The First Saying:
Treatment of the Poor and Afflicted
1. A new section of the book of Proverbs began at Prov.22:17.
2. This section contains 30 wise sayings.
3. Verses 17-21 served as an introduction to the 30 wise sayings.
4. Tonight we are going to look at the first of these 30 sayings, which has to do with the treatment of the poor and afflicted.
1. This is a clear command against the rich and powerful taking advantage of the poor and the weak.
2. Poor: Low, poor, weak, helpless.
a. This speaks of the underclass… the underprivileged.
b. The term poor also speaks of those who are weak and helpless because poverty and political weakness so often go hand in hand.
c. In most societies, money is power.
d. Money buys so called justice.
e. Money buys all kinds of advantages.
f. Those with money have the power to hold on to their money.
g. Thus, there will always be class warfare in one degree or another. There has been since the beginning of time—apart from the very short age of innocence in the Garden of Eden.
h. Matt. 26:11 – Jesus said, “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”
i. It is just a fact of life. The war on poverty will never be won until the Kingdom comes.
j. This is true because of human nature:
• There will always be lazy people who will perpetuate poverty through their indolence.
• There will always be selfish, greedy people who keep hard working poor people poor.
• There will always be those who abuse alcohol and drugs.
• There will also continue to be various forms of bigotry.
• There will always be the abuses of raw greed.
• We can pass all the laws we want—but we will never change human nature.
• You can penalize poor behavior and reward good behavior, but unless society suddenly becomes overrun with regenerated Spirit filled hearts, there will always be poverty in one degree or another.
3. Rob: Tear away; seize; plunder; take away by force.
a. The command is not to defeat poverty.
b. Rather, the command is that we not rob the poor—that we be not part of the problem.
c. Believers living by the words of wisdom may not be able to once and for all resolve the problem, but we should at least not be part of the problem!
d. This implies that some men DO rob and plunder the poor, and take by force what little they have.
e. The poor are often an easy target too.
• They don’t have money, and thus are unable to protect and defend themselves.
• They might not be able to afford to live in a safe, protected, gated neighborhood.
• In court, they might not be able to afford a good lawyer.
• They might not be able to afford a good education, and are thus easy prey for unscrupulous businessmen who rob them of their little.
f. Ezek. 22:29 – This was a perennial problem in Israel (and worldwide).
4. Stealing is always wrong, but especially so when it is from the poor.
a. II Sam.12:1-6 – Nathan’s illustration of robbing the poor.
• The contrast is between a rich man who had many flocks, and a poor man who had but one little lamb.
• The rich man took the one little lamb from the poor man to feed his guest.
• When David heard this, he was outraged. He said the rich man deserved to die.
• The reason: not just because he stole, but because he was so heartless in robbing form the poor! He had no pity or mercy.
• The law required the Jews to show mercy to the poor and to relieve their affliction—not to CAUSE it!
5. Prov. 6:30 – “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.”
a. Solomon is not justifying theft. Nor is the author here promoting situational ethics.
b. Rather, he simply makes a point – that when a poor man steals because he is hungry, even though it is wrong and sinful, it is (at least from a human standpoint) understandable.
c. While our moral sense of right and wrong must condemn the action of stealing, our hearts go out to the man’s situation.
d. There is at least some sympathy for his pitiful state, for there for the grace of God go I. We wonder what we would have done in the same set of circumstances.
e. However, when a rich man robs a poor man, it is especially despicable and shameful.
f. There is no sympathy whatsoever for that rich man.
g. Even when a rich man takes advantage of other rich men, there is little sympathy. Consider Bernie Madoff. He robbed rich people and turned them into poor people! There is little-to-no sympathy for him.
h. Men DO despise a wealthy thief.
6. Solomon commands his readers NOT to rob the poor because he is poor.
a. This could be taken in two ways. It is a bit ambiguous—and perhaps on purpose.
b. It could be taken to mean that they were not to rob the poor because of the lowly condition of the poor. In other words, don’t rob the poor BECAUSE he’s already poor: if you must rob, don’t take from him!
c. It could also be understood this way: Don’t rob the poor because he is poor, and therefore an easy target… and because he is poor he is not able to defend himself. Thus, it is cowardly to rob the poor… because he is poor and unable to protect himself. Don’t take advantage of the helpless.
22b Neither oppress the afflicted in the gate:
1. Afflicted: Weak; wretched; humble; lowly.
a. This term refers to those who are suffering, in a state of poverty, oppression, misery from various causes: often because they are poor and needy.
b. Thus, this term is used almost as a synonym for “poor.” In fact, it is often translated poor.
c. The slight difference is that this term seems to emphasize the suffering associated with the status of being poor.
2. The afflicted are not to be oppressed.
a. Oppress: Crush; break; apply pressure to an object, which if alive, will hurt, bruise, or kill; to beat down; to bruise.
b. This is quite a harsh term used to describe the way some (mostly the rich and powerful) treat the poor and afflicted.
c. The rich and powerful landowners and business owners make rules, administer their affairs, set the work conditions in place, they pass laws, all designed to increase their wealth… and seem like perfectly sensible, sane, and legitimate practices.
d. However, from the perspective of those who must live and work under those conditions, what seemed sensible to the wealthy owners may be crushing, hurtful, and oppressive to the poor.
e. There will always be this sort of tussle between employee and employer… between business and labor.
f. Very often, the poor, weak, and afflicted are oppressed as a result.
g. Solomon commands the wealthy NOT to oppress the afflicted.
3. In the gate…
a. The gate was the center of civil life in ancient times.
b. The gate is where the city leaders met and where court cases were heard.
c. Often the wealthy and powerful sat in the gate, hearing the various cases before them.
d. The proverb states: don’t oppress the poor in the judicial system.
e. The gate was where they should receive justice—not robbery, oppression, and fraud.
f. Yet as we know, the very place where justice OUGHT to be upheld it is sometimes twisted and corrupted.
1. Here, the author gives the REASON the rich and powerful were not to rob or oppress the poor and the afflicted: because God is on their side and will plead their case.
2. They often have no voice that can be heard.
3. However, in the theocracy, God will be their voice.
4. Plead their cause: To strive; contend; dispute; conduct a lawsuit.
a. They may not be able to afford expensive Philadelphia lawyers, but they don’t need one. God will fight for them.
b. And if God be for them, who could be against them?
c. If the wealthy work against the poor; God will work FOR them.
d. If the poor receive no justice at the city gate, they will receive justice before God’s throne.
e. Ps.140:12 – God WILL maintain the cause of the afflicted. The psalmist KNEW that for sure… because He knew God.
a. This speaks of divine justice and vengeance against those who rob the poor and oppress the afflicted.
b. It is a very familiar theme in Proverbs: you reap what you sow.
c. The spoiler will be spoiled: this is perfect poetic justice!
d. The wealthy spoiled the poor. They robbed them and took what little goods they had.
e. God will rob the rich and take the spoils (property) from them.
f. Psalm 12:5 – “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.”
• Those who oppress the poor may think the Lord is sleeping and not noticing.
• However, their actions will cause Him to arise…
1. Arise to defend the poor… and set him in safety.
2. Arise to judge the oppressors…
3. God spoils the spoiler.
4. The picture is of the poor and needy “sighing” – groaning because of the suffering inflicted on them by the oppressors. God hears their groans and sighings.
5. And He DOES something about it. He arises.
g. Prov. 22:16 – The oppressors will “come to want.”
h. Note that it says that God will spoil their “souls”. (Prov. 22:23)
• Some understand this to mean that God might take their physical lives. (soul is often used as a synonym for life)
• Even if the Lord does not spoil their wealth in this life, they may continue to possess wealth, but may not be able to enjoy it.
• And if the judgment does not come in this life, their souls will eventually be spoiled in the life to come.
• Of course ungodly thieves who rob the poor often mock God and make light of such threats now.
• But eventually, the spoiler will be spoiled… at the Great White Throne where God judges all men according to their works.