Proverbs 28:17-19

Proverbs 28:17-19 February 18, 2010


The Proverb can be translated this, woodenly, in this way: “A man oppresses with the blood of the soul unto the pit he flees. Let no man hold him back.”

Again, the proverb uses the word adam , and again we are put in mind of the sin of the first man.  Adam’s sin was an act of impatience and rebellion against Yahweh’s commandment, but here the “adam” is acting violently, shedding innocent blood.  Was the first man’s sin also an act of violence?  Not in any obvious way.  But after his sin, he immediately separates himself from God and from Eve, and even becomes Eve’s accuser.  Perhaps we can also see his failure to protect Eve from the serpent’s temptation as an implicit act of oppression.

Shedding innocent blood was one of the great evils of the late monarchy.  Manasseh especially was guilty of shedding innocent blood, and the blood he shed was one of the prime reasons for Yahweh’s assault on the temple.  Jeremiah’s vehement temple sermon is directed not only against idolatry and other general sins, but also against the violence of shedding innocent blood.  Because of the innocent blood that filled the land, the blood of the sacrificial substitutes was ineffective.  It would not take away sin, but the land would instead expel Judah out of the land into Babylon.  Innocent blood appears in the gospels in connection with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, his betrayal of “innocent blood” and Pilate’s effort to cleanse himself of the defilement of Jesus’ blood, which he knows to be innocent (Matthew 27).

In ancient Israel, bloodshed defiled the land, as Abel’s defiled the land earlier.  When the blood of the innocent cried out from the ground, it called up the avenger of blood who would atone for the blood with the blood of the slayer.  It was an application of the lex talionis : Justice means eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, blood for blood.  But innocent blood shed innocently was treated differently.  Anyone who killed another accidentally was allowed to flee from the avenger of blood to a city of refuge where, if judged innocent, he would remain until the death of the high priest (Numbers 35).

The verb translated in the NAS as “laden with guilt” is ‘ashaq , which means oppress, treat unjustly, act violently.  Scripture particularly forbids violent acts against the weak and helpless (Proverbs 14:31; Jeremiah 7:6; Zechariah 7:10).  Oppression is often paired with robbery – it takes the form of assaults not only on persons but on property (Leviticus 6:2, 4; 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14; 28:39; 1 Samuel 12:3-4; Ezekiel 22:29; Hosea 5:11).  Israel hoped for a king greater than Solomon, who would take up the cause of the poor and crush the oppressor (Psalm 72:4), a king would carry out Yahweh’s own program of executing justice for the oppressed (Psalm 146:7).

The violent, as always in Scripture, are foiled.  Those who oppress and abuse and set traps for others will end up falling into the pit themselves.  Solomon depicts the bloody man running headlong toward his destruction, not realizing that the pit lies in front of him.  Genesis 37 uses this word for “pit” six times, and the same word is translated as “dungeon” later in the story (Genesis 40:15; 41:14).  Joseph’s brothers are men of blood, violent oppressors, but they do not fall into the pit.  Joseph does instead, and later forgives them.  They don’t rush into the pit, but escape it, but it is because a substitute has taken their place.  Joseph is a Christ figure, a type of the one who is oppressed until He sheds the blood of His soul, who is thrown into the pit that should be reserved for the violent, but who is finally brought up out of the pit and installed as King over all.

What should be done for the oppressor?  The proverb instructs us to keep our hands off him.  He’s rushing toward destruction, and we should let him go, not holding him back from the consequences of his sin.  That is certainly the way the Lord often works, judging men not by stopping them in our flight to destruction but judging them by delivering us over to our flight, by removing the obstacles that would hold us back.  If you are held back from the pit, it’s because the Lord has set up an obstacle in the way.  Be grateful.


This proverb forms a pain with the previous one.  Not only are both speaking of the final end of the crooked and perverse, but there is a verbal link between the two verses.  The verb “oppress” is ‘ashaq while the verb translated as “is crooked” is ‘aqash .   Both verses, further, speak of falling.  Men were made from dust, but are supposed to rise above to shine as stars in the sky.  It’s a reversal of man’s destiny to be thrown down to the dust again, to be cast into a pit, lower than he began.

Blameless is a sacrificial term, used frequently to describe the “blemishless” animals that were to be offered on the altar (Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1; 6, 9; 22:19, 21etc), as well as the priests who were to bring the offerings.  The man who is without blemish is the one who is suitable for sacrifice.  As Toby Sumpter pointed out in his sermons on Job, the blameless or blemish-less man shouldn’t expect a trouble-free life.  The blameless man is suitable for sacrifice, suitable to be brought near and transformed to smoke.  That is a good thing.  To be a sacrifice is to be “eaten” into Yahweh’s cloud and fire, to be transformed and incorporated into the Triune life.  That is the way the blameless man is saved ( yasha’ is the verb).


The contrast here is between tilling/serving the land and chasing fantasies.  The terminology of “tilling” and “land” is important.  Tilling is abad , to serve, and is the verb used in Genesis 2 to describe Adam’s original vocation and in the Pentateuch to describe the tabernacle service of the Levitical priests.  Priests as “Adams” in the garden of the tabernacle, tilling the soil of the tabernacle to produce fruit, tilling the soil of Israel so that Israel would be productive and pleasing to her Lord.  “Land” here is not eretz , but adamah , ground, the word etymologically related to Adam.

Again, we have a reflection on the fall of Adam.  Adam was to guard and serve the adamah from which he was taken.  He failed to serve well, and so instead of being full of bread he was cast out of the garden, driven from the tree of life, and thrown into a condition of poverty.

The word translated as “empty” is reyq and in its literal uses it means empty, starving or thin (Genesis 41:27).  Tilling land, serving the garden, diligent work in one’s own place, is the way to prosperity and plenty.  But many people want something quick, and want a lot of it, and that kind of pursuit will end badly.  Even if they get all that they think they want, they will find it empty in the end.  Though the wording is different, the Bible often used the terminology of “emptiness” and “vanity” to describe idols and their effects.  Chasing idols, especially the idol of money and wealth, is chasing nothing, chasing emptiness, and will leave you empty.

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