Proverbs 13:23 ESV
The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.
Oppression, governmental, criminal, or otherwise, is a common event in human history. Power corrupts, and those with power prey upon those without. Historically, perhaps the most common form of societal weakness is poverty, a lack of possessions (as well as of their attendant or originative status) which undercuts the attempts of a man to defend that which is his. At its core, this injustice is the sin of theft, yet many modern ideologies, including those which purport to help the poor (such as Communism), misdiagnose the problem and deny the actual roots of the difficulty: the right of man to private property as a means of stewarding God’s creation.
God gave to man the responsibility of stewarding His creation Matthew 21:33-41. Furthermore, He established the means by which man is to accomplish that task, instructing us through His word. As demonstrated by the laws concerning theft (Exodus 20:15), the assumption of ownership in Matthew 22:21, and the sacred duty ascribed by Naboth to his care for his land in 1 Kings 21, private property, both land and assets, is an integral component of those means of stewardship. The exception urged upon us by Paul in Philemon, meanwhile, is in regards to humanity: man may own (in a sub-creational sense) land, he may own parts of the animal kingdom, but he does not have the right to dispose of his fellow man as chattel (Philemon 1:12-16) (though debt slavery, of a kind similar to, if more explicit than, the form practiced in modern Western societies, is not fully forbidden). This makes sense, of course: man was given the ground to work for his sustenance and the animals likewise (Gen. 2:29, 9:3). He was given the beasts of the ground, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air to subdue, but he was not given His fellow man, as that role belongs to God along (Gen. 2:28; Ps. 2:10-12).
A necessary corollary to this Biblical stance on private property is its consistence instruction that a man has a right to the fruit of his labor, provided that labor is righteous. To be clear, this right is, like private property, subordinate to God’s right as our creator; as the laws concerning the first fruits and the harvest in Exodus 23:16 show, God has given to man stewardship, and these fruits are a part of that stewardship, to be used for the glory of God as being, in the end, truly His and not ours alone. Nevertheless, when the Bible directs us that the worker is worthy of his hire (Deut. 24:15; 1 Tim. 5:18), God means it. Furthermore, the necessary implication of the tithes God dictates in Deuteronomy 14:22-28, tithes on the year’s yield (22), is this: because that which man tithes from is his (it being robbery to tithe out of it otherwise, a sin which God never commands), the yield, being tithed out of, is necessarily the property of the man whose labor produced it and who tithes out of it.
The connection between the last two paragraphs and the proverb in question should be obvious. The proverb decries the injustice which sweeps away the produce of the poor; the basis of that injustice is the fact that the poor have a right to the work of their hands. The problem is not, in truth, the poverty of the poor, however helpful that is for those inflicting the injustice. Contrary to what Communism asserts, the problem here isn’t inequality, it’s theft. People do not have a generalized right to an equal amount of resources as everybody else; they have a specific right to specific property, irrespective of what others possess (a direct contradiction of socialist ideals). The injustice which this Proverb decries s the injustice of theft, particularly of a type of theft which is most often perpetrated against the poor, who, by virtue of their poverty, lack the recourses to protect themselves against legalized or effectively legalized (illegal but unpunished) theft.
There is much injustice in the world. God, though, is Lord of all. His Son, our God and Savior (Titus 2:13), has taken dominion over the world, to bring it ever more under His rule (Isaiah 9:7). In the final reckoning, all injustice will be met with its punishment (Jer. 17:18), its inverted twin. The injustice perpetrated against the poor will not be the least or the greatest of sins righted. Indeed, we all would face eternal wrath for those sins, were it not for the saving work of that same Savior, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of those whom He called, that those whom He called He might also justify, might also sanctify, might also glorify in His name (Romans 8:30).
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