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No government program or private enterprise, however well-meaning, can eradicate poverty. The world’s poor have but one hope: Zion!
Some ninety years before Alma, King Benjamin laid down constitutional laws mirroring those established by Moses. Central to King Benjamin’s law was the condition of the heart, which translated into the people’s treatment of their unfortunate brothers and sisters: “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.”[i]
If we also judge the poor harshly, the king said, we compound our sin against these people, and we put our inheritance in the celestial kingdom at risk:
Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.[ii]
A terrible condemnation awaits those who judge a poor person and withhold that which does not belong to the withholder:
And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done. I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.[iii]
The Evil of the Age: Life for Money
A certain proverb pronounces a curse upon those who would enrich themselves at the expense of the poor or who would give their substance to the rich for unholy purposes: “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.”[iv]
Could there be any sin more disgusting than viewing human beings as property, their only value being that which they can produce for their employers? At its worst, this attitude leads to slavery. To a lesser degree, this attitude defines the common philosophy of business: profit is more important than people—profit at all costs. Is this philosophy ethical? For Babylon, yes; for Zion, no.
Often, business ethics smack of the philosophy advanced by Korihor the anti-Christ: “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and . . . every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime.”[v] One need only consider modern-day business ethics to see this anti-Christ philosophy in action. Employees are often valued and compensated solely according to their profitability to their employer, and, by and large, that valuation will determine the employee’s prosperity or his poverty.
Hugh Nibley traced oppression of the poor back to Cain. It was Satan, he said, who taught Cain--
a special course to make him prosperous in all things: the Mahan technique, the great secret of converting life into property. Later Lamech graduates with the same degree—‘Master Mahan, master of that great secret’ (Moses 5:49). He glories in what he has done; it becomes the normal world economy. Nearly all the posterity of Adam, we are told, entered into business, and all Adam and Eve could do about it was to mourn before the Lord (Moses 5:27). Everyone went off following the Canaanites. And Cain did it all, we are told, for the sake of getting gain (Moses 5:31). He was not ashamed; he ‘gloried in that which he had done.’ He said, ‘I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands’ (Moses 5:33).[vi]
“Particularly reprehensible in Nibley’s view is the common practice of some employers who, in the spirit of the perverse ‘work ethic,’ withhold from laborers the necessities of life in exchange for services—‘life in exchange for profits.’ ‘To make merchandise of another’s necessity is an offense to human dignity.’ ‘The prevailing evil of the age’ is ‘that men withhold God’s gifts from each other in a power game.’”[vii]
King Benjamin denounced such dealings: “And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.”[viii]
Fair is fair. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”[ix] If the tables were turned, the selfish rich man would be the first to cry foul.”
The author of Ecclesiastes speaks of accumulating wealth and withholding one’s substance from the poor as “vanity” or the symptoms of an “evil disease” that can only result in loneliness, sorrow, and misery:
There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. . . . All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness. . . . There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.[x]
Perhaps worse than the sins of ignoring, withholding from, and harshly judging the poor is the sin of using a poor man’s labor to enrich one’s self. This sin runs contrary to the Lord’s law of fair pay: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”[xi] As we have noted, this sin is commonplace and, unfortunately, defines the economic condition of the last days.
A Curse on the Daughters of Zion
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord, along with the
Then the Lord will answer, “Ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor.” Could we be guilty of such a crime? After all, are we not the chosen ones, the children of Zion? Certainly, we would never stoop to such an abysmal level.
But, according to Isaiah, the Lord was adamant in his condemnation of the selfish, so much so that he pronounced a curse, which interestingly in this case was directed at his latter-day daughters who would proudly go about wanting this and that, and who would be consumed by fashion:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet—
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.