Proverbs 24:11-12

Forbearing to Deliver

11 If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; 12 If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?


1. This proverb speaks about personal responsibility.

2. The proverb is vague enough to cover different types of violent injustice that might be encountered.

3. This is a proverb which speaks of culpability.

The Situation: Those that are drawn to death…

1. The situation here is that of people about to be put to death – slain.

2. Clearly Solomon had in mind those who were being drawn to death and ready to be slain unnecessarily or unjustly.

a. We know that that is the case because we are NOT to deliver those who are being drawn to death as a penalty for their crime (capital punishment cases).

b. Carrying out capital punishment was just and fair according to Jewish law… and in some countries today too.

c. God would not institute the death penalty and then encourage people (with proverbs like this) to RESCUE people delivered to be executed for their crime.

d. Therefore, it is obvious that being “drawn to death” here means unjustly… unfairly.

3. Solomon is speaking about a situation in which people KNOW that someone is about to be killed unfairly or unjustly.

a. Perhaps they overheard some criminals planning a murder.

b. Perhaps they have information about a murder trial in which an innocent person is being charged… and the information they have could clear this innocent person.

c. Perhaps they are aware of a danger at work in which someone will be killed if they use a piece of defective machinery.

d. Perhaps they have become privy to the intentions of a supremacy group (white, black, red, or yellow) which is planning to execute a community leader.

e. Perhaps you know a young girl who is thinking about aborting her baby.

f. Perhaps you hear that someone placed a pipe bomb in the mall.

g. If you see a man wounded and beaten on the side of the road… like the Levite, the priest, and the Good Samaritan did.

h. Perhaps you notice that there is a huge sinkhole in the middle of a highway that would swallow up several cars and lead to some horrific accidents resulting in death…

i. There are lots of possibilities for a passage like this: situations which would lead to someone’s death.

j. This is not information we come upon every day, but somebody somewhere in the world comes upon such information virtually every day.

k. But it COULD happen to you or me—that we come across information that could save the life of an innocent person.

l. And of course, while the passage is speaking about someone who is facing DEATH, it could certainly be applied to other situations in which a person might be injured or hurt in some way. This opens up the floodgates for application.

m. What is our responsibility?

The Crime: Forbearing to deliver…

1. If we KNOW it and forbear to deliver…

2. Forbear: To withhold; keep back; restrain; to keep from doing something.

3. The situation being described is one in which someone might be KILLED and we KNOW about it.

a. The point is that we know that an innocent person is about to be killed unjustly or unnecessarily and we restrain ourselves from doing something to prevent it.

b. It speaks of a situation that we have the power to prevent, but we restrain ourselves and do nothing to stop it.

c. This is clearly a sin of OMISSION.

4. Sometimes you don’t have to DO anything to sin. Sometimes NOT doing something is a sin.

a. That is the case Solomon describes here.

b. James 4:17 – “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

c. John 15:22 – “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin…”

d. Luke 12:47 – “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

e. We are accountable for the light that we have.

f. Thus, the man who has information that could save someone’s life or limb and forbears to help is accountable for the light that he had.

5. There are lots of reasons people might “forbear” from doing anything—especially in our modern society.

a. “I don’t want to get involved.”

b. “It’s none of my business.”

c. “I might make enemies if I say something.”

d. “It’s too much trouble.”

e. “I’m too busy to take the time.”

f. “I’ll leave that job to the police.”

g. “Someone else will take care of it.”

6. The Mosaic Law dismissed all such excuses and held the person who KNEW culpable.

a. In a sense we really ARE our brother’s keeper.

b. Ex. 21:33 – In this case, the man KNEW that the hole was there.
• He also knew that a passing animal was likely to fall in.
• Therefore, he is responsible for the damage done.
• It is negligence on his part—and he was to pay for knowing and not doing anything to prevent the accident.

The Excuse: We knew it not…

1. This proverb doesn’t speak about the various reasons why some people would not respond.

2. Instead it focuses on one false EXCUSE: “I didn’t know.”

a. The man in question here DID know, but he lied and said he did not know.

b. If he knew he would be culpable, but it’s hard to convict this person for negligence for what he did not know. How do you prove what he knew?

c. This sort of problem remains an issue today too. We always hear reporters calling out to one suspected of being culpable for some sort of crime or cover up: “What did you know and when did you know it?”

d. If he knew, and knew it in time to prevent a tragedy, he is culpable… morally if not legally.

3. If a person DID know but chose not to do anything to deliver the innocent, then he shares in the guilt of the crime—even if he was not personally involved in the crime itself.

a. He shares in the guilt because he could have saved someone’s life… but chose not to.

b. Thus, this person who knew and did nothing has a vested personal interest in NOT letting others know that he knew. If it is discovered that he knew and did nothing, he shares the guilt of the crime.

c. Hence, the tendency to lie: “I knew it not.”

The Consequences: God knows the truth and judges according to works…

1. The man who falsely claimed that he didn’t know is reminded about God.

a. God is described as the One who ponders the hearts of men.

b. God knows everything that is going on in our hearts and minds.

c. Thus, God knows that the person DID know.

d. This person might lie to the police or the judge when he claimed “I knew it not,” and they might have no way to verify whether he is telling the truth or not.

e. But there is no fooling God. He knows the heart.

2. And God judges the heart.

a. Jer. 17:10 – “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”

3. God will render to every man according to his WORKS.

a. In other words, we will be judged for what we DID with the light, knowledge, and information that we had.

b. God knows our heart (He knows what we know).

c. And He knows what we DID with that knowledge.

d. Judgment is based on what we did or did not do – our works.

Our Responsibility:

1. This proverb speaks of our personal responsibility to speak up for the defense of the oppressed who are defenseless and are facing death.

a. If we can disprove false charges leveled against an innocent person, we are responsible to do so.

b. If we have information that might save the life of an innocent person, God expects us to do so.

2. Our responsibility in such cases does not come from a particular passage or command, but rather from a general love for justice and truth.

a. We should always be on the side of justice and truth.

b. If we have the information or power to rescue the innocent, we SHOULD speak up and DO something. It is a moral obligation.

Examples of Those Who Did the Right Thing

1. Consider the Hebrew midwives.

a. They were commanded to KILL innocent Jewish babies.

b. They knew that the innocent were slated for death. They risked their lives to protect the innocent.

c. Sometimes following the principle in this proverb involves disobeying an unjust order.

d. Soldiers in the army of a vicious dictator may have to disobey an order that is clearly unjust. (Not just a policy with which he disagrees.)

e. It could be a government requires you to abort a second or third child. It is better to obey God than man.

2. Consider the example of Esther.

a. She knew the evil decree against her people, AND she had the unique opportunity to speak up for her people.

b. She did so at the risk of her own life.

c. Sometimes obeying the principle in this proverb involves sticking your neck out… it puts ourselves at risk.

d. People who testify in court to protect the life of an innocent man may have to point the finger at a gang member. They do so at a risk to their own life… and may require witness protection.

e. The cause of justice may be personally costly.

3. Consider the example of the Good Samaritan.

a. He could have walked by the wounded man like the Levite and the priest.

b. But he stopped and did what he could to save a life… because he had the knowledge and the wherewithal to do so.

c. Sometimes it involves paying a monetary price.

4. Consider the example of Obadiah.

a. He hid the Lord’s prophets.

b. He had knowledge of the plot to kill them and rather than sit by and watch innocent men killed, he DID something about it.

c. It was costly to him too. He fed them and kept them alive.

d. He could have been seen as a traitor by the wicked Jezebel.

5. Consider the Apostle Paul’s nephew.

a. He had information about a murder plot that saved Paul’s life.

b. He stepped forward with the information and Paul was delivered.

6. Certainly this applies to preaching the gospel too:

a. There is a whole world out there which is facing death—even the second death, eternal condemnation.

b. We have information that could DELIVER them from death.

c. The song says, “Rescue the Perishing.”

d. Even if we didn’t have a command to preach the gospel to the lost, the principle in this proverb makes us morally responsible to rescue the perishing.

e. Eph. 6:18-19 – Paul says that we OUGHT to speak forth the gospel—moral obligation.