“Rescue those who are drawn to death and those who are ready for slaughter, do not stint in helping. For if you say, ‘We did not know this,’ the One Who resides in hearts and protects the soul understands and knows, and will repay according to deeds.” Proverbs 24:11-12
There is much discussion about the identity of “those who are drawn to death,” “ready for slaughter.” Given the recent horror in our own land, we, too, might be curious.
Some believe the phrase refers to people who are being led to judicial execution. This is possible, but likely wrong. If this were about the unjustly judged, the writer would have likely been more explicit in expressing moral indignation. If this were about the justly judged, the writer would have not encouraged action against a sanctioned penalty.
So, who are these vulnerable people whose fate should concern us so? It certainly could be any innocents whose lives are physically put in peril by evildoers.
But, could it be more?
We get a clue from the Hebrew word for death, mavet. This is the same word Moses used when he proclaimed in his final oration, “I have set before you life and death.” “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to Him.”
In this reading, the people in peril are those who abandon the traditions that support life, and thus are drawn to the death Moses warns against.
What sort of death is on Moses’ mind? It could be physical death. It could also be emotional or spiritual death.
Perhaps one who is not rooted in the Ultimate Source of love, compassion, and righteousness may feel such an aloneness, as to be drawn to death – one’s own, as well as that of others.
Tragically, many who live outside of justice and mercy often deliver death to others and experience death themselves.
The proverbial wisdom is that we should do everything that is reasonably possible to rescue and deliver all such people from death.
The final idea in the verses is the most haunting: we can’t act toward the march of death as if “we did not know this.” The One Who resides in our hearts knows the truth. So, while God is watching over us, let’s ask and answer these questions:
- Do we even see the problems that plague our community with immorality, breakdown, and detachment that are consonant with death?
- If so, do we work honestly and vigorously with others to deliver those drawn to death away from the slaughter?
- Or, do we ignore it and let the march to death continue?
- And, after the carnage, do we mostly play politics with it all?