Summary: Part 13 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them" (Prov. 22:22-23).
The chiastic composition in Proverbs 22:22-23 gives the thought—robbery, court case, court case, robbery.
A Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, [Robbery]
B or crush the afflicted at the gate, [Court Case]
B1 for the Lord will plead their cause [Court Case]
A1 and rob of life those who rob them. [Robbery]
Lines A and A1 are synonymous parallel statements speaking of robbery, as also, Lines B and BI, of a court case. This is one of the many direct commands in Proverbs. It is a sober warning against exploiting the poor. Helping the poor is a common theme in both biblical and pagan literature. Nevertheless, what makes the Israelite view unique is that God is seen as the defender of the poor and the oppressed.57
The meaning is simple. Do not rob the poor because he is poor. For God will defend him. God will rob you of your life. God will do to you exactly what you do to the poor.
Let us look closer at these awesome words of God. The “poor” is synonymous to the “afflicted.” The word “poor” (dal) carries no economic reference. Rather, it means “one who is low.”58 Symbolically, it means “reduced, weak, helpless.”59 Yet the word for “afflicted” (ani) signifies also some kind of disability, weakness, or distress.60
Thus, the poor are afflicted for they are powerless and weak. They lack the ability to defend themselves before the rich. They are helpless against the crushing might of the rich.
Another interesting word is“crush” (daka) which means “oppress” or “maltreat” in court.61 In v. 22, to rob the poor is to crush the afflicted. To rob the poor of their possessions is to oppress the afflicted.
Where do the rich rob the poor of their possessions? Ironically, it is at the “gate,” the place of giving justice—the judicial court (cf. Prov. 1:21; 24:7).62 The place of justice can be the place of injustice against the poor. There, the rich rob the poor. The powerful crush the afflicted.
Perhaps the rich has filed a case in court against the poor. The poor man cannot pay for a good lawyer. He has no one to defend him. Perhaps the judge is corrupt. In the end, the poor man loses everything, except the clothes on his back.
On the other hand, where human justice fails, divine justice takes over. The sage says do not exploit the poor. Do not use the human court system to rob the poor. God is the defender of the poor. You might win over the poor before a human judge. But you will never win before the divine Judge. The human judge may not make you pay for it. Nevertheless, God will make you pay, even with your life (Prov. 1:19).
In Proverbs, there are only two overriding reasons why we should treat the poor rightly—divine connection and divine correction.63 Divine connection refers to one’s actions towards the poor that affects his Maker. Divine correction (justice) refers to his Maker’s action toward those who oppress the poor.
Therefore, do not rob the poor or God will rob you of your life! God will do to you exactly what you do to the poor.
57 Garrett, Proverbs, 194; Murphy, Proverbs, 170.
58 Harris, Archer, and Waltke, “???????,” TWOT 1:433c.
59 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “????,” BDB, 2145:195.
60 Harris, Archer, and Waltke, “???,” TWOT 1:1652d.
61 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “??????,” BDB, 2125:193.
62 Toy, A Critical, 425.
63 Perdue, Proverbs, 202.