How does God feel about the poor and the afflicted? What kind of safeguard does God have against those who would treat these people with disregard? How does God protect these two groups from being expolited by the unscrupulous actions of others? That is what today's proverb is about.
This proverb begins with a warning against robbing the poor or crushing the afflicted at the gate. The gate was the place where financial transactions took place in Israel. It was the "Wall Street" of their society. Because this is where the "movers and shakers" of their culture would meet to transact major business, it was also the place God commanded that the poor and the afflicted be given honest and fair treatment.
The Lord warns against robbing from them and afflicting them. The word rob is the Hebrew word "gazal" which means to take something by force or to seize something from another because they cannot resist. Here God is protecting the poor and afflicted because they would not have the kind of business savvy or representation to protect themselves. The poor are those who a low or small in matters of importance in society. The word for poor is used to describe the lame, those who were defeated in a military engagement, or someone who is so weak that they are languishing before others. They cannot rise up to defend themsleves in the gate. They can barely care for themselves. Thus they are easy prey to those who want to abuse and steal.
The Lord also warns against crushing the affllicted. The afflicted are those suffering in a state of poverty, oppression, or misery. They are in serious want - and biblically are those whose only hope is in the deliverance and grace of God. They are easy pickings for the ungodly and unprincipled. To crush them is to beat them down and oppress them. Again, their sad state of affairs makes them unable to stop those who would use their power and position to take advantage of their poverty.
The warning God gives those with power and authority in the gate is to refrain from treating these people badly. But if someone at the gate would proceed in acting unjustly, we have a picture that should cause us to shrink back in terror. God says that He Himself will plead their cause. The poor and afflicted have no representation - or do they? God said that He would be their representative. He would "plead their case. This word "plead" is a legal term. It means that God Himself will rise up and argue their lawsuit. The word is "riyb" and it means to strive and contend in a lawsuit or legal case.
Imagine someone among the poor and afflicted - trying to muster up enough strength to stand in the gate and argue their case. They have no ability to do this - and some in the crowd would even begin to laugh as they haltingly began their defense. Yet, as they stood humiliated in that setting suddenly a noise would be heard - a mighty rushing of wind from heaven - and all present would begin to tremble as the mighty presence of God descended into the area of the gate. The Lord, manifesting Himself as a mighty angel, suddenly appears at the proceeding. All shrink back from His glory and majesty - as they realize that God Himself has come to argue the cause of the afflicted and needy one. The prosecutor falls on his face and becomes speechless in the presence of God. Then God proceeds to take up the case of this one so frail and helpless. But God not only pleads their case with a passion and wisdom that causes all to fall silent. He also does something that terrifies everyone in the court-setting of the gate.
Proverbs 22:23 tells us that God will "take the life of those who rob them." The phrase "take the life," is literally in the Hebrew "rob the soul." God promises to rob the soul of those who would rob the poor and afflicted. Our scene now resumes with God finishing His arguments and brilliantly defending the poor and afflicted in the gate. Then He turns to the one who so arrogantly thought he could rob the poor and crush the afflicted. He reaches out a hand toward this one and tears his soul from his body. Robbed of his very soul, the arrogant one falls lifeless to the ground. All gasp in horror as they watch this fool careen toward the ground with a thud. His lifeless, soul-less body now a monument to God's judgment upon those who would abuse the poor.
This is what God promises to those who abuse the poor and afflicted ones. This is what He says will come to those who live their lives for the sordid gain they can gather from the weakest among us. Some may read this and mock, saying that they've seen the wealthy and powerful do this many times without retribution from God, but know this - their day is coming. This proverb is a promise from God - so you can know that one day it is going to happen. May you be ready by being one who loves and is gracious and compassionate towards the poor.