Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law

Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law

Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law

Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law


Any Christian response to today's ever-growing problem of poverty around the globe must be firmly rooted in biblical teaching. While books on various aspects of wealth and poverty in the Old and New Testaments have been published, so far there has been no thorough study of Old Testament law on the topic. David Baker argues here that an understanding of that law is not only fundamental for interpreting the entire Old Testament, but it is also assumed by the writers of the New Testament. Tight Fists or Open Hands? fills this gap in Old Testament scholarship and lays a foundation for considering the relevance of these laws to everyday life in the twenty-first century.

The heart of this book is a study of all the biblical laws concerned with wealth and poverty. Baker groups these laws together by topic, considering the similarities and differences between the Decalogue, Book of the Covenant, Holiness Code, and Deuteronomic laws. He then places these in the context of ancient Near Eastern law in order to make clear which attitudes are distinctly biblical and which are held in common with other civilized peoples.

Each section of Tight Fists or Open Hands? includes an extended conclusion that summarizes the main ideas, considers relationships with other biblical texts, and points to the significance of the laws for today's world. Such thorough exegesis and modern application make this book relevant to pastors, scholars, and students in a variety of courses.


The magnitude of the problem of wealth and poverty at the beginning of the third millennium can hardly be overstated. in Indonesia, where I lived for many years, it is impossible to ignore the contrast between the opulence of the super-rich and the destitution of those who own nothing apart from the rags they wear. Seventeen thousand islands provide vast natural resources, while the gentle climate and fertile land should ensure that all have at least enough to eat. Nevertheless, most Indonesians struggle to provide the bare essentials for their families because of the ongoing effects of feudalism, colonization, international debt, domestic corruption, mismanagement of resources, religious conflict, and a series of natural disasters. I used to think that things were much better in Britain, where people could earn a fair wage without excessive differentiation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and the state ensured that even those without employment would have their basic needs supplied. But now more and more people are homeless or in serious debt, despite the fact that an increasing number are enjoying unprecedented levels of luxury. It is an oversimplification to categorize the West (or the North) as rich and the East (or South) as poor, since there are desperately poor people in countries like America and Britain, while quite a few of the world’s billionaires are Asian. in almost every corner of the globe, the gap between rich and poor is growing.

It seems to me axiomatic that a Christian response to this problem should be based on a sound understanding of the Bible and a realistic view of how things actually are today. Living with one’s eyes open in the ‘Twothirds World’ does not permit a simplistic prosperity theology; on the other hand, liberation theology’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ . . .

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