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Exodus 23

Exodus 23:3, 6

3. Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.

3. Pauperem non honorabis ex sua causa.

6. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.

6. Non inflectes judicium pauperis tui in lite ejus.

 

6. Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor. Since laws are enacted to repress the vices which are of frequent occurrence, no wonder that God should put forward the case of the poor, to whom it often happens that they fail though their causes are good, both because they are without interest and are exposed to injury through the contempt in which they are held, and also because they cannot contend with the rich in incurring expense. Justly, then, is provision made for their inferiority, lest the iniquity of judges should rob them of the little they possess. But the other point here referred to might appear superfluous, viz., that judges should not favor the poor, which very rarely takes place. It would also be incongruous that what God elsewhere prescribes and praises should here be reprehended. I reply, that rectitude is so greatly pleasing to God, that the judge would in no wise be excusable, under whatever pretext he might decline from it ever so little, and that this is the intention of this precept. For, although the poor is for the most part tyrannically oppressed, still ambition will sometimes impel a judge to misplaced compassion, so that he is liberal at another’s expense. And this temptation is all the more dangerous, because injustice is done under the cloak of virtue. For, if a judge only directs his attention to the poverty of the litigant, a foolish fear will at the same time insinuate itself lest his sentence should ruin the man whom he would wish to save; thus he will award to the one what belongs to the other. Sometimes the temerity, audacity, and obstinacy of the poor in commencing and prosecuting suits is greater than that of the rich; and when they despair of their cause, they are sure to have recourse to tears and lamentations, by which they deceive incautious judges, who, forgetful of the cause itself, only consider how their misery and want is to be relieved. Besides, too, whilst they think little of the rich man’s loss, because he can easily bear it, they make no scruple of declining from equity in favor of the poor. But hence it better appears how greatly God is offended by the oppression of the poor, when He will not have even them befriended to the injury of the rich.

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