God’s Word for You
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, November 9, 2019
8 Speak up for those who cannot speak.
Speak for the cause of all who are left behind.
9 Speak up, judge fairly.
Defend the oppressed and the needy.
We will take up these five statements individually.
8a. Speak up for those who cannot speak. Not all who “cannot speak” are without mouths. Some simply have no forum, or no audience, or no one who will take them seriously. The entire book of Proverbs has warned ordinary citizens against listening to a fool (68 individual Proverbs are about fools). But the government cannot dismiss a fool. A fool has civil and civic rights; he can be punished for the foolish things he does, but not for simply being a fool.
But this Proverb also speaks to the government’s responsibility to speak up for others who have no voice. An example (by no means the only one) is the unborn child. When we were taught ethics and civics in public school in the 1970s, we were taught: “Your rights end where my rights begin.” We interpreted that to mean, one person has rights, but they must not negate another person’s rights. Where do the rights of a child begin, whose only flaw is that he or she is not yet born, but is nevertheless a living being with a working mind and a beating heart? Too many advocates against the rights of the not yet born use the same arguments that the Nazis used to carry out the Holocaust. The Lord upholds the cause of the oppressed (Psalm 146:7).
8b. Speak for the cause of all who are left behind. “All those who are left behind” is “children of leaving” or “vanishing children” in Hebrew (bane-haloph). A similar expression is to be found in Song of Solomon 2:11, “the rains are over and gone.” This expands on the earlier Proverb, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7). We could apply “all who are left behind” to unborn children, and to those women and men who suffer from domestic abuse, and more. Whole nations suffer at the hands of dictators and the drug cartels. There are girls being kidnapped into sexual slavery and a lifetime of abusive prostitution here in Minnesota and throughout the nation and the world. All of these, and more, must have a voice to speak for them, and every government is responsible. Even a warlord who seizes power in some small state finds that he is now responsible for every citizen; his power comes with a heavy responsibility, whether he considered that before seizing control or not.
9a. Speak up. A king, a president, a prime minister—anyone in power must be willing to become the voice of government. This doesn’t mean doing whatever he wants. It means doing whatever is right. A king might have a different way of doing things than his predecessor. The very idea of a change of power implies that this will almost always be the case. But whether a leader chooses one tool or another, war or diplomacy, treaties or heavy, punishing, economic sanctions, he must do what he does for the sake of his people, not his own pocketbook. There are bound to be political differences, but the one in power must still uphold the rights and interests of all his people, not merely those who praise him.
9b. Judge fairly. This reflects the command given through Moses: “Judge the people fairly” (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16, 16:18). Solomon said, “By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down” (Proverbs 29:4); “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure” (Proverbs 29:14). Solomon also said in his Psalm: “Endow the king with your justice, O God … He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” (Psalm 72:1,4). This is not easy; this takes time, thought, and good advisors. Solomon’s classic case of the two prostitutes (1 Kings 3:16-28) is an example of a clear-headed leader.
9c. Defend the oppressed and the needy. This is often a prayer to God: “Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace; may the poor and needy praise your name” (Psalm 74:20), but Solomon reminds leaders that they are God’s instruments to work his will directly for their people. The oppressed and the needy are not hard to find. Isaiah depicts the oppressed “like fluttering birds pushed from the nest—so are the women of Moab at the fords of the Arnon” (Isaiah 16:2).
What leader can do all of these things? A faithful Christian will do what he can for the right reason; for the love of Christ. A pagan leader might do what he can because he believes it is right in whatever set of values he carries. But they will both be flawed; they will both make mistakes, and fall short. Yet God might bless a nation through either one, as he has through Christian presidents in our country (Grant, Kennedy, Ford, Carter) and non-Christians alike (the Adamses, Fillmore, and Taft).
We might despair, thinking that the ultimate and ideal leader cannot be found among human beings. But we would be wrong. First, we should remember that all government is the establishment of God, and the flawed humans who serve do so with God’s blessing. They are tools in his service. “The authorities are God’s servants” (Romans 13:6). If they do wrong, they will be punished, but while they serve, we owe them respect.
But secondly, one Servant was above all others. Christ our King was fully human, and conquered the unseen oppressors of all who are left behind in the wake of the fall of Adam and Eve. Isaiah said about Jesus: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (Isaiah 16:5). The Lord “will give him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:32), and through the act of his sacrifice on our behalf, we have the ability and the right to approach his heavenly throne for all eternity. He did what no one else could ever do. He rescued us from the oppression of sin and guilt, and by his wounds we are healed. He has spoken, and we are judged with mercy. Speak up with the same mercy.
Pastor Timothy Smith