“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31 [NIV]
We have here an antithetical parallelism. The two halves of the couplet contrast with each other, and in that way the writer shows us one key truth by showing us both sides of the coin, so to speak.
What is the central truth here? On the surface we see what looks like a simple statement about how to treat the poor and vulnerable in our society. But as we look deeper, we see that there is a profound theological truth about God’s heart that the simple ethical instruction rests on. The ethical imperative is fairly straightforward and plain. One ought to treat the poor with kindness and not act in such a way as to make the lot of the poor harsher and more difficult. We are to act to alleviate their suffering. That is quite simple to state, but it is obviously a great deal more difficult for us to do.
The writer perceives and points out a powerful and profound theological truth lying behind this ethical imperative and providing a foundation for it. Namely this: God identifies himself with the poor in such a deep and complete way that he takes the treatment of the poor personally, as if it were being directed toward him. When the poor are treated badly, he sees himself as being treated with contempt. When they are treated with generosity and kindness, God sees himself as being honored.
Once we recognize this deep theological truth about the heart and mind of God, we will see the crucial core of the Gospel of salvation located here. God cares from the deepest place in his heart about the helpless and vulnerable. This is the core doctrine of grace which is the center of the Gospel. God’s deep and unequivocal concern for the welfare of the poor and vulnerable of the world is the embodiment of the heart of God that drives our salvation. Grace is blessing without deserving.
To treat the weak and vulnerable of the world with harshness and oppression, to refuse help and kindness, is to reject the core truth of the Gospel of our salvation—this blessing without deserving—the grace on which our own salvation hangs. To refuse grace and kindness to the poor while welcoming God’s grace to us in our helpless in sin is the essence of the hypocrisy that calls forth the harshest of condemnations from the lips of Jesus. “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matthew 23:33 [NIV]
Let us plead that the heart of our gracious God might beat in our own breast and move our hands to action for the poor and vulnerable of the world.
© 2018 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.
Bible Notes #20: Deuteronomy 22:6-7 and Cruelty to the Vulnerable and Weak