Beggar


Occurrences.

Biblical references to begging are scanty. Baqas appears over two hundred times, but is tr. “begging” in Psalm 37:25, RSV, KJV. The form is participial and stresses the continuance of the verbal idea. The seed of the righteous does not need to be begging for food. The implication is that God will supply his needs.

Ša’al usually means “ask,” but appears as “beg” in Proverbs 20:4, KJV. The exhortation is to diligence in plowing in order that a harvest may ultimately come. Those who delay their efforts are apt to be embarrassed later by having to beg. In a series of imprecations in Psalm 109:10, the Heb. verb appears in an intensified form making it clear that it is “begging” and not just “asking” that is in view. The reducing of the children of the wicked to begging is considered a fitting judgment.

Extolling the Lord in 1 Samuel 2:8, Hannah speaks of God as one who “...lifts the needy (beggar KJV) from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” The KJV rendering is inaccurate.

In Luke 16:3 the unjust steward laments that he may be reduced to beggary and would be ashamed of this state. The Gr. verb is epaiteō and is noted in Arndt as meaning essentially “ask for more.” The steward is undoubtedly thinking of a state of begging.

Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35 speak of blind Bartimaeus in the vicinity of Jericho receiving healing from the Lord. The present participle depicts a state of begging. His incessant cry for mercy did not go unheeded. Blindness appears to be the cause of begging in John 9:8 also, where Jesus anointed the eyes of the sightless and instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam. When he had received his sight the crowd inquired whether this was the man “...who used to sit and beg.” The identical grammatical form appears in Mark 10:46 noted above. The emphasis is upon the continuing nature of the affliction and the begging it necessitated.

Causes.

Israel was never without her poor and afflicted. The poverty that seemed to require begging for the sustaining of life was at times occasioned by natural disasters, e.g. blindness, and also by marauding enemies who stripped the land of its crop. Because widows, orphans, and aliens without land rights were esp. apt to suffer under such circumstances, special laws were designed to protect them (Deut 10:17-19; 24:19-22; 28:29; Ps 68:5, 6). In some instances the presence of begging testifies to ineffective public relief and limited medical knowledge. The heavy taxation on the land by Rome was also a factor in encouraging poverty and its attendant ills. It must be remembered that plain indolence was sometimes the cause (Prov 20:4). In later times the concept of almsgiving as efficacious developed, and from a legalistic point of view seemed to vindicate begging as a practice, since it provided opportunity for works of righteousness. Jesus warned against externalism in deeds of charity (Matt 6:1-4). Without question the development of urban centers tended to encourage begging as a profession.

Attitudes toward begging.

No provision is found in the Mosaic legislation to legalize begging. There is no term in Biblical Heb. to describe the professional beggar. Begging is a part of a curse (Ps 109:10). Professional beggars were despised by the Jews, and support for them from the general charity fund was prohibited. The Bible does encourage concern and compassion for the poor (Deut 15:4, 7, 8). Material prosperity was the blessing of God and these mercies should be shared with those in need. In spiritual decadence, almsgiving was equated with righteousness. This was a legalistic turn which testifies to man’s ability to pervert the ways of God.

Bibliography

J. D. Douglas, NBD (1962), 26; J. Orr, ISBE, vol. I, 425, 426; The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. I, 621, 622; R. Kittel, Biblia Hebraica (7th ed. 1951); K. Aland and others, The Greek New Testament; G. Kittel, TWNT, vol. I (1964).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. No Law Concerning Beggars or Begging in Israel:

It is significant that the Mosaic law contains no enactment concerning beggars, or begging, though it makes ample provision for the relief and care of "the poor in the land." Biblical Hebrew seems to have no term for professional begging, the nearest approach to it being the expressions "to ask (or seek) bread" and "to wander." This omission certainly is not accidental; it comports with the very nature of the Mosaic law, the spirit of which is breathed in this, among other kindred provisions, that a poor Hebrew who even sold himself for debt to his wealthy brother was allowed to serve him only until the Jubilee (See Jubilee), and his master was forbidden to treat him as a sl ave (Le 25:39). These laws, as far as actually practiced, have always virtually done away with beggars and begging among the Jews.

2. Begging Not Unknown to the Ancient Jews:

Begging, however, came to be known to the Jews in the course of time with the development of the larger cities, either as occurring among themselves, or among neighboring or intermingling peoples, as may be inferred from Ps 59:15; compare Ps 109:10, where Yahweh is besought that the children of the wicked may be cursed with beggary, in contra-distinction to the children of the righteous, who have never had to ask bread (Ps 37:25, "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed asking (English Versions, "begging") bread.") For the Hebrew expression not corresponding to "begging" see Ps 59:15, "They shall wander up and down for food"; and compare Ps 119:10, "Let me wander," etc.

3. Begging and Alms-taking Denounced in Jewish Literature:


4. Professional Beggars a Despised Class: As to professional beggars, originally, certainly, and for a long time, they were a despised class among the Hebrews; and the Jewish communities are forbidden to support them from the general charity fund (BB, 9a; Yoreh De`ah, 250, 3). But the spirit of the law is evinced again in that it is likewise forbidden to drive a beggar away without an alms (ha-Yadh ha- Chazaqah, in the place cited 7 7).

5. In the Gospel Age:

Begging was well known and beggars formed a considerable class in the gospel age. Proof of this is found in the references to almsgiving in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7 and parallels), and in the accounts of beggars in connection with public places, e.g. the entrance to Jericho. (Mt 20:30 and parallels), which was a gateway to pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to the great festivals and in the neighborhood of rich men’s houses (Lu 16:20), and especially the gates of the Temple at Jerusalem (Ac 3:2). This prevalence of begging was due largely to the want of any adequate system of ministering relief, to the lack of any true medical science and the resulting ignorance of remedies for common diseases like ophthalmia, for instance, and to the impoverishment of the land under the excessive taxation of the Roman government (Hausrath, History of New Testament Times, I, 188 (Eng. translation Williams and Norgate), compare Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, II, 178). That begging was looked down upon is incidentally evidenced by the remark of the unjust steward, "To beg I am ashamed" (Lu 16:3); and that, when associated with indolence, it was strongly condemned by public opinion appears from Sirach (40:28-30).

The words used for "beg," "beggar" of English Versions of the Bible in the New Testament differ radically in idea: in those formed from aiteo (Mr 10:46; Lu 16:3; 18:35; Joh 9:8 the Revised Version (British and American)) the root idea is that of "asking," while ptochos (Lu 16:20,22) suggests the cringing or crouching of a beggar. But see Mt 5:3 where the word for "humble" is ptochos.

6. A Change in Modern Times:

A marked change has come over Jewish life in modern times, in this as well as in other respect. Since the 17th century the Jewish poor in many parts of the world have made it a practice, especially on Fridays and on the eves of certain festivals, to go systematically from house to house asking alms. In parts of Europe today it is a full-grown abuse: crowds of Jewish beggars push their way and ply their trade about the synagogue doors (Abrahams, EB, article "Alms," 310). So the Jewish beggar, in spite of the spirit of the law and ancient Jewish custom, has, under modern conditions too well known to require explanation here, become a troublesome figure and problem in modern Jewish society. For such beggars and begging, see Jew Encyclopedia, articles "Schnorrers," "Alms," etc., and for another kind of begging among modern Jews, and collections for poverty-stricken Jewish settlers in Palestine, see the articles "Chalukah," "Charity," etc.

LITERATURE.

Saalschiutz, Arch. der Hebraer, II, chapter xviii (Konigsberg, 1855-56); Riehm Handworterbuch zu den Buchern des A T, under the word "Almosen "; compare Jew Encyclopedia, HDB, and Encyclopedia B, arts, "Alms"; and Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, chapters xvii, xviii (Philadelphia, 1896); Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs; Day, The Social Life of the Hebrews.

George B. Eager

See also

  • Occupations and Professions