January 2014: Proverbs 24 by Doug
Today, let us take a look at Proverbs 24:11. Deliver those who are being taken away to death. Or you could render that first verb as “bring back,” “rescue,” or even “snatch!” It shows up in the statement of Reuben about Joseph in Genesis 37, Exodus 12 about God’s grace to Israel, and throughout the Old Testament in the sense of taking someone from a bad situation into a good one.
Then, let us think about the situation envisioned here. The image is perhaps of captives after battle or slaves being cast aside. Any way that you look at it, those being taken away have no volition in the matter. These folks are doomed, end of story. And they are without any possible opportunity to deliver themselves.
Consider the hopelessness of those being taken away. Consider how it must feel. And then consider this: Solomon does not command that the reason they are taken away be asked. Just that they be delivered.
This is part of the overall theme of justice in the book of Proverbs. As we look at living in fear of YHWH, justice comes out clearly. This justice is not based on an earthly sliding scale, but it reflects God’s standards. Further, justice in much of the Old Testament appears to reflect that some people need an opportunity to show, on their own, whether or not they will follow God. The results of disobedience are then their own, not heritage or bad fortune.
With that in mind, let us consider who may be taken away:
First, you have the weak innocent. These are children or the aged or the infirm. These can do nothing to stop the ones taking them to death. This is significant, because every society picks individuals who are the weak innocent like this. Inconvenient child? Kill it. Old person live too long? Plop them in a nursing home, pump them full of meds, and then pull the plug. Illnesses or handicaps? Shouldn’t we encourage these to consider “quality of life” or the burden of their care? No reason for the expense, is there?
Those who live in fear of YHWH, the wise and the godly, stand firmly against any of this nonsense. Further, they will put forth the effort to make the rescue happen. Our lives go in with our words—though there are times when the red tape trips up our best intentions.
Second, you have the weak. These are those being taken away to death because they lack power. The question of innocence is irrelevant, because this is happening due to injustice and not guilt. These would be the victims of racial violence in the Klan era or the victims of the Nazis: whatever crime or wrong may have been perpetrated, death was due to who they were, not what they had done.
Those who live in fear of YHWH, the wise and the godly, stand firmly against this nonsense. Politically, economically, in all ways possible we are to fight these offenses against God. Consider the situation of immigrants or refugees, of disabled or sick, of veterans who have returned from war to lost jobs: these are taken away by loss of power.
This leads to the last point I want to hit: taken away to death may not be instantaneous. Often this drives our response time, but we must consider the slow death of hunger or economic destitution. It is just as fatal to wall the Jews into a ghetto as to send them to Auschwitz: one method is simply faster. Just because an injustice allows people to linger on the path to death does not mean it must not be fought against.
We should rescue as we best can. Sometimes, this will require personal risk. Such is the nature of life in fear of YHWH: we rely, we trust, and we act.