If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your gates in the land the LORD your God is giving you, you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. - Deuteronomy 15:7 HCSB

A rich man’s daughter fell in love with a poor shepherd. Her father was so incensed that he vowed the couple would never receive so much as a penny from him. However, the daughter valued the shepherd far more than she valued her father’s gold, so after an appropriate time of betrothal, she left her father’s house and became one with the poor man.

They were so poor that they didn’t even have a real bed! All they had to sleep on was a pile of straw. Every morning they would awake and laugh as they picked the straw out of their hair. The shepherd regretted being unable to provide his beautiful and gracious wife with the type of things to which she was accustomed but she kept reassuring him, “I desire you more than all the gold in Solomon’s palace.”

One day, Yahweh Shaphat[1] sent an angel to test the couple.[2] The angel arrived dressed as a beggar because the Lord God knows that a true test of a person’s heart is to see how they deal with those who are in need.[3] So the angel/beggar knocked on their door and pleaded, “Please give me a bundle of straw. My wife is in labor and we need a soft place for her to lie.”

The shepherd was glad to be of assistance. He threw open his door, allowed the supposed beggar in and said, “Here is some straw. Take all you need.” The angel grabbed up a big bundle of straw and left quickly, gladdened to see such a righteous and holy mortal. Hashem too rejoiced at the beautiful sight of such a lovely soul as these two humans had. He rewarded them – not with gold and jewels, but with a far more precious gift: the gift of wisdom.[4]

After many more years of faithful and steady obedience in the right direction[5], the shepherd became a very wise man indeed. In fact, all of Israel sought his advice and counsel and thus, his latter end was far better than his humble beginnings presaged.

We may proclaim our holiness to the four corners of the world. We may blow trumpets before we do our righteous works[6] and let our faces sag so that all will know that we are fasting.[7] Or, we may keep our righteous works to ourselves and quietly serve in the background. Neither is as good a test of true holiness as the manner with which we address and serve the poor and needy. That is because it is at those times that we reach out to those who cannot return the favor that we are most like Yahweh Yeshua who reached and to a bunch of lowly sinners in self-sacrificing love.[8]

[1] God our Judge (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:18; 96:13; Isaiah 33:22)

[2] Hebrews 13:2

[3] Deuteronomy 15:9; 2 Samuel 12:1-6; Job 29:7-17; Isaiah 58:6-7

[4] Proverbs 2:1-6; 3:13-16

[5] e.g. Eugene Peterson’s concept found in “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

[6] Matthew 6:2-4

[7] Matthew 6:16-18

[8] 1 Samuel 2:8