If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
You cannot hide from duty. You are your neighbor’s keeper. God expects you to help and protect those that are in mortal danger unjustly, if you have the power to deliver them.
To appreciate the warning here, the proverb continues, “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” (Pr 24:12)?
The issue here is death. Solomon clearly indicated mortal danger. Those needing help are described as “drawn unto death” and “ready to be slain.” You are not obligated to get involved in every controversy or need, but the risk of death demands your involvement.
Yet, because the principle of intervention is taught here, there is an inspired reminder for you to help others where you can save them from trouble or assist them to success (Is 58:6-7; Luke 6:27-38; 10:25-37; I Jn 3:17), as long as you do not meddle (Pr 26:17).
The assumption in the proverb is unjust death. There is no duty to rescue those justly sentenced to capital punishment. The taking of life for capital crimes is part of true justice (Num 35:31). Help here is only for those not deserving death. Protesting against capital punishment is to fight against God on a couple levels (Gen 9:6; Pr 28:17; Rom 13:4).
The warning surely applies to civil rulers, which was often in Solomon’s mind, since he wrote for the benefit of his son, the next king of Israel (Pr 1:8; 24:13; 27:11). Their duty before God is to protect those who cannot defend themselves (Pr 31:8-9; 20:28; 29:14).
But it also extends to you, if you can save the lives of those unjustly threatened with death. If the adversary is a government, you had better know the righteousness of the matter and be wise in your use of means. The examples below should help your decision.
The Bible teaches the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). But you should also consider Reuben (Gen 37:21-22), Judah (Gen 37:26-27), the Hebrew midwives (Ex 1:16-17), Jonathan (I Sam 19:4-6; 20:26-34), Hushai (II Sam 17:7-14), Obadiah (I Kgs 18:4), Esther (Es 8:4-8), Job (Job 29:12-17), Ahikam (Jer 26:24), Ebedmelech (Jer 38:7-13), Johanan (Jer 40:13-16), Daniel (Dan 2:12-18), and Paul’s nephew (Acts 23:16-19).
If you had lived in Germany during WWII, you might well have had the opportunity to save a Jew from death. Coming to the correct conclusion in such a case would not have been very difficult with this proverb and the examples provided imbedded in your mind.
Since unborn children are drawn to death and slain in abortion clinics, should you intervene against the law to deliver them? How can you save them, since it is their mother that carried them there? You would have to kill her to save her child, which would also result in its death. In such impossible and profane cases, trust the living God.
Abortion and infanticide are not new. They occurred in Rome, and the apostles did not call for demonstrations or intervention. If you were to stop the murder of an unborn or living child in one location, the murderous mother would take its life in another. When you cannot help, there is a God that sees every mother and every child. And remember, these crimes may reflect His judgment on a nation (Ezek 20:22-26; Rom 1:18-32).
Back to your duty, the lesson and warning is for those situations where you can clearly do something to save an innocent soul from death. God hears every excuse and sees every motive of the heart, and He will surely repay any person that could have helped for their complicity in the death of the innocent (Pr 24:12; Eccl 5:8).
Yet, there is another death that you may not easily think of when considering the proverb. The Bible teaches that converting a brother from error back to the truth will save his soul from death, for you help him restore his fellowship with God, and you defer or end God’s chastening in his life (Jas 5:19-20; Luke 15:24,32; Eph 5:14; I Tim 5:6; Rev 3:1). May you remember this God-given duty and privilege and embrace it for the profit of others.