Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 6

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Taxes/Redistribution of Wealth

Leviticus 19:9, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Leviticus.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Deuteronomy.
Analysis: Imagine not only farmers, but manufacturers as well, having to allow the poor to walk away with free goods. Do you think they would cry that it’s unfair? You bet they would. We could argue that verse 9’s command is the equivalent of paying taxes, since it’s nationally mandatory for all farmers and benefits the needy. Yet many Christians whine about having to do that, too. We argue that our sharing with the poor should be voluntary rather than be required by the government. But the Bible shows us here that God required His nation to share with the poor.

Leviticus 27:30, “All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord.”
Context: Chapter 27 instructed the Israelites on which things were to be set aside for the Lord.
Analysis: A “tithe” is ten percent of one’s income. This tithe was, in reality, a tax, because it was mandatory for everyone. While the tithe is said to be the Lord’s, that just means He determines who should receive it. Many Christians follow this command today, but on a voluntary basis. They contribute after paying taxes. But for the Israelites, the tithe was their federal tax.

Deuteronomy 14:22-23, “Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.”
Context: The second half of chapter 14 addresses tithing.
Analysis: This is known as the Festival Tithe. The fact that God required a feast is further proof that He wants His people to have some enjoyment rather than continually suffer to impress Him.
This tithe was not for ministry, but for the common good. Since a tithe is a percentage of one’s possessions, those who have more pay more. The poorest people paid the least in God’s taxation system, but benefited the most.
Today, our government follows a similar model. If it needs to raise taxes for the common good, the rich pay the most, because it’s the rich who hold most of the nation’s wealth. Whenever politicians call for lower taxes, they aim to lower them for the rich at the expense of the common good.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29, “Every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat your fill so that the word of God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.”
Context: The second half of chapter 14 addresses tithing.
Analysis: God calls on the Israelites to look out for those who have no land. In early Israel, people received land through inheritance. Those who had land could grow food and build a home. Those who didn’t have land had to rely on the generosity of others. This law is the equivalent of a tax on property owners for the benefit of the poor.
Today, many Christians believe that taxing those who have more than enough and redistributing it to those who don’t is evil. To say so is to say that God is evil, because, as we see here, God is the creator of a national, mandatory, systematic redistribution of wealth from the prosperous to the poor.
Some will say that such redistribution is unfair, but God is far more concerned with everyone living a quality life than He is about fairness. Fairness isn’t a major principle promoted by the Bible, but God’s love is.

Deuteronomy 23:24, “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in a container.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Deuteronomy.
Analysis: Notice how this verse addresses not the poor who have no property, but neighbors. In order to be someone’s neighbor, you must own land, so this verse addresses land owners—people who weren’t totally impoverished like the widows, orphans and immigrants were. God required them to share with one another, at least in terms of satisfying their own hunger. (He also allowed trespassing. The idea that a person can’t even walk on the land God created, because you now own it, is anti-biblical.)
Again, this is unfair, because one neighbor may have a bigger and more fruitful vineyard than the next. And maybe that’s because one neighbor is more talented than the others. Most modern American Christians would say that the man who is more talented and more fortunate (and maybe even harder-working) than his neighbors shouldn’t be forced to share with them, because fairness dictates that he gets to decide what to do with anything he produces or earns.
But that’s not how God sees it. God proves here that He desires a society that mandates sharing. That’s not to say that God is a communist, but neither is He a right-wing American capitalist who takes property rights to the extreme.

Malachi 3:8-10, “Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflow blessing.”
Context: God continues to express displeasure over His people’s behavior.
Analysis: Here God is furious, not because individuals failed to make voluntary, charitable donations, but because the nation failed to collect its taxes (tithes). The food needed to provide for the Levites (who were government workers, since Israel was a theocracy), to provide for the poor, and to create enjoyment for the common good (the festival tithe) had not been collected; therefore, people created in God’s image suffered. They were robbed of what they deserved. And, as Jesus said, “As you’ve done it unto others, you’ve done it unto Me.” That’s why God accused the Israelites of robbing Him by failing to collect the tithes.