Plead the Cause of the Poor and Needy
Open thy mouth, judge righteously,
and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
1. Once again, we have before us words of wise advice that Lemuel’s mother is giving to her son, the king.
2. So far she has warned him to avoid immoral women and wine.
3. She has also encouraged him (as king) to open his mouth in defense of the voiceless poor who are appointed to destruction.
4. In verse 9, she encourages her son to “plead the cause of the poor and needy” in the land.
Open thy mouth, judge righteously
1. This is the second time King Lemuel’s mother encouraged her son to “open his mouth.”
a. She is encouraging him to speak up for others.
b. Vs. 8 – She told him to speak up for the “dumb,” a figure of speech to refer to those who had no voice in society.
c. Vs. 9 is a continuation of the same thought.
2. Judge Righteously
a. As a king, Lemuel also had to function as a judge for the more difficult cases in the land.
b. This kind of power (executive and judicial) in the hands of one man could easily be corrupted for personal gain.
c. The old saying is true: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
d. Kings had absolute power; hence, they had the ongoing temptation to corruption… using their power to benefit themselves and their cronies, regardless of the hardships it caused for others—like the poor and needy.
e. This fact has been known for many centuries. Lemuel’s mother understood this danger and therefore warned her son.
f. She reminds her son to judge RIGHTEOUSLY.
• Righteous: Justice; right; proper according to the standard; the act of fairly deciding what is right in a legal case, without prejudice.
g. Keep in mind that Lemuel was not a Jewish king.
• It is likely that his mother was a Jewess who was taken as a wife of a foreign king in a political marriage.
• This was very common in those days. It was not in line with the Mosaic Law, but it was a common practice. (consider Solomon)
• Lemuel’s father would have been a pagan, but his mother Jewish. She wanted to safeguard her son against the corruption and evil she saw in her new homeland.
• Judging righteously was not the norm in many lands.
• But Lemuel’s mother evidently knew the Scriptures and wanted her son’s reign to be as righteous as possible… according to God’s standard, not pagan law.
3. Righteous judgment was based on God’s judgments
a. Psalm 7:9 – God Himself judged fairly and justly. He is the Standard.
b. Isaiah 32:1 – “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.” This was how Messiah will reign. He is to be the Standard for other kings.
4. Righteous judgment was required by all judges in Israel.
a. Deut. 1:16-17 – “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. 17Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.”
b. Deut. 16:18-20 – Rules for judges and officers in the land.
c. Lev. 19:15 – “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.”
d. II Sam. 8:15 – “And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people.” King David exemplified righteous judgment.
5. We are not kings or judges. However, we too are to “judge righteous judgment.”
a. John 7:24 – “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
b. Most folks know that we are not to judge according to appearance. But most stop there and assume that we are not to judge.
c. However, the Lord COMMANDS us to judge in this passage—as long as it is righteous judgment.
d. It would be unrighteous of us to judge on the basis of appearance only, for appearances can be deceiving.
e. It would be unrighteous of us to attempt to judge a person’s motives, for we do not know a person’s heart.
f. However, we can and should judge words of works… doctrine and practice.
g. Isaiah 8:20 – “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
h. When we judge according to God’s Word, we are not the judge: God is. We are simply pointing out God’s truth.
Plead the cause of the poor and needy
1. The cause of the poor and needy
a. The “cause of the poor” is one word in Hebrew.
• The term is broader than “poor,” which usually implies poverty in the sense of financial need.
• This term refers to any who are afflicted, oppressed, poor, being in a lowly condition.
b. The “needy” refers to persons who are in “want”; those of a low status and little political power; they have meager means. They are people with needs – and again, the needs could cover a broad range of needs.
c. These two terms are virtually synonyms.
2. Men often forgot the cause of the poor and needy.
a. Ex. 23:6 – “Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.” God had to remind His people NOT to abuse them.
b. Psalm 40:17 – “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.”
c. David knew that while men might forsake him in his time of affliction and need, God would not. God is faithful. God THINKS upon the poor and needy.
d. Prov. 30:14 – “There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.”
e. The poor and needy NEEDED someone to defend them against such oppressors. It has always been a sad part of human nature for those in power to oppress the weak.
3. In the second part of our proverb, Lemuel’s mother encourages her son not only to be righteous and just, but that he should aggressively plead the cause of the poor.
a. PLEAD: Bring justice, to go to court, to pass sentence, to contend, to act as judge, to govern, to plead a cause; provide justice for.
b. He was to speak up for them because they couldn’t and no one else would. They did not have friends in high places.
4. The judges in Israel did NOT always plead the cause of the poor and needy.
a. Amos 5:12 – “For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.”
b. Jer. 5:28-29 – “They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge. 29Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?”
• In Israel, God took notice; and God took vengeance out on those judges who do not plead the cause of the poor.
c. Jer. 21:12 – “O house of David, thus saith the LORD; Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury go out like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”
d. Isaiah 1:17 – “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
• Again we see that righteous judgment (justice) was especially to be applied to the poor and the needy, as in our proverb.
e. The kings in Israel were expected to execute justice and righteous judgments.
f. The Kingdom was BASED on truth, justice, and judgment.
g. They had the command from Scripture, the example of David and other righteous kings, as well as the prophecies of Messiah the King who rules in justice and judgment.
h. Treating people fairly and honestly is important to God and it should be important to us too.
5. We may not be kings or judges, but there will be times when we can use our position to speak up for those under us at work—or others who may have no voice.
a. Perhaps you could say a good word about the one who cleans the office at night…
b. We can take this principle into the realm of befriending the friendless… supporting the weak and the feeble-minded…