Oppression or Mercy to the Poor
1. In this proverb, Solomon shows the relationship between the way we treat people and our attitude towards God Himself.
2. Solomon exposes the lie and the hypocrisy of the man who, on the one hand, claims to love God… and on the other hand, oppresses those made in God’s image.
1. Oppression: to press upon; oppress; violate; defraud; do violence; get deceitfully; extort; exploit.
a. This term speaks of those who take advantage of the poor.
b. It was used in the sense of abuse of power… taking advantage of those who are unable to defend themselves.
c. Lev. 6:4 – “deceitfully gotten”
d. Deut. 24:14 – the law forbade oppressing servants who were poor—whether they were brethren or foreigners.
e. Ex 23:3 – Denying justice to the poor because of their social status (Cf. vs.6)
2. Poor Defined:
a. Strong’s: low, poor, weak, thin, one who is low
b. Dict. of Biblical Languages: Having little wealth and so of a humble condition and low status and vulnerable to oppression.
3. The usual attitude toward the poor
a. Prov. 14:20 – the poor is hated even of his own neighbor.
b. People tend to look down upon those who are not as well off as they are… who live on the other side of the tracks… there is often an heir of superiority about them…
c. Prov. 21:13 – People tend to close their ears to the cries of the poor… but consider the consequences!
d. There is also a tendency among us as Americans to assume that if someone is poor, it’s their own fault: it must be due to drug or alcohol abuse; laziness; undisciplined; etc. (and there are plenty of those!)
e. But that is not always the case. The Bible teaches that while behavior, diligence, and personal responsibility have an important role to play in this, they are not the only factors.
f. God is sovereign over wealth… and the ability to accumulate wealth.
g. Job 1:21 – And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
h. Job 2:10 – shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and shall we not receive evil?
i. Ecc. 5:19 – riches come from God… not simply our hard work or talent or from our business and marketing skills…
j. Jas. 1:17 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…
4. Results Personally:
a. Prov. 22:16 – he who oppresses the poor for personal gain shall come to want…
b. Ecc. 4:1 – no comfort for the oppressor either!
c. Mal. 3:5 – God is against and will judge those who oppress.
d. Ps. 72:4 – God will BREAK the oppressors.
e. Ps. 140:12 – God maintains their cause.
1. Maker: Creator; the One who made them
a. Prov. 22:2 – the Lord is the Maker of both the rich and the poor; both the oppressor and the oppressed.
b. Job 31:13-16 – how shall we answer God if we oppress a servant or the poor. Did not the same God make both of us in the womb?
2. Reproach: to reproach; taunt; blaspheme; treat with contempt; insult; ridicule.
a. Note that in this proverb, the opposite of reproach is honor.
b. Hence, Solomon is using this in the sense of bringing dishonor to God… through insult, ridicule, taunting, scorning, etc…
c. It is fair to say that the one who dishonors God is SINNING against God.
d. By oppressing the poor, he is sinning… dishonoring the God who made the poor… dishonoring the God in whose image those poor people were made.
e. God is affronted by ill treatment given to the poor. He takes offence personally by such treatment.
3. Ecc. 5:8 – the Creator observes ALL oppression done to the poor.
4. Prov. 22:22-23 – Oppressing and opposing the poor is not wise because it is God Himself who pleads the cause of the poor. God is on their side.
5. Ps.12:5 – God will stand up for the poor.
6. Prov. 17:5 – Mocking the poor is also reproaching God.
a. Mock: to mock; deride; ridicule.
b. We may not be in a position to oppress the poor as a king would or a political leader.
c. But this verse brings it a little closer to home: making fun of them is also a reproach to God their Maker.
d. Solomon equates this with gloating over the misfortunes of others. That is sin and God hates it.
e. Rather than mocking the poor, we should say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
f. Those who do will not go unpunished… either in this life or the life to come… punishment here… loss of rewards there.
1. Mercy: to be gracious, show favour, pity; an act of kindness, compassion to another.
a. Usually (though not exclusively) when the poor are mentioned in Scripture, the author generally refers to the poor among God’s people.
b. Giving to the poor usually meant giving to the needs of the poor “brethren”… whether in Israel or in the church.
c. But of course, showing mercy is not to be restricted to believers. It is part of our testimony as believers to do goodunto all men… but especially unto the household of faith. (Gal. 6:10)
2. We have a responsibility to show mercy to the poor. This has always been God’s will… in any age.
a. Deut. 15:7 – If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother.
b. I John 3:17-18 – when we have the ability to help a poor brother, we should…
c. Thus, Solomon is saying that it is not enough to stop oppressing them… but on the positive side, we are to show MERCY to them!
d. Put off the behavior of the old man… and put on the behavior of the new man.
e. Eph. 4:28 – Stop stealing and start GIVING. Stopping the bad behavior is only ½ the duty. Go the extra mile and start GIVING to those in need.
3. There are certain BENEFITS to showing mercy to the poor!
a. Prov. 14:21 – happy is he!
b. Prov. 19:17 – lendeth to the Lord and will be repaid.
c. Prov. 28:27 – he that gives to the poor shall not lack.
d. Of course this should not be our motivation. We should not give in order to get.
e. But when we DO give with pure motives… (to glorify God by helping others) then there is a blessing attached!
4. Be gracious and generous, but also be discerning.
a. When Solomon speaks of the “poor” he seems to imply those who are poor through no fault of their own…
b. He is not speaking of the scam artist, or the man who refuses to work, or the man who begs money for a bottle of Jack Daniels or a bag of cocaine.
c. We have no obligation to give to those folks—even if they are poor… even if they are starving! God says that if a man will not work, neither should he eat.
1. Honors: to make heavy; honourable; to glorify; esteem of great value.
a. Those who want to honor God will demonstrate it by showing compassion to the poor…
b. God says that He is honored by this kind of action.
c. When a believer does this… empowered by the Holy Spirit… for the glory of God… he is manifesting the indwelling LIFE of Christ.
d. God is HONORED by that practical manifestation of life.
2. This is an example of God identifying with His creatures.
a. Jesus said of the Jews in the Tribulation: “for I was hungry and ye gave me meat…”
b. Jesus said of the church: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
1. These words were written by a king to his son… who would one day have royal authority.
a. Hence, oppressing the poor was a sensible warning in that case.
b. Solomon’s son would one day be in a position where he would make decisions that would affect the poor in the land.
2. While it may not directly apply to us (we do not possess political power—and are not really in a position to oppress the poor or show mercy to them on a large scale… yet in our small circle of influence, the principle applies to us as well.
a. The way we treat people is a reflection of our attitude towards their Maker.
b. We may never be in a position to lift the poor out of poverty as a whole… or to improve their standard of living… but we CAN show mercy to those whose lives intersect with ours.
c. It doesn’t have to cost a million dollars either.
• Buy a family in need a bag of groceries…
• Mail a gift card anonymously to someone in need
• Send in a check for tuition to a family struggling to keep their kids in Christian school…
• Drop a bag of clothes off at a brother’s house…
• Buy some new shoes for their kids…
• Send a gift to a missionary…
d. In doing so, Solomon says we are honoring God.
• That’s a worthy goal… and a very practical way to glorify God.