The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
the LORD gives light to the eyes of both.
The book of Proverbs is very concerned with righteous and compassionate treatment of the poor and the downtrodden. This verse echoes several other proverbs that get at a similar message. The English Standard Version (ESV) gives a very literal translation of this verse that is, perhaps in this case, a bit too wooden. The New International Verson (NIV) clarifies the meaning and translates it as, "the poor and the oppressor have this in common: The LORD gives sight to the eyes of both." The author of this proverb aims to give his readers three things: a reality check, a warning, and an encouragement.
A Reality Check
The reality check is that God stands above all of humanity as King and Judge. He is the Creator who gives life and breath to every human being. This means that the ways we typically divide our society mean nothing to God. The poorest beggar and the wealthy power broker are equally needy in his sight. How might this truth change the way you live as a Christian? We often let worldly distinctions shape us in unhealthy ways. Maybe this manifests itself in the way we gravitate toward the people in church who seem stylish, wealthy, powerful, or who "have it all together." At the same time, we avoid the people who are weird, eccentric, or needy. This is not the way we should live as God's people.
Have you been an oppressor? This can be as simple as showing little regard for the people a few rungs down the ladder at work or lording it over a spouse or children. If this describes you, be warned! If God has placed you in a position of authority (and he has placed all of us in some position of authority), you are there to be a servant, and you will give an account to the One who called you to that position. Perhaps this proverb is calling you to turn from oppressing others and to remember that we are all fallen sinners in desperate need of God’s grace.
Have you been oppressed? Perhaps you feel unappreciated and taken for granted, or perhaps you’re facing subtle (or not so subtle) forms of bullying. If this describes you, take heart! You are of great value to the God who made you. If you trust in Christ, you have a righteous standing with a God who will one day take vengeance on all oppressors. You can stand up to oppression because you know who you are in Jesus Christ. Whoever you are, this proverb reminds us all to live in light of the truth of God’s righteous reign.