Would the following verses be considered as protecting people who face genocide?

Proverbs 24:11-12 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[11] Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.
[12] If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work?

  • It seems rather broad, so why not?
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 20 '18 at 22:17
  • 1
    The judgement upon Adam for his transgression is that all of his seed (without exception) shall die. Would you call that 'genocide' ? 'As in Adam, all die ...'.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 21 '18 at 21:19
  • 1
    Just FYI, I've heard that people in the ProLife movements/organizations especially in the United States ProLife movements/organizations use this verse as the reason to uphold ProLife causes. Jul 18 '20 at 0:12

The question is asked in two forms.

(1) "Is Proverbs 24:11-12 about protecting people from genocide?"

This is the form of the question in the title. Here, the answer is a swift and simple "No". "Genocide" is a 20th century invention, the term first used in 1944, and defined by the UN in 1948. It is not part of the world in which the book of Proverbs was produced.

(2) "Would the following verses be considered as protecting people who face genocide?"

This is the form of the question in the body of the post. Here, the answer is a qualified "Perhaps".

It's not that the verses "protect" people. But the form of these verses implies a prayer in v. 11, and v. 12b provides some theological rationale for it. And this ancient prayer could be appropriately used today to inform prayers on behalf of communities threatened by, or dealing with, a situation of "genocide".

However, in view of (1), above, and further considering context, this wouldn't be the most natural sense within the book. The language of being taken to slaughter and so led to death appears in Proverbs 1-9 as part of the scenario of moral failing, especially at the hands of "Lady Folly" in her different guises. Probably Prov 7:22 (and cf. 7:26) is the best example:

Suddenly he follows her
As an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool,...

In the context of Proverbs 24 itself (rather than the wider book) the passage goes on to speak of the conflict of the "righteous" and the "wicked", and the fall of an "enemy" (much like the Psalms), so here again, the sense is more markedly moral and personal, rather than national or ethnic (the parameters of "genocide").

So, while we might most naturally associate language of "being taken away to death" (v. 11a) with the military atrocities of our own and recent generations, this is not the framework inhabited by the Israelite wisdom tradition represented in Proverbs.

  • Good answer, but a question about your first point, because I'm not sure I understand it. "Genocide" is a 20th century label for something that has occurred for a very long time. If OP had chosen a different word or phrase (e.g., "destruction of a racial or cultural group"), would you have answered it differently?
    – pbarney
    Aug 25 at 14:09

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