Three individuals appear in this proverb. The poor, the robbers of the poor, and the LORD who pleads the cause of the poor. The LORD will plead the cause of the poor. He will spoil all who rob the poor. As they thought to unjustly rob the poor, He will, in justice, plunder and take from them. What the LORD does for spiritually poor beggars is for their eternal safety and greatest comfort. Let us consider this promise and warning.
1. The Poor
First, who are the poor? a.) The poor here spoken of are not those who are poor in this world’s goods. The poor in this world, by nature, are rich in themselves. If natural man is able to acquire this world’s goods he is content. If he looks at himself and finds above average morality, he is satisfied. The worldly poor desire worldly things, but they do desire Christ because they do not think they need Him. They do not desire Him because they do not see their need of Him. In this sense, natural man thinks himself rich. b.) Nor are these poor all men by nature, though all men by nature are unprofitable (Rom. 3:12). No doubt, sin has indebted all mankind to God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10). Sin earns death, even death under the curse of God’s law. Since all have sinned, all owe a debt to God’s justice that they cannot pay. Moreover, though God requires obedience from all, no man will give it, nor can any give one thing that God requires (Rom. 8:6-8). In that sense, all men are poor. But that is not what is meant by the poor here. Though all are spiritually poor before God, yet all are blinded to their spiritual poverty by their spiritual pride. c.) Who then are the poor spoken of here? They are those whom God sees as poor and who He therefore makes poor in spirit. “The LORD maketh poor and maketh rich” (1 Sam. 2:7). To be poor in spirit is to have nothing to pay against my sin debt, and no obedience to bring to meet the righteousness required by God’s law. To be poor in spirit is to own that I am a sinner, in debt to God’s justice, with nothing to pay, and to know I have no righteousness of my own. To be poor in spirit is to have a right estimation of myself before God, and therefore to have no confidence in my flesh, in what I am able to do (Philippians 3:3). But to be spiritually poor includes more, because God not only makes poor, but once He makes poor, He makes rich in faith. To His poor ones, the LORD gives one thing: faith in Christ. “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith” (James 2:5)? Faith is precious because it is God’s gift and because by it we see Christ as precious. Faith in Christ sees only Christ as all my sin payment, all my obedience for righteousness, and all my expectation for glory. Thus, the spiritually poor consider all things loss to have Christ and to be found in Him alone. The poor cast off all thoughts of personal obedience as righteousness, because they know that all such obedience is but filthy rags (Philippians 3:8-9). To be poor in spirit, therefore, is to have nothing in myself, and to possess by faith all that Christ is.
The poor in scripture
Before Christ called him, Paul considered himself rich before God. Born to the right people, educated in the right law, doing the right things; Paul was spiritually self-satisfied in his conscience before men and God. But when Christ opened his eyes, he saw his true condition. He saw that he was wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked (Rev. 3:17; Rom. 7:9; Philippians 3:4-7). He saw that only Christ is good. He saw that Christ’s obedience unto death is the righteousness God must provide, and is the only righteousness He accepts (Psalm 71:16; Isaiah 45:22-25; Rom. 3:21). Paul then knew that he was nothing but a sinner. Seeing himself impoverished by his sin before God, and seeing the obedience and death of the Lord Jesus Christ as the very righteousness of God, Paul held to only one thing: Christ is all my righteousness before God! Unlike Paul, Ruth was born to a cursed people (Deut. 23:3). She was raised up in a world of lust and pride. She knew only the gods made by men: the work of men’s hands, works religion. But God appointed her to eternal life (1 Thess. 5:9). He saw her need. He saw her poverty and had eternal pity on her: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee” (Jer. 1:5; 31:3; Eph. 1:3-ff). He therefore made her to know herself to be poor in spirit. Being made poor in spirit, she came to only treasure and only hope in the God of Israel, and to love the people of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ruth 1:16-17). Being poor, she had but one thing: Christ, the God of Israel. With importunity, therefore, as a beggar with nowhere else to go, she pleaded with Naomi, as with Christ, out of the poverty and desire of her heart: “Intreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee. Whither thou goest, I will go. Where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).
2. The Robbers
They rob the poor who tell God’s poor saints that Christ, their one and only hope, is not enough. If you tell the poor believer that he needs more than Christ, you rob him of his only hope. If you tell me that my salvation depends on my decision, or my will, or my commitment, or my obedience, or my repentance, or my believing, or my holding out to the end, in short, anything but what Jesus Christ has done in His life and death, then you draw my eyes away from Christ and His accomplishments for sinners, and you take away my only hope (1 Tim. 1:1). If you tell me that Christ died for all men, but that His death is only effective to those who believe, then you take away my only hope. If you tell me that God loves everybody, that Christ died for everybody, but that it is what I do that makes the difference between me and others before God, then you take away my only hope. My only hope is that when Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), my salvation was accomplished. My only hope is that God has received Christ from the dead in full satisfaction for my sins and in fulfillment of my everlasting righteousness. My only hope is that Christ, by His one offering to God for His people, has perfected me forever (Heb. 10:14). But if you say that for God to accept me, He must find something in me, that He looks for something from me, waits for me to change my attitude, waits for me to muster proper desires, waits for me to come up with sufficient sincerity, or that He justifies me by something other than the finished work of Christ alone, then by these things you attempt, like satan, to corrupt my mind and trust from the single object of my faith: Christ alone (2 Cor. 11:3). Remember, I am poor. I have nothing to pay. I have nothing to bring. If God leaves me to myself, I am a goner. Christ must be my all, and God must save me by considering only what He has done. He must send His Spirit of grace to give life and faith in my soul to look to Christ only if I am ever to be saved, kept, perfected and brought to glory. If I am not saved entirely for what God thinks of Christ, then I have no hope. If the graces of the Holy Spirit do not teach me and lead me to Christ alone, then I have missed the message of the gospel. If I am not saved by God’s will, because of Christ’s obedience unto death, and by the life-giving grace of the Spirit of God, giving me faith in Christ alone, then I do not know God, I do not have faith, and I am lost.
The poor have nothing in themselves. All that they have is what God has given them in Christ. God will either receive all from Christ for them, and give them all things because of what He has received from Christ, or the poor have nothing in God, and above all men, they are most miserable!
God will rob you if you rob the poor
What will happen to you if you rob the poor? Remember Haman? Like satan, he tried to kill the Jews by the king’s own decree. But Mordecai and Esther (Christ and His Bride) pleaded the cause of God’s people. Mordecai saved the king’s life by uncovering conspiracy against the king. The king then required Haman to lead his hated enemy, Mordecai, through the city on the king’s own horse, wearing the king’s own crown and the king’s own robe and the king’s ring of authority. Haman was then hung on the gallows that he built and on which he intended to kill Mordecai (Christ defeated the devil by the very death the devil intended for Him -- the judgment of God, John 12:31). Haman attempted to rob the LORD’s people. But the LORD pleaded the cause of His people. He robbed Haman. Haman lost his life and all that were with Haman lost their lives and all that they had.
3. The LORD
This and more also will Christ do to those who rob His poor ones. He will plead their cause, because their cause is His cause (John 6:37-40; 10:27-30). Think of it! Job desired a man that he might plead his cause with that man in the place of God. And Michael the archangel did not bring a railing accusation against satan regarding the body of Moses, but said to him, “The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan” (Zech. 3:2). Here then is -- not only the highest officer in heaven’s court -- but the Judge of all Himself, taking the part of an Advocate on behalf of His poor people against their enemies. There is no higher court to which an appeal may be made. “The LORD will plead their cause!” Does the thought of the LORD Himself pleading for you cause your faint heart to swoon in incomprehensible wonder? To think that the King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only God and Savior of sinners, would take up and defend His people by arguments and evidence and satisfaction to God, so that in the open trial, no creature in heaven and earth will have anything to say, but must instead give the highest praise to God for His unspeakable righteousness and truth and grace: that He Himself would stand up and take and plead the cause of His poor against their sin, their flesh, the world, death and hell!
God will not let any rob His poor ones who hope in Christ and His obedience! And God will take everything from all who attempt to rob His poor by mixing works with the true grace of God in Christ. The rich rob the poor in greed and envy because the poor have nothing, yet possess all things and look for all things in Christ. If you try to corrupt the poor from his one hope with free-will, works religion, in order to take from the poor the pure grace of God that is in Christ -- the poor man’s only treasure -- then God will take from you all that you have.
Christ’s pleading: my salvation and comfort
Here is the promise to the poor. Christ pleads for you! When the poor stand in court, they can’t afford an attorney. One must be assigned to stand for them. God has assigned His Son to take the cause of the poor as His own cause. It is God’s cause. It is His will to save His people from their sins by Christ! Now it is Christ’s cause. He was made sin for God’s chosen poor. Christ answered God for His people at the cross. He now answers for them in their conscience against all accusers. He will yet answer for them in Judgment. The poor therefore flee for refuge to Him who is their Priest and Advocate (1 John 2:1). This scene gives rise to the oft quoted and cherished ditty of the poor huckster: “I am a poor sinner, and nothing at all; but Jesus Christ is my all in all.”
In judgment, when God calls my name, I will wait on the LORD. He will plead my cause. Though my own sins would damn me; though satan would slander and accuse; though the law itself makes charges and requires payment to the uttermost farthing, yet Christ is my Surety. He stood up for me from eternity. “The LORD will plead their cause!”
“Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless: For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee” (Prov. 23:10-11).
Never think to take eternal salvation from the poor that God has promised and given them in Christ before the world began (the old landmark) (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; Eph. 1:3-4). Remember this: their Redeemer is mighty; He shall plead their cause with thee. May the LORD, even Jesus Christ our Savior, thus speak in judgment to my sin, my flesh, this world of false religion, hell, death and all who would charge me, because Christ bore and took away all the sin of my soul!
“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?! He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?! Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth! Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us!” (Rom. 8:31-34).