I am in the middle of preparing a sermon on Proverbs. To prepare I took 31 to read through the book.
I was supposed to speak on speaking. Easy enough. Proverbs has a lot to say about what we say. It is good sound wisdom too. That is how I think of Proverbs – full of wisdom on how we should conduct our personal lives. What I did not expect to find, to be constantly sidetracked by as I mined the book for pearls about speech, speaking, listening and talk of all kinds were the number of references to justice.
In some ways it’s weird that I was surprised. I am sure most people in my life are sick of hearing me say that the Lord’s heart for the poor and his plan for His people to alleviate suffering is clear from the start of scripture all the way through. And it is. Starting with the gleanings in Leviticus, through the prophets, the teachings of Jesus, the early church it is there. It is one of the few things you cannot argue with, reinterpret or explain away no matter your theological disposition. God’s heart for the poor, marginalized, vulnerable and oppressed is almost shocking in its obviousness. There are few things more present, more apparent throughout the Bible. But still Proverbs does not scream justice book to me.
But it is there. Like the whole of scripture itself it starts almost from the beginning. Chapter 2 verse 8 states that he [the Lord] guards the course of the just. This garnered my attention but I moved on looking again for verses on my topic. The thing is I kept bumping up against these verse about justice, poverty, oppression and power.
They are pretty compelling statements too!
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court,
for the Lord will take up their case
and will exact life for life. (22:22-23)
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (14:31)
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
and so deprive the innocent of justice (17:26)
so I decided to take note of them and see what it was the Lord was trying to say while I tried to stay on point. I had a sermon to write! Seventeen verses later I felt uncertain that I could just let them be. Then I realized this was His point. I was going to be speaking to his people soon and He wanted me to remember his heart, his character, his call. It wasn’t that these verses on justice were a distraction it was that they were what I was meant to see. I had gone to Proverbs looking for wisdom about speaking and the Lord gave me a clear call on what he wanted me to speak about – his desire for His people to engage in the work of justice to protect the vulnerable, stop oppression, feed the hungry and take care of those in need.
I learned a great deal during my 31 days in Proverbs and it was not at all what I expected to learn, but isn’t that so often what the Lord does what we read the Bible with really open hearts – removes our preconceptions and gives us what is needed instead of what we wanted.