Thursday, July 24, 2014

The King Who Cares for the Poor, Images the Lord

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 29:14, “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” Proverbs has much to say about our relationship to the poor, broadly defined as people who are weaker than us in one way or another. In fact, even the poor are exhorted to take care for how they treat others who are poor (Proverbs 28:3). As I see it, the primary principle Proverbs teaches in this regard is this: to care for the poor is to image the Lord.

When we come to Proverbs 29:14, which is the second to last Proverb that directly deals with this subject, we see that this principle applies to the most powerful people on the earth. They don’t get a pass because of their position, power, and prestige. In fact, in some respects the call upon them is greater because their level of responsibility is greater. The Lord sees, hears, and knows all things, and he has promised that he will bless the king who acts justly toward the poor.

As I pondered this proverb, I came to see something that evoked worship in my heart. Namely, the king who uses his position and power to stand for those without position and power demonstrates the heart of God on earth in a unique way. Since he rules over so many people and things in an unusual way, he has the opportunity to image God in an unusual way by showing kindness and giving help to those who are weak. And again, the Lord’s promise is that he will establish the one who faithfully reflects his character in this way.

For me, this is an awe-inspiring vision, but for the king who has ears to hear it will take courage to obey. In order to stand for the poor, a king will at times have to stand against the rich who seek to use their power and influence to oppress others and control the king. To stand for the poor, a king will have to risk tarnishing his reputation since he is, in some sense, identifying with the lowly rather than the venerable. And this is an especially risky thing in the context of an honor-shame culture where identification with others determines, in large part, others’ perception of the king. To stand for the poor, a king will have to fear the Lord and no one else. He will have to be an impartial judge, favoring neither the rich nor the poor, and entrusting himself into the hands of the King of kings who sees, knows, and saves.

Proverbs 31:1-9 presents us with an oracle that was written by the mother of King Lemuel. We don’t know who Lemuel was, and it probably doesn’t matter. What matters is that he had a very wise mother who composed a very wise oracle that he should memorize it, take it heart, and stay focused on his calling all the days of his life. In essence, she said, “My son, avoid the deceptive allure of women and wine, and stay focused on your mission at all times.” She concluded her oracle with these words: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

She obviously knew this truth and longed for the blessing of the Lord to be lavished upon her son: “If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.” Indeed, the king who cares for the poor, images the Lord.

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