Proverbs 24:11
If you forbear to deliver them that are drawn to death, and those that are ready to be slain;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) If thou forbear . . .—Rather, Deliver those that are taken to death, and those that are tottering to the slaughter, stop them!

Proverbs

THE CRIME OF NEGLIGENCE

Proverbs 24:11 - Proverbs 24:12
.

What is called the missionary spirit is nothing else than the Christian church working in a particular direction. If a man has a conviction, the health of his own soul, his reverence for the truth he has learnt to love, his necessary connection with other men, make it a duty, a necessity, and a joy to tell what he has heard, and to speak what he believes. On these common grounds rests the whole obligation of Christ’s followers to speak the Gospel which they have received; only the obligation presses on them with greater force because of the higher worth of the word and the deeper misery of men without it. The text contains nothing specially bearing on Christian missions, but it deals with the fault which besets us all in our relations and in life: and the wholesome truths which it utters apply to our duties in regard to Christian missions because they apply to our duties in regard to every misery within our reach. They speak of the murderous cruelty and black sin of negligence to save any whom we can help from any sort of misery which threatens them. They appear to me to suggest four thoughts which I would now deal with:-

I. The crime of negligence.

Not to use any power is a sin; to omit to do anything that we can do is a crime: to withhold a help that we can render is to participate in the authorship of all the misery that we have failed to relieve. He who neglects to save a life, kills. There are more murderers than those who lift violent hands with malice aforethought against a hated life. Rulers or communities who leave people uncared for to die, who suffer swarming millions to live where the air is poison and the light is murky, and first the soul and then the body, are dwarfed and die; the incompetent men in high places, and the indolent ones in low, whose selfishness brings, and whose blundering blindness allows to continue, the conditions that are fatal to life-on these the guilt of blood lies. Violence slays its thousands, but supine negligence slays its tens of thousands.

And when we pass from these merely physical conditions to think of the world and of the Church in the world, where shall we find words weighty and burning enough to tell what fatal cruelty lies in the unthinking negligence so characteristic of large portions of Christ’s professed followers? There is nothing which the ordinary type of Christian, so called, more needs than to be aroused to a living sense of personal responsibility for all the unalleviated misery of the world. For every one who has laid the sorrows of humanity on his heart, and has felt them in any measure as his own, there are a hundred to whom these make no appeal and give no pang. Within ear-shot of our churches and chapels there are squalid aggregations of stunted and festering manhood, of whom it is only too true that they are ‘drawn unto death’ and ‘ready to be slain,’ and yet it would be an exaggeration to say that the bulk of our congregations cast even a languid eye of compassion upon those, to say nothing of stretching out a hand to help. It needs to be dinned, far more than it is at present, into every professing Christian that each of us has an obligation which cannot be ignored or shuffled off, to acquaint ourselves with the glaring facts that force themselves upon all thoughtful men, and that the measure of our power is the measure of our obligation. The question, Has the church done its best to deliver these? needs to be sharpened to the point of ‘Have I done my best?’ And the vision of multitudes perishing in the slums of a great city needs to be expanded into the vision of dim millions perishing in the wide world.

II. The excuse of negligence.

The shuffling plea, ‘Behold we knew it not,’ is a cowardly lie. It admits the responsibility to knowledge and pretends an ignorance which it knows to be partly a false excuse, and in so far as it is true, to be our own fault. We are bound to know, and the most ignorant of us does know, and cannot help knowing, enough to condemn our negligence. How many of us have ever tried to find out how the pariahs of civilisation live who live beside us? Our ignorance so far as it is real is the result of a sinful indolence. And there is a sadder form of it in an ignorance which is the result of familiarity. We all know how custom dulls our impressions. It is well that it should be so, for a surgeon would be fit for little if he trembled and was shaken at the sight of the tumour he had to work to remove, as we should be; but his familiarity with misery does not harden him, because he seeks to remove the suffering with which he has become familiar. But that same familiarity does harden and injure the whole nature of the onlooker who does nothing to alleviate it. Then there is an ignorance of other suffering which is the result of selfish absorption in one’s own concerns. The man who is caring for himself only, and whose thoughts and feelings all flow in the direction of his own success, may see spread before him the most poignant sorrows without feeling one throb of brotherly compassion and without even being aware of what his eyes see. So, in so far as the excuse ‘we knew it not’ is true, it is no excuse, but an indictment. It lays bare the true reason of the criminal negligence as being a yet more criminal callousness as to the woe and loss in which such crowds of men whom we ought to recognise as brethren are sunken.

III. The condemnation of negligence.

The great example of God is put forward in the text as the contrast to all this selfish negligence. Note the twofold description of Him given here, ‘He that pondereth the heart,’ and ‘He that keepeth thy soul.’ The former of these presents to us God’s sedulous watching of the hearts of men, in contrast to our indolent and superficial looks; and in this divine attitude we find the awful condemnation of our disregard of our fellows. God ‘takes pain,’ so to speak, to see after His children. Are they not bound to look lovingly on each other? God seeks to know them. Are they not bound to know one another? Lofty disregard of human suffering is not God’s way. Is it ours? He ‘looks down from the height of His sanctuary to hear the crying of the prisoner.’ Should not we stoop from our mole-hill to see it? God has not too many concerns on His hands to mark the obscurest sorrow and be ready to help it. And shall we plead that we are too busy with petty personal concerns to take interest in helping the sorrows and fighting against the sins of the world?

No less eloquently does the other name which is here applied to God rebuke our negligence. ‘He preserveth thy soul.’ By His divine care and communication of life, we live; and surely the soul thus preserved is thereby bound to be a minister of preservation to all that are ‘ready to be slain.’ The strongest motive for seeking to save others is that God has saved us. Thus this name for God touches closely upon the great Christian thought, ‘Christ has given Himself for me.’ And in that thought we find the true condemnation of a Christianity which has not caught from Him the enthusiasm for self-surrender, and the passion for saving the outcast and forlorn. If to be a Christian is to imitate Christ, then the name has little application to those who see ‘them that are drawn to death,’ and turn from them unconcerned and unconscious of responsibility.

IV. The judgment of negligence.

‘Doth not He render to every man according to his works?’ There is such a judgment both in the present and in the future for Christian men as for others. And not only what they do, but what they inconsistently fail to do, comes into the category of their works, and influences their position. It does so in the present, for no man can cherish such a maimed Christian life as makes such negligence possible without robbing himself of much that would tend to his own growth in grace and likeness to Jesus Christ. The unfaithful servant is poorer by the pound hidden in the napkin which might all the while have been laid out at interest with the money-changers, which would have increased the income whilst the lord was absent. We rob ourselves of blessed sympathies and of the still more blessed joy of service, and of the yet more blessed joy of successful effort, by our indolence and our negligence. Let us not forget that our works do follow us in this life as in the life to come, and that it is here as well as hereafter, that he that goeth forth with a full basket and scatters the precious seed with weeping, and yet with joy, shall doubtless come again bringing his sheaves with him. And if we stretch our view to take in the life beyond, what gladness can match that of the man who shall enter there with some who will be his joy and crown of rejoicing in that day, and of whom he shall be able to say, ‘Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given me!’

I venture earnestly to appeal to all my hearers for more faithful discharge of this duty. I pray you to open your ears to hear, and your eyes to see, and your hearts to feel, and last of all, your hands to help, the miseries of the world. Solemn duties wait upon great privileges. It is an awful trust to have Christ and His gospel committed to our care. We get it because from One who lived no life of luxurious ease, but felt all the woes of humanity which He redeemed, and forbore not to deliver us from death, though at the cost of His own. We get it for no life of silken indolence or selfish disregard of the sorrows of our brethren. If there is one tear we could have dried and didn’t, or one wound we could have healed and didn’t, that is a sin; if we could have lightened the great heap of sorrow by one grain and didn’t, that is a sin; and if there be one soul that perishes which we might have saved and didn’t, the negligence is not merely the omission of a duty, but the doing of a deed which will be ‘rendered to us according to our works.’Proverbs 24:11-12. If thou forbear to deliver — When it is in thy power to do it lawfully; them that are drawn unto death — Namely, unjustly, or by the violence of lawless men; and those that are ready to be slain — That are in present danger of death or destruction. He enforces, in these verses, the necessity of giving our assistance toward the rescue of innocent persons, when their lives are in danger, either by counselling them, or petitioning others in their behalf, or by doing any thing in our power for their deliverance. If thou sayest, We knew it not — I was ignorant, either of his innocence, or of his extreme danger, or of my power to relieve him; doth not he consider it — That this is only a frivolous excuse, and that the true reason of thy neglect was, thy want of true love to thy brother, whose life thou wast, by the law of God and of nature, obliged to preserve, and a carnal fear of some mischief, or trouble, which might befall thee in the discharge of thy duty. And he that keepeth thy soul — Who is the preserver of men, Job 7:20, who daily does, and who only can, keep thee both in and from the greatest dangers; and this favour of God may be here mentioned, partly as an encouragement to the performance of the duty here spoken of, from the consideration of God’s special care and watchfulness over those that do their duty; and partly to intimate to them, that by the neglect of this duty they would forfeit God’s protection over themselves, and expose themselves to manifold dangers and calamities. The Hebrew word נצר, however, may be rendered, he that observeth thy soul, that sees all the secret thoughts and inward motions of thy heart; which interpretation is favoured both by the preceding and following words. And shall not he render, &c. — God will certainly deal with thee as thou hast dealt with him, either rewarding thy performance of this duty, or punishing thy neglect of it.24:1,2 Envy not sinners. And let not a desire ever come into thy mind, Oh that I could shake off restraints! 3-6. Piety and prudence in outward affairs, both go together to complete a wise man. By knowledge the soul is filled with the graces and comforts of the spirit, those precious and pleasant riches. The spirit is strengthened for the spiritual work and the spiritual warfare, by true wisdom. 7-9. A weak man thinks wisdom is too high for him, therefore he will take no pains for it. It is bad to do evil, but worse to devise it. Even the first risings of sin in the heart are sin, and must be repented of. Those that strive to make others hateful, make themselves so. 10. Under troubles we are apt to despair of relief. But be of good courage, and God shall strengthen thy heart. 11,12. If a man know that his neighbour is in danger by any unjust proceeding, he is bound to do all in his power to deliver him. And what is it to suffer immortal souls to perish, when our persuasions and example may be the means of preventing it? 13,14. We are quickened to the study of wisdom by considering both the pleasure and the profit of it. All men relish things that are sweet to the palate; but many have no relish for the things that are sweet to the purified soul, and that make us wise unto salvation. 15,16. The sincere soul falls as a traveller may do, by stumbling at some stone in his path; but gets up, and goes on his way with more care and speed. This is rather to be understood of falls into affliction, than falls into actual sin.Literally:

"Deliver those that are drawn unto death,

And those who totter to the slaughter - if

Thou withdraw ..."

i. e., "O withdraw them," save them from their doom; in contrast to Proverbs 24:10. The structure and meaning are both somewhat obscure; but the sentence is complete in itself, and is not a mere hypothesis concluded in the following verses.

11, 12. Neglect of known duty is sin (Jas 4:17).

ready—literally, "bowing down"

to be slain—that is, unjustly. God's retributive justice cannot be avoided by professed ignorance.

To deliver them, when it is in thy power to do it lawfully.

Drawn unto death, to wit, unjustly, or by the violence of lawless men.

That are ready to be slain; that are in present danger of death or destruction. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death,.... Or "taken for or unto death" (h), in a violent way; who are taken by thieves and robbers, and used in a barbarous manner, as the man in the parable, whom the priest and Levite took no notice of, and was helped by the good Samaritan; or who are unjustly sentenced and appointed to death by the civil magistrate; if any know their innocency, it becomes them to do all they can to save their lives, by bearing a testimony for them; for "a true witness delivereth souls", Proverbs 14:25; or by interceding for them, and giving counsel and advice concerning them, or by any lawful way they can; as Reuben delivered Joseph, Jonathan interceded for David, and Ahikam and Ebedmelech for Jeremiah. Life is valuable, and all means should be taken to save it, and to prevent the shedding of innocent blood; and a man should not forbear or spare any cost, or pains, or time, to such service: likewise such as are drawn into snares and temptations, into immorality or heresy, which tend to the ruin of the souls of men, and bring them to eternal death; all proper, methods should be taken to restore such persons, to recover them out of the snare of the devil, which is saving souls from death, and covering a multitude of sins; see 2 Timothy 2:25, James 5:19;

and those that are ready to be slain; or (i) "bending to slaughter"; are within a little of being executed, or put to death, upon a false accusation; for about others that suffer righteously there need not be that concern here pressed, or whose works and ways incline to destruction and lead to it, of which they seem not very far off.

(h) "captos ad mortem", Montanus. Piscator, Schultens. (i) "inclinantes ad necem", Mercerus; "nutantes ad occasionem", Montanus, Coeccius; "nutantes ad lanienam", Schultens.

If thou refraineth to deliver them that are drawn to {c} death, and those that are ready to be slain;

(c) No one can be excused, if he does not help the innocent when he is in danger.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. drawn unto death … ready to be slain] whether by unjust judgement, or by violence. In the first case you may deliver a soul by giving true witness (Proverbs 14:25), in the second, by not passing by like the priest and the Levite on the other side, but by rendering help with the good Samaritan.

It is better to take this verse as complete in itself, with LXX. (ῥῦσαι ἀγομένους εἰς θάνατον, καὶ ἐκπρίου κτεινομένους, μὴ φείσῃ); Vulg., Erue eos qui ducuntur ad mortem; et qui trahuntur ad interitum liberare necesses; and with R.V.

Deliver them that are carried away unto death,

And those that are ready to be slain see that thou hold back.

ready to be slain] Lit. tottering to the slaughter.Verses 11, 12. - A hexastich, inculcating humanity on the ground of God's omniscience. Verse 11. - If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death. The sentence is not conditional, אם in the second line being equivalent to לוּ, utinam, "oh that!" "would that!" So the first hemistich should be rendered, "Deliver them that are haled to death," and the second, "And those that are tottering to slaughter, oh, hold them back!" The sentence is somewhat obscure, but Cheyne well explains it thus: "Some victims of a miscarriage of justice are about to be dragged away to execution, and the disciple of wisdom is exhorted to use his endeavours to deliver them" ('Job and Solomon'). In the case supposed a moral obligation lies on the pious and well-informed to save a human life unjustly imperilled. At the same time, there is nothing in the passage which absolutely, shows that the punishment of the guiltless is here deprecated; it looks rather as if Wisdom had no pleasure in the death of men, innocent or not, and that the victims of an extreme sentence claimed pity at her hands, whatever might be the circumstances of the verdict. Septuagint, "Deliver those that are being led away to death, and redeem (ἐκπρίου) those that are appointed to be slain; spare not (to help them)" (comp. Psalm 82:3, 4). The praise of wisdom is continued: it brings blessings in the time of peace, and gives the victory in war.

5 A wise man is full of strength;

   And a man of understanding showeth great power.

6 For with wise counsel shalt thou carry on successful war;

   And safety is where counsellors are not wanting.

The ב of בּעוז (thus with Pathach in old impressions, Cod. 1294, Cod. Jaman., and elsewhere with the Masoretic note לית ומלא) introduces, as that of בכּח, Psalm 24:4, the property in which a person or thing appears; the article (cf. העזבים, Proverbs 2:13, Gesen, 35, 2A) is that of gender. The parallel מאמץ כח, a Greek translates by ὑπὲρ κραταιὸν ἰσχύΐ equals מאמּיץ כּח (Job 9:4; Isaiah 40:26). But after 5a it lies nearer that the poet means to express the power which lies in wisdom itself (Ecclesiastes 7:19), and its superiority to physical force (Proverbs 21:22); the lxx, Syr., and Targ. also, it is true, translate 5a as if מעז (prae potente) were the words used. אמּץ כּח means to strengthen the strength, and that is (Nahum 2:2) equivalent to, to collect the strength (to take courage), here and at Amos 2:14, to show strong (superior) strength. The reason is gathered from Proverbs 20:18 and Proverbs 11:14. The לך here added, Hitzig is determined to read תּעשׂה: for with prudent counsel the war shall be carried out by thee. The construction of the passive with ל of the subject is correct in Heb. (vid., at Proverbs 14:20) as well as in Aram.,

(Note: Vid., Nldeke's Neusyrische Gram. p. 219, Anm., and p. 416.)

and עשׂה frequently means, in a pregnant sense: to complete, to carry out, to bring to an end; but the phrase עשׂה מלחמה means always to carry on war, and nothing further. לך is the dat. commod., as in נלחם ל, to wage war (to contend) for any one, e.g., Exodus 14:14. Instead of ברב, the lxx reads בלב; regarding γεωργίου μεγάλου for מאמץ כח, without doubt a corrupt reading, vid., Lagarde.

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