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No government program or private enterprise, however well-meaning, can eradicate poverty. The world’s poor have but one hope: Zion!
Some ninety years before Alma, King Benjamin laid down constitutional laws mirroring those established by Moses. Central to King Benjamin’s law was the condition of the heart, which translated into the people’s treatment of their unfortunate brothers and sisters: “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.”[i]
If we also judge the poor harshly, the king said, we compound our sin against these people, and we put our inheritance in the celestial kingdom at risk:
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.[ii]
A terrible condemnation awaits those who judge a poor person and withhold that which does not belong to the withholder:
And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.[iii]
The Evil of the Age: Life for Money
A certain proverb pronounces a curse upon those who would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor or who would give their substance to the rich for unholy purposes: “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.”[iv]
Could there be any sin more disgusting than viewing human beings as property, their only value being that which they can produce for their employers? At its worst, this attitude leads to slavery. To a lesser degree, this attitude defines the common philosophy of business: profit is more important than people—profit at all costs. Is this philosophy ethical? For Babylon, yes; for Zion, no.
Often, business ethics smack of the philosophy advanced by Korihor the anti-Christ: “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and . . . every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.”[v] One need only consider modern-day business ethics to see this anti-Christ philosophy in action. Employees are often valued and compensated solely according to their profitability to their employer, and, by and large, that valuation will determine the employee’s prosperity or his poverty.
Hugh Nibley traced oppression of the poor back to Cain. It was Satan, he said, who taught Cain–
a special course to make him prosperous in all things: the Mahan technique, the great secret of converting life into property. Later Lamech graduates with the same degree—‘Master Mahan, master of that great secret’ (Moses 5:49). He glories in what he has done; it becomes the normal world economy. Nearly all the posterity of Adam, we are told, entered into business, and all Adam and Eve could do about it was to mourn before the Lord (Moses 5:27). Everyone went off following the Canaanites. And Cain did it all, we are told, for the sake of getting gain (Moses 5:31). He was not ashamed; he ‘gloried in that which he had done.’ He said, ‘I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands’ (Moses 5:33).[vi]
“Particularly reprehensible in Nibley’s view is the common practice of some employers who, in the spirit of the perverse ‘work ethic,’ withhold from laborers the necessities of life in exchange for services—‘life in exchange for profits.’ ‘To make merchandise of another’s necessity is an offense to human dignity.’ ‘The prevailing evil of the age’ is ‘that men withhold God’s gifts from each other in a power game.’”[vii]
King Benjamin denounced such dealings: “And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.”[viii]
Fair is fair. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”[ix] If the tables were turned, the selfish rich man would be the first to cry foul.”
The author of Ecclesiastes speaks of accumulating wealth and withholding one’s substance from the poor as “vanity” or the symptoms of an “evil disease” that can only result in loneliness, sorrow, and misery:
There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. . . . All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness. . . . There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.[x]
Perhaps worse than the sins of ignoring, withholding from, and harshly judging the poor is the sin of using a poor man’s labor to enrich one’s self. This sin runs contrary to the Lord’s law of fair pay: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”[xi] As we have noted, this sin is commonplace and, unfortunately, defines the economic condition of the last days.
A Curse on the Daughters of Zion
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord, along with the righteous fathers, kings, and prophets, will pronounce severe judgment upon those who consume what should rightfully support of the poor: “The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people and the princes thereof; for ye have eaten up the vineyard and the spoil of the poor in your houses.”[xii] Under such an indictment we might cry, Certainly you cannot mean us! What have we done to deserve such a denunciation?
Then the Lord will answer, “Ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor.” Could we be guilty of such a crime? After all, are we not the chosen ones, the children of Zion? Certainly, we would never stoop to such an abysmal level.
But, according to Isaiah, the Lord was adamant in his condemnation of the selfish, so much so that he pronounced a curse, which interestingly in this case was directed at his latter-day daughters who would proudly go about wanting this and that, and who would be consumed by fashion:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet—
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments, and cauls, and round tires like the moon;
The chains and the bracelets, and the mufflers;
The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings;
The rings, and nose jewels;
The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping-pins;
The glasses, and the fine linen, and hoods, and the veils.
And it shall come to pass, instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle, a rent; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth; burning instead of beauty.[xiii]
We cannot read such prophecies without realizing that the Lord takes seriously self-indulgence and fashion-seeking over dedicating our resources to blessing the poor. This manifestation of pride is an affront to God.
Blessings for Those Who Rescue the Poor
From the beginning, the Lord has pled with us to step outside ourselves and help his impoverished children. The law of Moses actually mandated mercy and hospitality: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.”[xiv]
Other commandments ordering kindheartedness can be found in the law. For example, the Lord forbade charging interest on a loan to a poor man.[xv] The temple priests were to be sensitive to underprivileged people who were doing their best to comply with the law of sacrifice but who could not manage the price.[xvi] During the harvest, land owners were not to completely clear their fields but to leave the corners and the gleanings for the poor.[xvii]
The people’s attitude toward giving was as important as their gift; they were to give because they wanted to and not begrudgingly: “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him.”[xviii]
The law promised the people that their efforts to rescue the poor would not only save an impoverished soul but also the generous givers themselves. The law reminded the people that the poor would ever be with them unless they chose to remedy the situation: “For this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”[xix]
When we read these verses, we should keep in mind that the law of Moses was the lesser, or preparatory, law; as such, it required less of the covenant people than did the higher law of Zion revealed by Jesus. We are under covenant to live the higher law: “Bring the poor that are cast out to thy house.”[xx]
In our day, the Lord told the elders that they had a special priesthood assignment to provide for the poor: “And if any man shall give unto any of you a coat, or a suit, take the old and cast it unto the poor, and go on your way rejoicing.”[xxi] This might cause us to rethink yard sales over donating our aged items to the Deseret Industries or other charitable organizations.
Because this particular commandment is listed in the same section as the oath and covenant of the priesthood, elders might consider this mandate as part of their priesthood responsibility. Likewise, in that same section, bishops are charged to “search after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.”[xxii] Elder Alexander B. Morrison made the following observation:
A pamphlet relative to the Church Welfare Program, “Helping Others to Help Themselves,” first published about 1945, points out the trials that come to those who have no work:
‘A man out of work is of special moment to the Church because, deprived of his inheritance, he is on trial as Job was on trial—for his integrity. As days lengthen into weeks and months and even years of adversity, the hurt grows deeper, and he is sorely tempted to ‘curse God and die.’ Continued economic dependence breaks him, it humiliates him if he is strong, spoils him if he is weak. Sensitive or calloused, despondent or indifferent, rebellious or resigned—either [OU1] way, he is threatened with spiritual ruin, for the dole is an evil and idleness a curse. He soon becomes the seedbed of discontent, wrong thinking, alien beliefs. The Church cannot hope to save a man on Sunday if during the week it [OU2] is a complacent witness to the crucifixion of his soul.’[xxiii]
While this statement is directed at Church leaders, it applies to individual priesthood holders: We simply cannot expect people to participate fully in the gospel if they cannot provide for themselves. We must teach them before we feed them.
M. Catherine Thomas explains what the Lord expects of the priesthood, both collectively and individually:
The Lord has his own economic order, which exists [OU3] above earthly economic systems; the power of this order rests in the systems of tithes and offerings and in the proper utilization of resources in what the scriptures call the Lord’s Storehouse. This storehouse is to be distinguished from the Bishop’s Storehouse, where commodities are kept. The Lord’s Storehouse is the aggregate of talents and resources existing among the members of any church unit, ward or stake, and its use is based on the Law of Consecration (see D&C 42:33–34, 55; 70:7–10; 82:17–18; 83:6). In order to organize and utilize the resources in the Lord’s Storehouse, priesthood and Relief Society leaders must work together in priesthood counsels in order to administer the Lord’s Storehouse and get the real powers of Zion moving among them.
The Lord said, “The redemption of Zion must needs come by power” (D&C 103:15), implying that as the members follow the Lord’s organization and work the program in these temporal-seeming affairs, He will extend miraculous power to create a Zion society. He promises priesthood counsels: “Whatever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive” (D&C 29:6). In this way the leaders unlock the powers of Zion for their people. Joseph foresaw this work going forward on two fronts through the power and authority of the priesthood:
”And whilst we are thus united in one common cause [on earth], to roll forth the kingdom of God, the heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators, the spirit of God will be showered down from above and it will dwell in our midst” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 232).
The establishment of Zion is a partnership between the Kingdom of God on the earth and that in Heaven.
The prophet Micah’s call to the church in his day continues to be the Lord’s call to us today: “I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.”[xxv]
Great blessings await those who live the higher law and bless the poor with the Lord’s resources: “Blessed is he that considereth the poor.”[xxvi] The book of Proverbs promises happiness and financial security for such generosity: “He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”[xxvii] Prosperity follows the man who digs deeply into his pocket to succor the poor: “He that maketh himself poor shall have great riches.”[xxviii]
Security is another blessing: “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack.”[xxix] The scriptures contain many evidences of righteous people who consecrated their all to save impoverished souls temporally, emotionally, or spiritually, and in the process experienced the Lord’s security.
One example is Elijah, who was fed by ravens and drank from a brook until the brook dried up. Then the Lord provided for him by sending him to a poor widow whose food had dwindled to “an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse.” At that point, Elijah applied the Lord’s law of abundance to save the poor widow and her son. Acting in the name of the Lord, Elijah asked the widow to make him “a little cake.” She was to first “bring it unto [Elijah] and after make for [herself] and for [her] son.”
In faith, the widow obeyed the law. When she consecrated what she had to the impoverished prophet, her security was assured. In return, Elijah, representing the Lord, gave her a blessing: “For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day [that] the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.”
And the widow’s blessings did not stop there. When her son fell ill and died, Elijah brought him back to life and restored him to his mother.[xxx] We can assume that the widow’s faith and giving attitude saved her life and her son’s life. Clearly, faith in the Lord’s promises and providing for the needs of others results in security for our families.
Another example of blessings that flow to those who aid the needy is Zacchaeus, a rich man who loved the Lord and gave generously to the poor. When Jesus drew near to him, “Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house.”[xxxi]
The same could be announced to anyone who lives righteously and strives to bless the poor: “This day is salvation come to this house.”
The Poor of the Lord’s People Shall Trust in Zion
The scriptures are replete with hope for the poor who are among the people of Zion. For instance, the Lord promises to hear their cries for relief: “I have heard your prayers, and the poor have complained before me.”[xxxii] In fact, as a response to the cries of the poor, the Lord is motivated to establish Zion, a condition they can finally trust:
“The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.”[xxxiii]
Because of their great relief, “the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”[xxxvi] By whom does the Lord administer relief to his impoverished children? By the covenant people of Zion.[xxxvii] In Zion, the poor are comforted and raised up by their brothers and sisters who have consecrated their properties to care for them.[xxxviii] Consequently, in Zion there are no poor; Zion is like nowhere else on earth.[xxxix]
In Zion, the rich make themselves low so that the poor might be exalted.[xl] No more will the poor mourn, for in Zion they receive equally from the Lord’s and bishop’s storehouses, which exist to protect and sustain them.[xli] Moreover, the poor are extended relief by caring neighbors who give because they cannot stand poverty in any form. Therefore, through the organization of the priesthood and by means of the individual initiatives of caring neighbors, the poor are provided for in Zion and given ways to emerge from poverty.[xlii] The Lord has promised, “I will satisfy the poor with bread.”[xliii] Bread is only the beginning of their blessings. In Zion, the poor will discover that the Lord has prepared a bounteous feast for them.[xliv]
Where does this all lead? Ultimately, the poor, now equal with their brothers and sisters, will be invited to the marriage of the Lamb.[xlv] After their long oppression, the poor shall inherit the earth.[xlvi]
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[i]. Mosiah 4:16.
[ii]. Mosiah 4:17:18.
[iii]. Mosiah 4:22–23.
[iv]. Proverbs 22:16.
[v]. Alma 30:17.
[vi]. Nibley, Approaching Zion, 93–94.
[vii]. Nibley, Approaching Zion, xv.
[viii]. Mosiah 4:13.
[ix]. Matthew 7:12.
[x]. Ecclesiastes 5:12–17; 6:1–2.
[xi]. Luke 10:7; D&C 31:5; 70:12; 84:79; 106:3.
[xii]. 2 Nephi 13:14.
[xiii]. 2 Nephi 13:14–24.
[xiv]. Deuteronomy 15:7–8.
[xv]. Exodus 22:25.
[xvi]. Leviticus 14:21.
[xvii]. Leviticus 19:10.
[xviii]. Deuteronomy 15:10.
[xix]. Deuteronomy 15:11.
[xx]. Isaiah 58:7.
[xxi]. D&C 84:105.
[xxii]. D&C 84:112.
[xxiii]. Morrison, Visions of Zion, 109–110.
[xxiv]. Thomas, Light in the Wilderness, 136–137.
[xxv]. Micah 4:13.
[xxvi]. Psalm 41:1.
[xxvii]. Proverbs 14:21.
[xxviii]. Proverbs 13:7.
[xxix]. Proverbs 28:27.
[xxx]. 1 Kings 17:1–24.
[xxxi]. Luke 19:8–9.
[xxxii]. D&C 38:16.
[xxxiii]. Isaiah 14:32.
[xxxiv]. 2 Nephi 14:6.
[xxxv]. 1 Samuel 2:7.
[xxxvi]. 2 Nephi 27:30.
[xxxvii]. D&C 38:35.
[xxxviii]. D&C 42:30–31, 34, 39; 44:6; 51:5; 52:40; 72:12; 105:3.
[xxxix]. Moses 7:18.
[xl]. D&C 104:16.
[xli]. D&C 78:3; 82:11–12.
[xlii]. D&C 83:6.
[xliii]. Psalm 132:15.
[xliv]. D&C 56:8–11.
[xlv]. D&C 58:11.
[xlvi]. D&C 88:17.