YHWH hears the cry of the poor. So must you.
This, in a nutshell, is the utterly realistic instruction of one core feature of biblical wisdom. Occasionally, self-interest is invoked.
Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. (Proverbs 21:13 ESV)
One unanswerable query that can be directed at the biblical ethic is this: Are we to understand that YHWH supernaturally intervenes to enact the consequences of generosity and stinginess upon the life of their perpetrator? Or are we to accept that we are all constructing culture where the practices we employ will in time circle back to bless us or crush us?
The answer to this false duality is yes. Biblical wisdom seems to respond with a both/and rather than an either/or.
In the proverb before us, the exemplary fact is negative rather than positive: the one who closes his ear to the cry of the poor …
Beginning with the negative, one must extrapolate the obverse for the person who does in fact hear and attend to the mournful cry of the abandoned and the helpless. That person’s cry will be heard.
The proverb is profoundly counter-cultural, because culture self-protectively constructs an entire and wholly respectable logic for becoming deaf to such cries. In this regard, culture—without the provocative, leavening intervention of a divine word—arms and buttresses those who succeed. It makes the referenced deafness a default m.o. of respectable people who struggle to imagine themselves poor and helpless. The political right too easily refuses to countenance poverty that is not of one’s own making. The political left offloads attention to the poor man’s cry onto impersonal agencies, while basking in the false virtue that nourishes and sustains such quasi-generosity.
The Proverbs are less forgiving of such self-protective evasions. They assert that YHWH sees. There are a thousand good reasons for generosity to those who cry out.
One of them comes down to this: you may cry out some day, with no one to hear.