God makes it very clear throughout the Bible that He has a heart for the poor and needy, for those who are oppressed, taken advantage of, or ignored by others. The Law of Moses contains numerous instructions for compassionate treatment of the less fortunate such as not harvesting everything from your fields, but leaving some for the poor to glean; not charging interest when lending money to the poor; not showing partiality in judgment between the poor and the mighty; inviting your poor brother to live with you, humane treatment of those who were in bondage, etc.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalms 9:9)
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! (Psalms 72:4)
Perhaps we can wonder, if God has a heart for the oppressed, why is it that there seems to have never been a time when this class of people did not exist? The truth is that oppression exists in our world because we have often chosen it. Right at the beginning, Adam and Eve made a choice to be ruled by their own desires rather than by their Creator, and down through the ages mankind has continued to make this choice fairly consistently. The truth is that we are free to choose what will rule us, but when we have chosen, we are then bound by that choice and become its slave. When we choose as our master anything other than the God who made us, the Bible equates this with becoming the servant of sin. And sin is “missing the mark” or the ideal of being in the image and likeness of the God of mercy and truth.
We are not good at seeing the big picture – how our actions will affect future generations, how the choices we make will affect our families, or community, or people thousands of miles away. But when we are guided by the qualities of a God who does have the big picture (justice, love, kindness, etc.) then all of our choices have a better chance of a good outcome.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah 7:9-10)
It is fairly obvious in our world today that when people are ruled by the love of money, power, or self, oppression in many forms follows closely in its wake. When people choose instead to be ruled by mercy and truth, freedom is the result.
Why is it so hard to choose God as our master? The laws and commandments of God are not unreasonable or burdensome. They have always been meant to be life-giving and to bring rest and freedom:
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
One reason that it seems hard is because keeping the commands of God often requires self-denial, and when we deny ourselves something, we fear that we will lose out. However, a healthy dose of self-denial or self-control has many positive benefits. So many of our natural inclinations can actually become our master through self-indulgence or can be mastered through self-denial: hunger can lead to healthy eating or gluttony, rest can be restorative and lead to more efficient work or can lead to laziness. Being a servant of God, points us in the right direction of mastery over self, rather than being mastered by self. “…for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” (2 Peter 2:19)
Instead of oppression, God asks us to be like Him – the God “…who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:15) in being generous to all.
You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.(Proverbs 19:17)
We are also called to not only be generous to a select group, but Jesus tells us that His Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
This is what God wants for everyone: to be men and women who are not oppressed and slaves to themselves or other things, but servants of Him which is really freedom from oppression, and instead, generous givers. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)