1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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).