Poverty Makes God Your Defender

Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them (Prov. 22:22-23) 

This is one of the many direct commands I find in Proverbs. It is a sober and strict warning against exploiting the poor. Helping the poor is a common theme in both biblical and pagan literature. But what makes the Israelite view unique is that God is seen as the defender of the poor and the oppressed.[1]

The meaning is simple. Do not rob the poor, just because he is poor. For God will defend him, and will rob you of your life. God will do to you exactly what you do to the poor.

Let’s look closer at these awesome words of God. The “poor” is synonymous to the “afflicted.” There is no economic referent to the word, “poor” (dal). Rather, it means, “one who is low.” (TWOT) Symbolically, it means, “reduced, weak, helpless.” (BDB) But the word for “afflicted” (Heb. ani) signifies some kind of disability, weakness, or distress. (TWOT)

Thus, the poor are afflicted for they are powerless and weak. They lack the ability to defend themselves before the rich. They are helpless against the crushing might of the rich.

Another interesting word is, “crushed” (Heb. daka), which means, “oppressed” or “maltreated” in court. (BDB) In v. 22, to rob the poor is to crush the afflicted. To rob the poor of their possessions is to oppress the afflicted.

Where do the rich rob the poor of their possessions? At the “gate,” the place of giving justice—the judicial court (cf. Prov. 1:21; 24:7).[2] But ironically, the place of justice is the place of injustice against the poor. For there, the rich rob the poor. The powerful crush the afflicted.

Perhaps the rich has filed a case in court against the poor. The poor man cannot pay for a good lawyer. He has no one to defend him. Perhaps the judge is corrupt. In the end, the poor man loses everything, except the clothes on his back.

But where human justice fails, divine justice takes over. Wisdom says, do not exploit the poor. Do not use the human court system to rob the poor. God is the defender of the poor. You might win over the poor before a human judge. But you will never win before the divine Judge.

Therefore, do not rob the poor or God will rob you of your life! God will do to you exactly what you do to the poor.


[1] Garrett, Proverbs, 194; Murphy, Proverbs, 170.

[2] Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, __), 425.

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