used by Jesus to pay the tax indicated that there was not an abundance of funds on hand for this purpose. As always, Jesus depended entirely on his Father to provide things needful.

At an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry, a sum of money is mentioned: 200 denarii. This represents about $120 of today’s inflated dollars, which could have represented the full amount of money in their treasury. The occasion is recorded in John 6:1-13. Jesus had gone to a desert place and was sought out by over 5,000 people. When he saw the people, he had compassion upon them and until evening continued to heal their sick. Then his disciples suggested that he send the people away so they could go to the villages and buy food. But Jesus answered, “Give ye them to eat.” (Matt. 14:13-16) In the account given by John, it is recorded that Jesus asked Philip, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Philip’s answer was that 200 denarii would not “buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:7, RSV) Jesus did not depend on the money to buy bread. Rather, with the assistance of his Father he performed a miracle to provide an abundance of food—not only of bread but of fish also—and fed 5,000 men, besides women and children.

Jesus was especially solicitous of the poor. There may have been many times when he and his disciples used the small amount of their earthly goods to give to the poor. This seems evident from the record by John of the conversation between Jesus and Judas at the Last Supper (John 13:21-30), which was followed by John’s comment, “Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.” (vss. 28,29) Judging by this comment, Judas may often have been sent on missions to give to the poor.

It had been prophesied in Isaiah 61:1 that the ministry of Jesus would include preaching good tidings unto the poor. Although the King James Version translates this verse “preaching good tidings to the meek,” the particular Hebrew word means ‘humble’ and would include those who have been humbled by the adversities of life. Jesus did fulfill this prophecy. At the beginning of his ministry, as was his custom, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from this prophecy of Isaiah. After reading, Jesus sat down and said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:18-21) Wherever Jesus went he preached about the kingdom of God. When he was ministering in Capernaum and in the other cities in Galilee, the inhabitants besought Jesus that he should not depart from them, “And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.”—Luke 4:43

Later, when John the Baptist was imprisoned, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:20) The answer Jesus sent back to John was, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached.” (vs. 22) We note that one of the signs sent to John was that the Gospel was being preached to the poor.

For centuries, all that the poor had to look forward to was a life of hardship, probably ending in a pauper’s grave. Jesus brought them real hope by preaching the coming of God’s kingdom. He taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9,10) Through the miracles Jesus performed, many were convinced that Jesus was “that prophet that should come into the world.” (John 6:14) They endeavored to take him by force, and to make him a king, but he eluded them. They did not know that he had first to give his life for them as a ransom. Then he would have to select his church—a task which would take about two thousand years. These things had to be completed before the promised blessings could come. Those who were invited to be of the church would have to be willing to lay down their lives in sacrifice, following in the footsteps of Jesus. This requirement is forcibly called to our attention in the incident of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, and which is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The account in Matthew 19:16-22 reads as follows:

“Behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why tallest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

Jesus then told his disciples that it would be difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and followed with an illustration that has often been misunderstood: “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24) This illustration was intended to show the necessity on the part of those who were rich to subject their interest in material things to the things of the Lord. It was not intended to indicate that it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Those who would be willing to give first place in their hearts to the things of God would be able to enter the kingdom.

The Needle’s Eye referred to a small gate within a larger gate for entering the city. In olden times cities had walls for protection from their enemies, and at sundown the gates were closed and anyone desiring to enter the city at night could only do so through a small guarded door within the large gate. This door was known as the Needle’s Eye. A latecomer to the city could come to this small door; after identifying himself and being granted permission to enter, he could bring in his camel, if the camel were unloaded. Even then, the camel had to crawl on its knees to enter inside. In using this picture Jesus was emphasizing the necessity for the rich to be willing to unburden themselves of material ambitions, and to be humble, in order to enter the kingdom.

Why did Jesus seem to favor the poor of this world, and speak disparagingly of the rich? It is not because the rich man has wealth, but rather that in most cases he has not acknowledged God and given him the first place in his heart. The Lord used Hannah to utter a great truth in prayer, which was recorded in I. Samuel 2:7-9: “The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.” The latter part of this prophecy refers to those who are “the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom,” or the footstep followers of Jesus.—James 2:5

However, a basic principle is cited at the beginning of the prophecy, which applies to everyone. God has the power to direct the affairs of men, even though he has permitted Satan to have a measure of power during this time when evil is permitted. God can and will intervene at any time that is necessary to further his interest.

In this present evil world, Satan has been able to create great differences in our society. Many have amassed great riches, often through oppression of their fellowmen. For centuries, the poor and oppressed accepted their lot, until the increase of knowledge and learning of the latter days woke them to awareness of their rights. Changes in government occurred, but none of the new experiments in government were able to appreciably change the lot of the poor. With World War I, the Marxist philosophy of communism was placed into practice by Russia and eventually spread to include one-third of mankind, or those behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. The governments of these lands professed to be communistic, and ostensibly were the champions of the needy and the poor.

It was difficult to obtain much information about the plight of the poor, or how well they might be doing with regard to health, nutrition, and economic conditions under communism. Yet it was possible to get enough information to make comparisons with non-communistic countries’ conditions, and in such analyses it was found that neighboring non-communist countries were shown to be faring better than the communistic nations.

One analyst summarized the study by saying, “While every long-standing communist regime appeared to have reduced both the extent and the severity of poverty in the society under its direction, available evidence did not suggest that Marxist-Leninist states have been particularly successful in accelerating the alleviation of material want.” Again, the failure of man-made solutions to economic inequities in the world led to the recent demise of communism. Inequities will continue as long as selfishness and greed—tools of Satan—are permitted to flourish.

Will Satan’s success in using selfishness and greed play havoc with the UN program to eradicate poverty? We anticipate that it will. Yet the UN program is significant. It is yet another sign of the proximity of God’s kingdom. More than ever will the united efforts of nations demonstrate man’s futility in solving his problems apart from God. The expression, “Man’s extremity will become God’s opportunity,” will be confirmed.

When Satan suggested that Job reverenced God only because the Lord had granted him great riches, God permitted Satan to afflict Job to show the real condition of his heart. “The Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.” (Job 1:12) But when Job lost all his possessions, his response was, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”—vs. 21

The experiences of Job are intended to teach us the lesson of the permission of evil. How well we learn to put our complete trust in the Lord while in this environment of evil, will have a direct effect on our final reward. At the end of Job’s trial, his wealth was restored twofold, which is a picture of how God will restore to mankind the wealth they had in the Garden of Eden. After Job’s restoration from affliction, Satan was not permitted to buffet Job. So, also, Satan will be bound during Christ’s Millennial reign, and not be permitted to adversely influence mankind.

The condition of poverty has been used by some as an illustration of man’s life during this present evil world under the penalty of death. On the other hand, we have the various loyal angelic orders of beings created by God. These can be regarded as rich. Such was also the rich condition of our Lord Jesus in his prehuman existence as the Logos, described by the Apostle Paul: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”—II Cor. 8:9

The various degrees of wealth or poverty among the people of the world are really but minor differences when we consider that all are under the same penalty of death. Many who are rich but have poor health cannot buy health or an extension of life. Death is the great equalizer of all men. A passage in the Book of Job shows how death—pictured by sleep—brings all people on the various levels of society to the same condition. After Job had been afflicted with boils over his entire body, he cursed the day of his birth and stated that it would have been better if he had died at birth, saying: “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? or why the breasts, that I should suck? For then I should have lain down and been quiet; I should have slept; then I should have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not as a hidden untimely birth, as infants that never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.”—Job 3:11-19, RSV

But Jesus, who was rich, became poor, taking upon himself the form of a servant. “Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:8,9) Jesus was willing to die on the cross as man’s ransom so that we through his poverty might be rich. Through this ransom, God will make rich all the world of mankind by restoring them to life and happiness in his kingdom of righteousness. In that kingdom Satan will be bound, and obstacles and hindrances to a prosperous and great society will be removed. It is then that social and economic inequalities will be removed, as the Prophet Isaiah has prophesied, “They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.”—Isa. 65:21-23

Dawn Bible Students Association
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