“Do not twist justice against people simply because they are poor. . . . Do not oppress the foreigners living among you. You know what it is like to be a foreigner. Remember your own experience in the land of Egypt." - Exodus 23:6, 9
An underclass seems to emerge in every culture. Social scientists theorize about the reasons for this sociological phenomenon, but the ancient Scriptures spend less time theorizing and more time giving instructions to the privileged regarding their responsibilities to the underprivileged.
The children of Israel had been in the underprivileged category for many years during their Egyptian slavery. But once they were freed from bondage and were headed for the land of promise, it was time for them to remember their social obligations to those not so fortunate as they. These people—the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners—were extremely vulnerable to the exploiter and had to be protected from those who would callously make their sad situation worse. These vulnerable people were in dire straits for a variety of reasons, but in each case they were to be treated with justice and love, because they, too, were people with dignity, made in God’s image.
The principles outlined here, forbidding exploitation and mandating justice, apply to our situation today—even if the specific instructions do not apply. The ban on charging interest on loans, for instance, was designed to ensure that the poor were given a chance to escape their poverty; it probably did not refer to commercial loans. The restriction on keeping a man’s cloak overnight simply meant that even interest-free loans required collateral, but if the only collateral available was a poor man’s “poncho” he should not be deprived of it during the long, cold night. Even hard-nosed business should have a smiling face.
Our concern for the vulnerable and needy does not stem from political ideology, as we in the modern world might be tempted to assume, but from a profound theological conviction that all people, made in God’s image, must be treated with respect, biblical love, and compassion. The application of these ancient laws for modern-day business is that the powerful are not to exploit the powerless; the “haves” are to be concerned for the “have-nots”; and business must not be driven solely by the profit motive. Sound business practice must embrace justice, compassion, and generosity. It’s a sobering thought that with God the bottom line is not necessarily the top priority.
For Further Study: Exodus 1-13
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