When Doing Nothing Is a Sin

Why is doing nothing a sin? In what kind of plight were the people of verse 11? Why is ignorance no excuse?

Proverbs 24:10–12: If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

verse 11 mentions delivering people that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain. “Rescue those that are being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter” (HCSB).

“Who are the ones staggering toward death whom the reader is charged to rescue? Two possibilities are evident. These could be literal prisoners who have been (presumably wrongfully) condemned to die. The reader is to take extraordinary measures to secure their release (a dramatic modern example would be the extermination of the Jews in Europe during the Second World War). Alternately, these are people stumbling toward death because of their moral and spiritual blindness. The reader should therefore sway them into the right path by moral persuasion. In light of the graphic language, the former interpretation appears more likely.”

Whoever they were, they represented a group that was unable to help themselves. The Old Testament often mentions the poor in general and orphans and widows in particular in this group of exploited people (see, for example, Deut. 24:17–22 and Isa. 1:17). The people were commanded to respond to such need in three ways. First, they were warned against exploiting them. Second, they were told to be generous in helping them. Third, they were called to protect them and to champion their cause.

These three biblical principles apply to issues of the sanctity of human life. For example, the word choice is a key word in the abortion debate. Adults have the right to choose, but who speaks for the new life being formed by God within the womb? The unborn are unable to speak for themselves. Others must speak for them.

The people of the psalmist’s day had two responses that apply today. One response was to faint in the day of adversity (“do nothing in a difficult time,” HCSB). Doing nothing is a popular response to issues such as protecting the unborn. The Bible condemns doing nothing when we know what we should do (Jas. 4:17). The priest and Levite passed by a man in need (Luke 10:31–32). Jesus identified with the hungry, sick, and homeless. Those who do nothing fail to serve Jesus (Matt. 25:42–43).

The other excuse is, “We knew nothing about this” (NIV). Who can honestly use this excuse? We know what an abortion does, and those who know Psalm 139:13–16 know why this is a serious issue. After the Allies liberated the concentration camps toward the end of World War II, they were appalled at what they found. Many Germans said they knew nothing about this horror. Even those who lived in nearby towns made this excuse. The Allies found this hard to believe.

The mandate of this passage is to do what we can to protect human life.

What are the lasting truths in Proverbs 24:10–12?

 1.      Some innocent people face death.
 2.      Those who value human life should protect them.
 3.      Many people do nothing to help and protect the most vulnerable members of society.
 4.      Some who do nothing claim they know nothing about what is going on.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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