The Poor Lifted Up and Comforted
“Praise ye Jehovah. . . . He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the needy from the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.”—Ps 113:1, 7, 8. AS.
1. To whom must earth’s poor now look, and why to him?
JEHOVAH God is the One to whom all the poor of the earth should look in this day of world distress. He does not despise their abject condition. His ears are not closed to their sighs and groans, but he takes note of their need and holds forth the true relief to them right now. Abraham Lincoln, a man who rose from poverty to the presidency of the United States of America, once said: “God must love the poor, because he made so many of them.” But God is not the one who made man poor and who made the few rich and the many poor. It is not he who has created class distinctions between rich and poor. He has not willed for the many to be poverty-stricken so long that now, finally, the poor in their masses are rising up under communistic leaders to overthrow the rich capitalists and to equalize all people socially and economically under communist dictators. God’s adversary, Satan the Devil, is the one who has done this. It is this wicked one who now proposes false political and economic systems of relief for the oppressed masses so as to turn them away from the only effective means of relief, that provided by Jehovah God. The applying of these human emergency measures to improve the conditions of the poor and to help the backward areas of the world will result only in increasing the burdens of the people, impoverishing them and oppressing them more. But God Almighty has always come to the rescue of the poor of his people. Now he will completely vindicate their cause and usher them into riches surpassing even those which the first man and woman had at mankind’s start in Eden. The means God uses is his kingdom in the hands of his Son Jesus Christ.
2. In what principally have the people been kept poor, and how?
2 The people’s poverty is not only with regard to material riches. It is principally with regard to the spiritual riches. The clergy of the orthodox Christian and Jewish religious systems are now obliged to admit they have left the people in spiritual poverty. They have been partial to the worldly rich and winked at and kept silent at their oppression of the poor, and all the while they have put on an appearance of great righteousness. Spiritual riches, however, would have lightened the lot of the people amid the injustice and hardships of this world. Such riches would have prevented their violent, radical uprising against the constituted world arrangement today. A person does not need selfish material riches in order to be really wealthy, happy and contented.
3. Who was poorest, yet happiest on earth, and why?
3 Jesus Christ on earth as a man was among the poorest of the poor measured by earthly goods. He was laid in no fine cradle at birth, but in an animal’s manger, because there was no room for visitors at the village inn. As a preacher of God’s kingdom he had no home of his own. “Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.” (Matt. 8:20, NW) But because of his spiritual riches he had real and loyal friends, particularly his Father in heaven and the people of good will on earth. He had a joy no creature could remove. He was the happiest person on earth, so that he could well describe true states of happiness in his sermon on the mount, beginning with “Happy are those who are conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them”. (Matt. 5:3, NW) By getting acquainted with him all poor people can now be made spiritually rich and can enjoy hope of early being made possessors of all other riches in the equitable new world under his kingdom.
4. What reversal of matters did he show it was time for, and how did he illustrate it?
4 Back there Jesus knew that Satan’s world was to last without God’s interference till the “appointed times of the nations” ended in 1914. So he endeavored to make those people who were conscious of their spiritual need rich spiritually with the message of God’s kingdom and with the increasing understanding of His recorded Word. He showed that the time had come for God to turn the tables on those who were rich in worldly goods, political power and religious control and influence, and to lift up those who felt their spiritual need. He illustrated this in a parable which he gave, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. “Parable,” we say, because if we interpreted this description of the affairs of the rich man and Lazarus literally, it would reduce Jesus’ interesting word picture to an absurdity. Because of its clear meaning to us now we shall take up a consideration of this comforting parable. As we go along we shall note the points which show it could not be a literalism such as the religious clergy say it is, to terrify people into their power for fear of being tormented in literal fire and brimstone forever after death.
THE RICH MAN
5, 6. (a) For a warning to whom did Jesus give the parable, and why? (b) Whom does the rich man picture in general?
5 When Jesus gave this parable, members of the strict religious sect of the Pharisees were listening, and it was doubtless for a warning to them. “Now the Pharisees, who were money-lovers, were listening to all these things, and they began to sneer at him.” So after some fitting remarks Jesus said: “To continue: A certain man was rich, and he used to clothe himself with purple and linen, enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence.” (Luke 16:14, 19, NW) “Diʹves” was not his name, but the Latin Vulgate Version of the Bible uses that word respecting him because it is the Latin word meaning “rich man”. So the rich man they generally call “Diʹves”, and we may do so. But now the question is, Who is this rich man?
6 Jesus did not dignify the rich man with a given name, but merely described him in order to describe the class of persons he represents. In keeping with his riches he clothed himself with purple and linen, and daily enjoyed himself with magnificence, including a bountifully spread table. Since Jesus uttered his words directly to the Jews, the rich man pictures first a class among them with privileges and advantages like those described. In the final application of the parable in our own day, he pictures a similar class now, the counterpart of that in Jesus’ day. Jesus was talking partly for the benefit of the Pharisees, who were listening in, and they were money-lovers. So the facts and the Scriptures bear out that the rich man stands for a class of religious leaders who are rich in spiritual privileges and opportunities and who conduct themselves as the rich man did.
7. What did the rich man’s clothing himself with purple represent?
7 Clothing is a symbol of position, rank, material means, and identity. Purple was a color of royalty. When the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus’ royal claims and lineage, they “arrayed him with a purple outer garment” and said to him: “Good day, you king of the Jews!” (John 19:2-5, NW; Mark 15:16-20) The leaders claimed to be in line for God’s kingdom, remembering God’s words to them through Moses at Mount Sinai: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) Jesus even referred to them as the “children of the kingdom” and disclosed to us who they were, saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before mankind; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.” Because of this course of action Jesus said: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and be given to a nation producing its fruits”; and the chief priests and the Pharisees took note that he was speaking about them. (Matt. 8:12; 23:13; 21:43, 45, NW) So here already we have the rich man identified as representing the hypocritical Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests, which included the Sadducees; and these constituted the Jewish clergy or religious leaders.
8. What did clothing himself with linen represent?
8 The rich man clothed himself not alone with purple, but also with linen. This is significant, for in Scripture linen pictures righteousness: “the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the holy ones.” (Rev. 19:8, NW) If there was one class on earth that laid claim to righteousness, self-made righteousness, it was these Jewish religionists. Why, when the Pharisees were sneering at Jesus, he said to them just before he told about the rich man and Lazarus: “You are those who declare yourselves righteous before men, but God knows your hearts; because what is lofty among men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15, NW) Thus he told them they figuratively clothed their exterior with linen. But it was to cover over a disgusting interior. He later pointed this out in these words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every kind of uncleanness. In that way you also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 23:27, 28, NW) For this reason he gave the parable of the Pharisee and the despised tax collector, because the Pharisaical crowd “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and . . . considered the rest as nothing”. (Luke 18:9-14, NW) But the tax collector went home really more righteous than the Pharisee.
9. Why did their righteousness not have a proper basis?
9 Showing off in their fine linen, they paraded their righteousness publicly in order to be visible to men, sounding a trumpet before them when they made their distribution of charity so as to call attention to themselves and win applause. (Matt. 6:1, 2) The apostle Paul was once a zealous member of that strict sect of the Pharisees and considered himself blameless as far as righteousness by means of the Mosaic law is concerned. But he abandoned that false course of self-righteousness, that he might gain real righteousness: “not my own righteousness which results from law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which issues from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil. 3:4-6, 9, NW) As a Christian he deplored the course of the Israelites under the leadership of their clergy and said: “Israel, although pursuing a law of righteousness, did not attain to the law. For what reason? Because he pursued it, not by faith, but as by works. . . . For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the accomplished end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.” (Rom. 9:31, 32; 10:2-4, NW) So the linen with which the “rich man” class clothed themselves was not the kind that God gives through Christ. It was self-righteousness, and Jesus courageously exposed it as such.
PERSONS WITH A PEDIGREE
10, 11. (a) What descent strengthened their self-assurance? (b) But what did they not appreciate about the uncertainty of their position?
10 One thing that strengthened the “rich man” class in their self-assurance and haughtiness was something the parable later shows, namely, that they were the natural descendants of Abraham. To Abraham Jehovah God upon his own oath had given the promise: “By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, . . . I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22:16-18, AS) Hence they said to Jesus: “We are Abraham’s offspring and never have we been slaves to anybody.”
11 Jesus replied: “I know you are Abraham’s offspring; but you are seeking to kill me, because my word makes no progress among you.” He said that, if they were Abraham’s children, then they ought to do the works of Abraham. But even before Jesus, John the Baptist warned them against depending too much upon natural descent from the faithful friend of God. When he caught sight of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the baptism he said to them: “You offspring of vipers, . . . do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘As a father we have Abraham.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (John 8:33, 37, 39 and Matt. 3:7-9, NW) They were of the stock of Abraham naturally, like the natural branches in a cultivated olive tree. But they did not appreciate that they could be broken off from that stock because of not believing in the Son of God, the principal Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Besides that, branches from a wild olive tree could be miraculously grafted into the places vacated by them. Another thing: Abraham had two natural sons, Ishmael and Isaac; and they could be cast away as Ishmael was, leaving Isaac the full heir, because he was miraculously born in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.—Rom. 11:1, 17-24; Gal. 4:29, 30.
12. Because of what possession could they feast sumptuously?
12 Being so highly favored naturally because of their descent from the faithful forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they enjoyed themselves from day to day amid magnificence. The “rich man” class could feast at a sumptuous table, because, Jesus’ parable notifies us, they had rich spiritual provisions, “Moses and the Prophets.” Moses represented the Law and the first five books of the Bible which he wrote, whereas the Prophets included the writings of the early and later prophets; and linked with these were the Psalms or collection of Bible books headed by the Psalms. All together, these comprised the Hebrew Scriptures, and it was from these that Jesus continually quoted to prove he was the Messiah or Christ, the promised Seed of Abraham. “And commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” He said: “All the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me must be fulfilled.”—Luke 24:27, 44, NW.
13. Over whom, then, did they have the advantage? How was this testified to?
13 Consequently, with this God-given treasure the circumcised Israelites had an advantage over all the Gentile nations. Paul asks: “What, then, is the superiority of the Jew, or what is the benefit of the circumcision? A great deal in every way. First of all, because they were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:1, 2, NW) Standing before the Jewish Sanʹhe·drin presided over by the high priest, the Christian martyr Stephen said to them: “This is the Moses that . . . came to be among the congregation in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai and with our forefathers, and he received living sacred pronouncements to give you.” (Acts 7:37, 38, NW) The apostle Paul spoke of them as “my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, who, as such, are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the sacred service and the promises; to whom the forefathers belong and from whom Christ sprang according to the flesh”. (Rom. 9:3-5, NW) Jehovah God indeed set an exclusive feast before his chosen people, and hence the psalmist said: “He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his ordinances, they have not known them. Praise ye Jehovah.”—Ps. 147:19, 20, AS.
14. Who especially in Israel feasted? Were they in Abraham’s bosom?
14 This privilege of feasting was specially true of the religious leaders in Israel, the “rich man” class back there. They had the “key of knowledge” therefore, and it was their privilege to teach the common people. But though they feasted at the rich man’s table, reclining in magnificence and assuming to be Abraham’s promised seed, yet they did not recline in the “bosom of Abraham” and obtain his chief favor. Jesus disclosed the reason when he said to his religious opposers: “Woe to you who are versed in the Law, because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!” (Luke 11:52, NW) Certainly the “rich man” represents a selfish lot of religionists both back there and today. Though furnished with such a sumptuous table of spiritual food, they let very little drop from it or be thrown away from it for the poor people to enjoy.
THE POOR BEGGAR LAZARUS
15. Who was laid at the rich man’s gate, and why?
15 Jesus now shifts our view from inside the rich man’s palace to outside his gate, with the words: “But a certain beggar named Lazarus used to be put at his gate, full of ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, too, the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.” (Luke 16:20, 21, NW) The beggar Lazarus had a right to be at the rich man’s gate, for God’s law specifically taught the well-to-do to be openhanded toward the poor. If the “rich man” class had conducted themselves unselfishly according to God’s law, with love for their neighbor as for themselves, there would have been no poor in the land. But now that there actually were poor in the land because of the self-seeking world organization, the rich man was under orders by the Law and also under warning by the Prophets to consider the poor and to give some relief to them.—Deut. 15:4, 7, 9, 11; Ps. 41:1, 2.
16. Does Lazarus name a literal person? What does the name indicate?
16 Just as the selfish rich man represented a class of persons, so the beggar or poor man represented a class back in Jesus’ day as well as now. By discerning the class in Jesus’ day we can identify the class that is the modern counterpart now. From 1881 till the end of 1939 it was taught that the rich man represented the Jewish nation as a whole and that the beggar pictured the Gentiles or all the nations aside from Israel.a But Jesus gives the beggar the name Lazarus, which was a Jewish name indicating him to be a Jew, not a Gentile. It is a Greek form of the name “Eleazar”, which means “God is helper”. The facts show that this “beggar” class began with Jews, but it was enlarged to include Gentiles, so that today it is mostly Gentile. Lazarus was of the same Jewish community with the rich man. There was no wall of partition between them because of race or natural extraction. The difference between them was because of the superiority and privileges which the religious clergy had selfishly assumed to themselves.
17. Whom does Lazarus picture, and why as a beggar?
17 The beggar Lazarus therefore pictures the poor people, of the Jews then and of Christendom now. The religious clergy and leaders deny them proper spiritual nourishment and privileges and attention, to which they have a right according to God’s will and commands. In Jesus’ day the “rich man” class included the Pharisees, and these treated the common people with supreme contempt. History tells us they called them ‵am ha-arets or people of the earth as being beneath their feet and notice. Worthy of a resurrection to eternal life? Not such people! Men who became disciples of the Jewish rabbis or teachers were thought to be in a much better position for this. When they paid the rabbis well, they bought the favorable opinion of such teachers. How fittingly Luke’s account says that the Pharisees were listening in on Jesus’ parable and that they were money-lovers and sneered at Jesus of Nazareth, from which obscure town it was thought no good thing could come! They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and . . . considered the rest as nothing”.—John 1:46; Luke 18:9-11, NW.
18, 19. Why was he pictured as full of ulcers, a companion of dogs?
18 By such religious leaders, clothed in their linen of self-righteousness, the poor unlearned people were looked down on as spiritually diseased, just like Lazarus covered with ulcers. They viewed the poor just as Job’s three self-righteous friends viewed him when the Devil, Satan, had stricken him with boils from head to foot in order to make it appear that God’s hand was against Job. Contemptuously the chief priests and Pharisees said concerning the people who believed in Jesus: “This crowd that does not know the law are accursed people.”—Job 2:1-13; John 7:49, NW.
19 So they classed such people as under God’s curse and fit to associate intimately only with dogs, which could eat the flesh of animals torn by beasts in the field and to which no holy things were to be cast. Let them prowl around the city like hungry scavenger dogs at nightfall, howling if they find nothing to eat. The uncircumcised Gentiles were classed as dogs, and let these lick the ulcers of the poor and give them some soothing relief. (Ex. 22:31; Matt. 7:6; 15:26, 27; Ps. 59:6, 14, 15; Mark 7:27, 28) Being spiritually neglected by the lofty leaders who held them in disdain, they would naturally become ulcerous and sick spiritually. It was to such neglected and diseased ones that Jesus came to minister God’s healing Word. When the Pharisees complained to his disciples, “Why is it that your teacher eats with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said: “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do. Go, then, and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ Accordingly, I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”—Matt. 9:11-13, NW; Mark 2:16, 17.
20. Who put the beggar at the rich man’s gate, and why there?
20 The beggar Lazarus was put at the rich man’s gate, for he wanted to be filled with the things that dropped from the rich man’s table. Whatever was thrown away from that sumptuous table would never be missed by the rich man. It could be turned over to the beggar without a fanfare of trumpets to call public notice to his charitableness to the poor. Some of the community put Lazarus at his gate. Like Lazarus, they thought the religious clergy to be the ones from whom alone spiritual nourishment could come from God, and so they directed the Lazarus class of poor unlearned people to look to the religious leaders and teachers for all spiritual supplies.
21. With what did the Lazarus class want to be fed, but what did they get?
21 The Lazarus class hunger and thirst for righteousness, conscious of their spiritual need and desiring spiritual food to put them in a healthy state of heart and mind and to strengthen them to serve God aright. They want more than the empty, futile philosophies of men; but this is what the “rich man” class gives them. It gives them the precepts of men and the traditions of religious elders which overstep God’s commands and make his Word of no force. Seeking ease for themselves, they bind and put heavy burdens upon the shoulders of mankind. Not wanting themselves to go into the kingdom of heaven through Jesus Christ, they try to prevent the Lazarus class from going in. Consequently only morsels of real spiritual food have they let drop for the health and strength of the Lazarus class. Only a little comfort have these received from God’s Word and arrangements, while the self-righteous “rich man” class apply all the main blessings to themselves. (Col. 2:8; Matt. 15:1-9; 23:4, 13, NW) Small wonder that Jesus publicly castigated the religious “rich man” class and called them “hypocrites, fools, blind guides, serpents, offspring of vipers”! How noble that he took up the cause of the poor and uplifted and comforted them!
Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.—1 Tim. 6:9, 10, NW.
a See “Lazarus Comforted”, in The Watchtower of Dec. 15, 1939; also “Poor Man Comforted”, in the booklet Refugees, published in 1940.