- Dr. Stieglitz
Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 29:7
"The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, the wicked does not understand such concern"
This is the Hebrew word sedaqa which means conforming to a moral standard. In this case – and in every case of the Old Testament – it meant conformity to God's standard; living in God's box. Its original meaning was to be straight; to do things the way that they were supposed to be done; its opposite "to be crooked or twisted" was the definition of perverted.
A way of thinking about this in a broad sense: one is righteous in this idea when one lives within the boundaries of the Ten Commandments. This is the moral box for your actions. Now both the Old and New Testaments say that it is impossible to perfectly live within the boundaries of God's moral law. That is why God instituted the sacrificial system in the Old Testament that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice for our sins: the Lord Jesus Christ. But having said that, the Ten Commandments were, and remain, God's pattern for a moral life. The Ten Commandments are the stopping place for selfishness. So this is what it meant to be righteous. Does the person live within the Ten Commandments?
This is the Hebrew word yada which means to know. The translators used the word concerned as a way to convey the idea of the fact that righteous people are aware of and concerned about the rights of those who are poor. The righteous person does not want someone who is defenseless to be the victim of others’ violations of the Ten Commandments. Since the righteous person lives within these boundaries and realizes that they are essential for a just and safe society, he/she naturally wants even the bottom rungs of the society to be protected also by the same rules and boundaries. It is very important that there are not parts of society that are ripped off, that are subject to violence, that are sexually exploited, that are lied to, and that are cursed at. For if that is allowed and the protection of the society does not extend to the margins of society, then the society will not remain a just and safe place.
How does a judge or leader or righteous citizen know what is happening in the society? Look at what is happening to the margins of the society. It is there at the bottom of the economic, physical, and vocational food chain that the values of the society are being played out.
This is the Hebrew word din. It is usually translated judgment or decision(s). In that day sitting at the city gates of the city were the elders of the town. It was our version of City Hall. The elders were presented with difficult cases to decide. There was no separation of powers as in the American system. The poor would bring their cases to the elders for decisions and judgments. "I have been cheated." "I was lied to and defrauded." Then the elders would have to render judgment as to what was the right thing to do in this case. It resembled what we call court – both small claims court and criminal court.
What Solomon is telling us here is that righteous people – people who live voluntarily within the Ten Commandments – are aware of and concerned about what happens to people who have no connections; who have no money to hire lawyers and throw parties. For if the amount of money you have changes the decisions that you get, then something is wrong with the society – it is sick and the infection is spreading. If it is not possible for poor, unconnected people to get true justice in a city's decision system, then something is wrong.
Notice that this proverb states that righteous people are aware of whether the margins of society are getting the decisions that they deserve. They are aware of and concerned about them. It bothers them that people are being mistreated because they can be.
This proverb is a lie detector placed up against people’s lives. Are you righteous? Are you wicked? Do you live by God's moral code or just pretend to? Do you have hidden parts of your life that are outside God's moral boundaries? Solomon is saying: Look at how concerned people are for those at the margins. Wicked people who flaunt God's rules don't care as long as they get to keep doing what they want.
I am very concerned that Christians and righteous people are being fooled in our culture, at the present time, because we are co-belligerents with certain political groups. We agree on certain political positions and therefore some assume that people are righteous. But that is not the case. If there is not compassion and concern for the things that happen to the poor, something is wrong.
This is the word dal which means one who is low or in a state of destitution or deprivation in some form. Life has beaten these people and they are low. It is very important that when they come to the city gates and ask for redress to a grievance, that they get the same justice that everyone else gets.
This is the Hebrew word resa which means wrong, criminal, guilty, wicked. It means to live outside of the Ten Commandments. The person who is like this does not mentally even acknowledge God's lines as lines anymore. They are confirmed in their pursuit of their own goals, and it does not matter what they have to do to achieve their goals. Crossing a line that people used to value or that religious people say is valuable is no big deal. It is important to realize in God's economy that wickedness is a commitment to selfishness, no matter what. That is what wickedness is: It's all about Me. This attitude invariably leads them to living outside of the Ten Commandments because they can service their wants more quickly outside of God's moral constraints.
This is the Hebrew word bin which means to understand; to see the connections between; to have insight about. The wicked person does not see the connection between the society they live in and its safety and peace and how the margins of the society are treated. “As long as I still get what I want” is all they think about. They don't care about their children. They don't care about the spreading of crime and selfishness and how that will cause the randomness of crime to increase. They have a completely selfish outlook. And the people who are poor do not have any connection in their mind to themselves. “So who cares what happens to them” is their attitude.
This is the Hebrew word daat which is knowledge. Solomon says that the wicked person cannot connect with this type of knowledge. It doesn't make any sense to the wicked person that what happens at the margins of life should interest him. He is unable, in his myopically selfish world, to see that injustice done to the margins of life is injustice done to him. All he can see is what he wants in the immediate future.
If your righteousness and clamoring for justice does not extend past righteousness for you and your group, then it is not biblical righteousness. It must extend to those at the margins of life: the elderly, the handicapped, the physically infirm, the unborn, the young, the poor, the immigrant. Those who live at the margins of life need and deserve justice too.
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