8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Pro 31:8-9 KJV)
Most of us are familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman. We heard about her, we studied her and we tried hard to either be her of have a wife like her (some of us have done pretty good with that one). Unfortunately, men have also used the “Proverbs 31” woman in churches to keep their wife silent, in the kitchen and doing what she is “supposed to do”. Much ink has been spilled praising the virtue of this woman while at the same time professionally “exegeting” the passage to make sure that the women don’t get too uppity.
Let me run through a quick survey. How many of you have heard how a woman can consider and buy a field and plant a vineyard without every working outside the home?
Next question. How many of you have read, studied and applied the two verses right before the section on the Proverbs 31 woman? I’ve listed them above (Proverbs 31:8-9). I would imagine that now we are hearing crickets.
Run a search on the Proverbs 31 Woman. How many books, lectures, conferences, blogs and articles do we find?
Now check the upcoming calendar for the year. How many conferences are there on these two verses?
Don’t get me wrong. Proverbs 31:10-31 is a wonderful, moving, hopeful and joyful celebration of wisdom. It needs much more meditation, study and reflection in all of our lives (notice that I didn’t say “conferences, blogs, bible studies, articles and personal opinions”).
But part of the same passage, the same instructions that King Lemuel’s mother gave to him, are these two verses. It all goes together.
The Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t begin at verse 10. The instructions begin with the man. In order for the wife to flourish in wisdom the man must take heed to his heart. First, he must be devoted to her, married to her (verse 3). He must not let his heart wander around in fornication and adultery, but must “live with her in understanding” (1 Peter 3:7); he must “love her as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). He must not live as a miserable drunk, but live as a king and priest under Jesus Christ (verses 4-7). Miserable wretches are drunkards; that is not us. We have been made members of Christ and partakers of his anointing.
Both of those concepts are for another time and another place.
God has given gifts to mankind according to his wisdom. To some, he has given authority, responsibility, wealth. Some have a voice that is heard. Some have office in the church. Some are kings.
Our human nature wants to take these gifts that we have been given and use them to control and devour the sheep. Human depravity always seeks to elevate itself as god in the place of God. Authority and responsibility quickly become abused to the destruction of those whom God has placed to benefit from godly structure. And God will hold those in authority accountable for their abuse of authority. This is why Israel and Judah were destroyed and taken captive into Babylon.
Because human nature is thus depraved, there are many who have no voice, have no hope, have no help. They neither have the money to purchase justice from corrupt judges, nor do they have any skills for making a case for themselves. Perhaps their words get jumbled. Perhaps they are frightened. Perhaps they simply cannot speak for themselves. Perhaps they have no legal standing, either in church or in the state.
If King Lemuel is to be a good steward of the gifts that God has given him, he MUST use the authority, responsibility and power that he has been given to be the voice for those who do not have one. Of course, if I were of the patriarchal persuasion, I might ask what King Lemuel was doing still listening to his mother when he was clearly over the age of 13, but since I am not of that persuasion, I will let those that are continue to blog trying to explain it.
But that is neither here nor there.
Open your mouth for those who can’t (verse 8). The second half of this verse uses Hebrew idioms that sound a bit awkward in English.
Literally, it says, “Open your mouth on behalf of those who cannot speak, into judgment on behalf of the children of vanishing.”
“Judgment” means the legal process. It means that which determines situations righteously and with equity. It means not to look at wealth, power, privilege and position, but to judge according to equity, according to the Law of God.
“Children of vanishing” are all of those without a voice, who are not seen and are not heard. They are those who have been silenced by oppression, have learned from an early age to vanish into corners, keep their mouths shut. They are the Harry Potters of the world, hiding under the stairs with no voice, no hope, no future. They are the ones that fade into the mass graves of the world, who are unnoticed in the marketplace. They are those who hide the bruises and the scars with long sleeves and long tales, unnoticed by the “important” people, who wish to not be bothered by uncomfortable things.
The King James calls them, “those who are appointed to destruction.” The ESV says, “all who are destitute”. The NKJV says, “appointed to die” and the ASV says “the unfortunate”. All of them (except arguably the ASV) come close to the meaning of the Hebrew idiom. All of this, and more. They are the “children of vanishing”. Those who are marginalized, outcast, voiceless, powerless and helpless.
All who have been given a voice are commanded by God to speak for those who cannot, to plead the cause of the poor. We all have our corners of responsibility and everyone who has been given responsibility has been given responsibility over only a certain area. We have our families, our churches, our cities, our neighborhoods. These are our first responsibilities. The poor we will always have with us, and we cannot shut our eyes and ears to the cries of the oppressed right in our own midst.
We cannot look the other way while the powerful abuse, beat and torment the sheep. We cannot pretend that “mistakes were made” when pastors and church leaders get rich on the backs of the oppressed. We cannot hide our eyes as the gifted ones of the church stomp over the quiet saints of God, running them out of the church and leaving them broken and wounded, without a home.
Perhaps I am a “bleeding heart”. This kind of talk always seems to make conservative Reformed people a little nervous, as if someone is about to go off and become a “new dealer”.
No. I’m not talking about ending one form of abuse with another form of officially sanctioned government abuse.
I am talking about a righteous king. All who have been given voices, responsibility, or even authority. Whatever sphere God has placed you in and whatever gifts God has given to you it is your responsibility to be a voice to those who have none. If the church had done this, there wouldn’t have been the necessity of adding a bureaucracy to step in. But we have miserably failed. We have historically shut our eyes, ears and mouths against the cry of the oppressed and silenced.
We have not practiced church discipline against those who bought and sold slaves, or even those who attempt to justify such wickedness.
We have not protected wives from abusive, drunken husbands.
We have looked the other way and pretended not to hear the cries of sexually abused children.
The Anglicans who occupied Ireland watched millions starve to death during the potato famine and did nothing. There was plenty of food, but it went into the pockets of the rich land owners – all of them professing the name of Christ. The bodies of the poor lay dead on the sides of the roads as the wealthy protestants filled out eviction notices.
It’s time to end it. It is time for every pastor, elder, deacon, wealthy and powerful church member, all those who have a voice to say, “Enough.”
I am not talking about civil unrest, picketing or even how we vote. We in the church have been given a tremendously powerful tool against all oppression and wickedness. We just don’t use it.
That tool is church discipline. Unfortunately, we most often use church discipline against those who have no voice, because we listen to the ones who have a voice. It is time to open up different ears and learn how to hear the voice of the voiceless. It is time to open our mouths and speak for those who are “children of vanishing”. It is time to hear with the ears given to us by Christ, with minds that distinguish between wolves and sheep, with eyes that discern according to truth and hearts that don’t tremble at the fierce and violent words of the powerful.
This, by the way, is how to build a church. Not programs, tent meetings and sparkly evangelists. The church is built of the outcast, the wounded, the sick and those who have no voice. Follow Christ. Speak for those who cannot.
6 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment (Eze 34:1 KJV)