Finally, a proverb dealing with animal rights! Now we can blast all those who choose to wear fur as a covering for themselves! Oh, but wait a minute - God covered Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. Oh, snap - we've got another problem because John the Baptist wore a leather girdle - the hide of a cow. So, what exactly is God speaking about here when He advocates having regard for the life of his animal?
A righteous man regards the life of his animal. He is concerned for it - and cares for it. Even though we cannot biblically justify the extreme of the animal rights movement - we can see that God is not pleased when we treat animals cruelly. Yet in the worship of God Himself - there were required sacrifices of animals. But there is a difference between rearing animals for the purpose of meat and clothing - and someone just being cruel to an animal while it is alive. God does not forbid us to eat meat. Many of the men He used greatly were shepherds. Their purpose and job was to work with livestock and raise it to be a food source for their family and for other families. So we can rule out the idea that God is against all killing of animals for the purpose of eating meat - and creating clothing.
But, we cannot look at this passage and justify someone treating their animals with cruelty and indifference. Someone who would beat an animal just because they want to - or because they are mean - will not find justification for their actions from the Word of God. God desires for us to treat our livestock as well as our pets with the kind of compassion and kindness that is indicative of His own nature. When we become cruel and unkind to animals - that displeases God.
What we read about the wicked though, is that even their compassion is cruel. This is an interesting oxymoron. Compassionless compassion is what we can expect from the wicked man. The wicked don't care about animals - and will whip them mercilessly. It is a sad thing to watch a wicked man abuse an animal. I remember when we were given a beautiful Labrador Retriever. We did not know the people who gave it to us - and were truly grateful for the dog. But soon after receiving him, we could tell that they were abusive toward the dog. Any time we would even approach him, he would cower and yelp - fearing that he was about to be hit. We loved him - and eventually he knew that we were not going to strike him. Still it broke my heart to think how cruel someone had to be to get a dog to respond like that.
The true believer realizes that all creation belongs to God. Thus as we walk through this life we want to treat what is God's respectfully. That does not mean that we don't use nature as God intended (which means that hunting and fishing, and raising livestock is not evil). It does mean that we are not cruel and evil with it. Those kind of actions are reserved for those who are wicked, and who do not fear God.