Are you better off?

In 1980, Ronald Reagan debated Jimmy Carter in that year’s presidential contest. Reagan asked a question that resonated with voters. “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked.

Many people believe the measure of a government is how much economically “better off” citizens are. The true measure of a nation is much different.

God’s people in the prophet Isaiah’s time were wealthy and successful. God was dissatisfied with Israel because they were guilty of sin. Israel had forgotten its primary allegiance and its most profound need was its obedience to God.

Homer Hailey, in his classic commentary of Isaiah wrote, “All of this accumulation of material wealth and power had led the Jews to forget their dependence on God.”[1] Israel had begun to think its success was assured because it was successful. Little did it realize that material wealth is a terrible indicator of national well-being.

What is a good sign of national success? In Isaiah 2, God said the acid test of any nation is how it cares for the poor. God asked, “What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:15 NASB). Israel was crushing people and grinding their faces. Israel was instructed to care for the poor and the orphan, but in its sinfulness, it was hurting those who were least able to defend themselves.

Economic indicators are a popular method of measuring success by many people, but that is not the way God views it. The prophet Amos also took the northern kingdom of Israel to task for failing to care for its poor (Amos 4:1; 5:11, 12).

Why is it that caring for the poor is the true measure of a people? If a nation cares for its poor, it is doing so in obedience to the commands of God. It is selfishness and ungodliness that drives governments (and people who run them) to neglect those who need help.

[1] “A Commentary on Isaiah,” by Homer Hailey, Baker Publishing, Page 50.