What Does the Bible Say about the Homeless?

We can’t help it. We feel discomfort every time we see someone who’s dirty, dingy, desperate, and destitute. We wonder if we’re throwing money away supporting who-knows-what addictions they may have.

Then again, what does God have to say about these brothers and sisters of ours—and us?

1. Jesus knew what it was like to be homeless.

Jesus spent the better part of three years depending on the charity of others (Matthew 8:20, Luke 8:1-2, and Luke 9:58).

In turn, He and His disciples preached the Gospel to the poor (Matthew 5:3, Matthew 11:5, Luke 4:18, Luke 6:20, Luke 7:22, and John 12:5) and gave generously to the destitute and needy (Matthew 26:9, Mark 14:5, and John 13:29).

What’s more, Jesus didn’t just ‘say’ the words of the Gospel: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). He gave willingly.

So, it’s no wonder that Jesus promised eternal blessings for those who care for the homeless and destitute (Matthew 19:21, Matthew 25:31-40, Mark 10:21, Luke 11:41, Luke 12:33, Luke 14:13, Luke 18:22, and Luke 19:8).

Jesus also warned about eternal losses for those who spurn the needs of the poor (Matthew 25:41-46; see also Proverbs 19:17 and Proverbs 28:27). Later, Jesus’ half-brother, James, echoed a similar stern warning (James 2:1-9).

2. Paul experienced homelessness for many years while serving as an apostle (1 Corinthians 4:11).

There is no indication in Acts or his letters that Paul owned a house in Tarsus, Jerusalem, Antioch, or any other city for that matter. Like Jesus, Paul didn’t see the lack of assets, possessions, and wealth as a problem. Instead, he was passionate about giving financial aid to the truly poor and needy (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 9:1-15, and Galatians 2:10).

3. David was homeless for years while on the run from King Saul.

David lamented repeatedly, “I am poor and needy” (Psalm 40:17, Psalm 70:5, Psalm 86:1, and Psalm 109:22).  Yet, in every psalm David penned during those trying times, he reaffirmed his faith in the Lord his God. What’s more, David penned many of the verses listed in points #6-#10 below.

4. Moses was homeless after fleeing Egypt.

Forty years later, Moses cried out in prayer on behalf of God’s people (Psalm 90:13-16). There in the desert, God called Moses (Exodus 3:1-6) and told him to return to Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).

There God used Moses to bring about a great deliverance of God’s people from their oppressors (Psalm 77:16-20, Psalm 78:12-14, Psalm 78:42-53, Psalm 105:26-39, and Psalm 106:8-12).

In turn, Moses penned most of the verses listed in point #5 below.

5. In biblical times, loving your neighbor meant giving to the homeless and poor on a regular basis.

First, by inviting them to join your family for every holiday feast (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Deuteronomy 16:10-11, Deuteronomy 16:13-14, and Deuteronomy 26:11).

Second, by sharing part of your wealth with them every third year (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Third, by leaving part of your crops for them to glean during each and every harvest (Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 16:19-20, and Deuteronomy 24:19-21).

We see this intricately woven into the story of Ruth who, after her husband’s death, temporarily experienced homelessness and poverty (Ruth 2:2-3, Ruth 2:15-16, and Ruth 2:19-23).

6. God cares for the homeless, the poor and needy, the fatherless and widows, the immigrants and foreigners, afflicted and suffering, the helpless and hungry, the lonely and brokenhearted, the blind and broken, the prisoner and oppressed.

First, God loves the destitute. He makes them the object of His special love, protection, and concern (Deuteronomy 15:11, Psalm 68:5-10, Psalm 94:5-6, Psalm 103:6, Psalm 109:16, Psalm 140:12, Psalm 146:7-9, Psalm 147:6, Proverbs 10:3, and Proverbs 14:31).

Second, we repeatedly read that the Lord hears their cries. More than that, He defends them and encourages them (Psalm 10:17-18). He is their refuge (Psalm 14:6).

Third, God makes it crystal-clear that He doesn’t despise or disdain the destitute (Psalm 22:24 and Psalm 69:33). Instead, He gladly provides their daily bread (Psalm 17:14, Psalm 22:26, and Psalm 132:15).

Fourth, God delivers them from the oppression of wicked men (Psalm 35:10, Psalm 116:6, and Psalm 119:154).

Fifth, He makes their hearts alive again with joy (Psalm 69:32) and answers their heartfelt prayers (Psalm 102:17).

7. God delights in raising up the humble and righteous person to a position of honor.

God will cause them to inherit the land and enjoy great peace (Psalm 37:11). They will not be forsaken (Psalm 37:25). God desires to grant them blessings and prosperity (Psalm 65:9-13, Psalm 67:6-7, Psalm 68:9-10, Psalm 92:12-15, Psalm 127:2-5, Psalm 128:1-6, and Psalm 144:12-15). Their lost fortunes will be restored (Psalm 126:4-6).

God’s people may first have to go through much adversity, but eventually they will enjoy great abundance (Psalm 66:10-12). He withholds no good thing from those whose walk is blameless (Psalm 84:11 and Psalm 85:12). He bestows honor upon them (Psalm 113:7-9) and crowns them with salvation (Psalm 149:4). David himself experienced this.

At one point, he asked the Lord, “Give me a sign of your goodness” (Psalm 86:17 NIV). Then, after years of destitution, God made David ruler over a mighty nation. He and his people enjoyed unprecedented prosperity and peace.

8. God cares for the helpless.

This is true whether their own parents forsake them (Psalm 27:10), they have been afflicted since their youth (Psalm 88:15), or their close friend turns against them (Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14), as happened to David.

Often, however, God’s blessings go unclaimed because His people refuse to listen to Him or follow His ways (Psalm 81:11-16). This has been true since days of old (Psalm 78:7-8). Yet, God stands ever-ready to bless His people if they will but turn again to Him, in repentance (Psalm 106:4-6 and Psalm 106:47), whatever their current situation (Psalm 107).

Then again, riches without a right relationship with God are worthless (Psalm 49:20) because, as David reminds us, God rewards each person according to what he or she has done (Psalm 62:9-12; Romans 2:6, and 1 Corinthians 3:8).

9. God judges the oppressors of the poor and destitute.

God will break the arm of these oppressors and call them into account (Psalm 10:14-15). He will use their own weapons to destroy them (Psalm 37:14-15). He will rebuke them to their face for their evil deeds (Psalm 50:21). He will bring them down to everlasting ruin (Psalm 52:5). He will blot them out of the book of life (Psalm 69:22-28). Unjust judges will surely fall (Psalm 82:7). The proud oppressors will be destroyed (Psalm 94:23).

During his days of destitution, David’s enemies were many. Yet even when God delivered King Saul into his hand, David refused to harm him, reminding himself that vengeance belongs to the Lord alone.

In the end, God will judge the earth (Genesis 18:25). Yet, sometimes it appears as if the wicked will prosper forever. David’s friend Asaph admitted he almost lost his faith until God reminded him of their end (Psalm 73:2-3, Psalm 73:16-17, and Psalm 74:19-23).

10. God blesses the righteous person who assists the destitute.

Such a person is compassionate, lending money freely, without thought of usury (Psalm 15:5 and Psalm 112:4-5). With amazing generosity, he scatters abroad his gifts to the poor (Psalm 112:9). Those in positions of high authority have a special responsibility to defend the afflicted, save the children of the needy, take pity on the weak, save them from death, and crush the oppressor (Psalm 72:4 and Psalm 72:12-14).

How are we to respond? God longs to use you and me to assist the homeless and harassed. Let’s ask ourselves:

  • Do I truly care for the destitute?
  • How much do I long to see them blessed?
  • Am I pointing the needy to God their Savior?
  • Will I trust God to judge their oppressors?
  • What act of compassion will I show today?

headshot of David SanfordDavid Sanford coaches leaders passionate about demonstrating the relevance of Jesus Christ in every major sphere of life. His book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, and Amazon. His speaking engagements have ranged everywhere from The Billy Graham Center at the Cove (NC) to UC Berkeley (CA). 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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