When the Lord miraculously helped an Israelite woman named Hannah to bear a child, she praised Him in a prayer that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2. It says, among other things: “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” (v. 7) Like basically every Bible verse ever, it has often been taken out of context to be used as a proof text for people’s personal views. In this case, it has been argued that 1 Sam 2 divinely sanctions the poverty of the poor and the wealth of the rich, as well as promoting fatalism. I’ve heard several times “It’s not wrong to be rich, it says that the Lord sends wealth”, and sometimes also “It’s useless to fight poverty, it says that the Lord sends it.”
Here’s a radical idea: Let’s look at the context! Hannah says in verses 4 and 5: “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.”
Thus, Hannah argues that there is a transition of fairness at work, where the first will be last and the last will be first. And who’s responsible for this?
“The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.
For the foundations of the earth are the Lord ‘s; upon them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. It is not by strength that one prevails.” (vv. 6-9)
Hannah’s point is clearly that the Lord can give wealth to the poor and bring poverty to the rich, just as He can give children to the infertile (as Hannah just has experienced) while making those who have many kids impotent.
To argue then, that this text supports the status quo of the rich being rich and the poor being poor is the absolute opposite of what the text says. Hannah isn’t defending the fact that she previously couldn’t have children with a fatalistic “I guess God wants it…” – she’s saying that God can change such circumstances! She is the poor woman whim the Lord has given rich wealth in form of a prophetic child.
Hannah doesn’t even say that all wealth and poverty is caused by the Lord’s will, the context is clearly great economic change. The role of fatalism in Scripture is a big subject that requires much more discussion than this blog post can offer, but since Hannah does not deal with those getting rich and poor from oppression, but rather when personal economic revolutions take place, this particular passage cannot be used as an argument that everything that happens is according to God’s will.