What mean you that you beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? said the Lord GOD of hosts.
Two figures are here employed: "Beat my people to pieces;" "Grind the faces of the poor." One of these may help to the understanding of the other. Both deal with the tyrannies of masters, and may be illustrated by the cruel treatment of slaves in the old slave-holding times. J.A. Alexander explains the figures thus: "Crush my people is a common figure for severe oppression (Job 5:4; Proverbs 22:22). Grind the faces upon the ground, by trampling on their prostrate bodies, is also another strong figure for contemptuous and oppressive violence." Ewald thinks blows or wounds in the face may be referred to. The figure may be taken from the threshing-sled, a cart without wheels, having pieces of flint and iron on the under side, which was drawn by oxen over the heap of wheat, grinding the grains. So the exactions and forced labors to which the poor were subject was making lines and furrows in their faces by their grinding influence. The figure may be illustrated by the condition of the wretched fellahin in Egypt, who are ground with taxation until life has, become a burden. Matthew Henry gives two suggestions by way of explanation. "You put them to as much pain and terror as if they were ground in a mill, and as certainly reduce them to dust by one act of oppression after another." "Their faces are bruised and crushed with the blows you have given them; you have not only ruined their estates, but have given them personal abuses." Roberts gives specimens of similar proverbial expressions current in India. "Ah! my lord, do not thus crush my face. Alas I alas! my nose and other features will soon be rubbed away. Is my face to be made quite fiat with grinding?" "That head man has been grinding the faces of all his people." The opposite figure to this is to "smooth the face," meaning to "court or flatter."
I. MAN'S CRUELTY TO THE POOR. Illustrate the condition of poor people in Eastern lands. They are the first to suffer in times of national calamity, pestilence, famine, or war. The selfishness induced by national distress is seen in the neglect and ill treatment of the poor. Weak governments make cruel exactions from the poor. Lordly and rich men too often crush the poor. Slave countries have awful records of cruelty to the slave poor. Forced labor has, in many lands, embittered the lot of the poor. Now the evil is rather selfish neglect than open cruelty. Rich and poor are separated by wide class distinctions, and the poor are too often left in their misery to perish.
II. GOD'S CARE FOR, THE POOR. Seen in his counsels respecting the treatment of them, in his own wondrous ways of providing for them, and in the relation of his manifested Son to them. Of him this was the characteristic, "Blessed are the poor;" "To the poor the gospel is preached."
III. MAN'S CONCERN FOR THE POOR WHEN HE BECOMES GOD-LIKE. Then he strives to feel as Christ felt, and to act as Christ acts. See the spirit of pious Job (Job 29.), and compare Barnabas and Dorcas. The regenerate man cannot fail to interest himself in those who are needy, or in trouble. The good man deals justly and kindly and thoughtfully with the lowly folk who serve him. Grinding the face of the poor is an absolute impossibility to any man who has "the mind of Christ." - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.