17 Can someone who hates justice govern?
Will you condemn the just and mighty One?
18 Is he not the One who says to kings, ‘You are worthless,’
and to nobles, ‘You are wicked,’
19 who shows no partiality to princes
and does not favor the rich over the poor,
for they are all the work of his hands?
20 They die in an instant, in the middle of the night;
the people are shaken and they pass away;
the mighty are removed without human hand.
21 “His eyes are on the ways of mortals;
he sees their every step.
22 There is no deep shadow, no utter darkness,
where evildoers can hide.
23 God has no need to examine people further,
that they should come before him for judgment.
24 Without inquiry he shatters the mighty
and sets up others in their place.
25 Because he takes note of their deeds,
he overthrows them in the night and they are crushed.
26 He punishes them for their wickedness
where everyone can see them,
27 because they turned from following him
and had no regard for any of his ways.
28 They caused the cry of the poor to come before him,
so that he heard the cry of the needy.
God will “hear the cry of the needy” when the rich and powerful oppress them, says Elihu in the Old Testament book of Job. God “takes note of their deeds,” and will “shatter the mighty,” punishing them “for their wickedness,” and “they will die in an instant, in the middle of the night.” British Biblical scholar Adam Clarke (1762-1832) had an interesting story to tell in his commentary on the book of Job regarding these words of Elihu. He wrote (paraphrased):
There was a time in Scotland when many men thought they served God by persecuting those who did not believe or worship exactly as they did. In those days there was a certain wealthy man who harshly persecuted his tenants because they met for worship in private homes, and not according to the orders of the established church. If his tenants were to spend all their money drinking and fornicating and fighting, he would have no objection and would not interfere. But if they met to quietly pray and read Scripture outside the walls of the church and without an official clergyman, he would do all in his power to make their lives miserable. That is just how it was in those days.
A holy, simple woman, one of those abused people, went one morning to the house of the great persecutor, and asked to speak with him. The servant desired to know her message, and he would deliver it, or else she could not be admitted. She told him she herself had to deliver her message to the master, adding that it was a matter of great importance, concerning the master himself. The servant told this to the master, stating that the woman appeared to have something particular on her mind. So the great and powerful man condescended to see her.
‘What is your business with me?’ said he, in a haughty, overbearing tone.
To which she answered, ‘Sir, we are just a small company of poor folk who are strivin’ to serve God according to our own conscience, and to get our souls saved. Ye are persecuting us; and I have come to beg ye to leave us alone; and if ye don’t, we’re gonna pray ye dead.’
The woman’s plea was powerful and irresistible. The master did not know what influence such people might have in heaven; but perhaps he had read Job 34, and did not want to put such prayers to the test. So he wisely took the old woman’s advice, and he left them alone. He was safe; they were satisfied; and God had the glory. When the poor refer their cause to God, he can be a terrible avenger.
I am not sure that it is a good thing in the eyes of God to “pray anyone dead,” but this reminder of the wrath of God against the wicked was a helpful one to that particular master.
Exodus 3:7-10 — The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians… The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 24:15 — Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Job 34:28 — They caused the cry of the poor to come before him, so that he heard the cry of the needy.
Romans 12:19 — Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Strengthen us, O God, to relieve the oppressed, to hear the groans of poor prisoners, to reform the abuses of all professions; that many not be made poor to make a few rich; for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. –Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)