May it be helpful to pastors and leaders who may want to share a pro-life message at their church or organization.
We begin now with a look at Proverbs 24:11:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
Nothing is said in the verse about the situation in mind. Is it captives taken in war about to be destroyed. Is it victims of vigilante justice? Is it an innocent person wrongly accused in court? Is it murder in the streets? Is it child-sacrifice to pagan gods? The text does not say what the situation is.
We Are Commanded to Intervene
This is typical of biblical proverbs. They are often very general guidelines for how the fear of God works itself out in day-to-day life. God expects us to have enough spiritual wisdom and enough experience from life and enough awareness of his Word to apply these proverbs appropriately.
Verse 11 is a general statement. And the reason it's general is so that we will not limit it to one group of humans and try to leave out another group. We must not limit it to Jews or white people or healthy people or rich people or intelligent people. It is general, not specific.
What, then, does it teach us to do? The duty of verse 11 could be stated like this: "If a group of humans is being taken away to death who ought not be taken away to death, the people who fear God ought to try to rescue them." Or, to use the words of the second half of the verse, "If there is a group of humans who are stumbling [literally: slipping] to the slaughter who ought not to be slipping to the slaughter, the people who fear God ought to try to hold them back from the slaughter." What is being commanded here is some kind of intervention from us when we become aware of humans being killed who ought not to be killed.
Sometimes the Slaughter May Be Cloaked
Then verse 12 anticipates an objection that some people will raise who didn't do anything to try to rescue those who were being taken away to death. It says, "If you say, 'Behold, we did not know this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not requite man according to his work?"
This means that the writer here has in mind the possibility that the slaughter may be cloaked; it may be hidden or concealed or secret enough that people would claim with some plausibility that they didn't know it was going on.
There Will Be No Evasion with God
But the text says the plausibility will not hold with God. In other words the excuse of ignorance is not likely to stand up in God's courtroom. It may stand up in man's courtroom because man cannot weigh the heart. But God knows our motives and our awareness exactly. He sees through all our rationalizations and knows perfectly when we have neglected a duty out of ignorance or out of laziness or fear or apathy or preoccupation with lesser things. There will be no evasion with God.
Notice that the verse does not say, "You claim not to know about the slaughter, but God knows that you do know." It says something more radical. What it says is, "You claim not to know about the slaughter, but God knows how your heart works." In other words God not only knows what we really know inside. He also knows when our ignorance is guilty ignorance.
When we are called to account for our actions, he not only will say, "Why didn't you act this way if you knew this much?" He will also say, "Why did you allow yourself, in view of how much was at stake, to remain in such insensitive ignorance?" And he will know the answer before we give it, because he weighs the hearts of every one of us. "Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?"
So our text this morning makes three things clear.
First, it makes clear that when a group of humans are being killed who ought not to be killed, it is our biblical duty to intervene and to try to rescue them and to hold them back from the slaughter.
Second, the text makes clear that sometimes slaughter can be done with enough camouflage that people may try to make a plausible case that they did not really know what was happening.
Third, it makes clear that the excuse of ignorance is not likely to hold with God who not only knows what we really know in our hearts but also what we have willfully neglected to know.
Now I believe very strongly that this is God's word to us today concerning the slaughter of abortion. I believe this text is a clear call to action along with many others of a similar kind (Psalm 82:3–4; Isaiah 58:6–7; James 1:27; 2:14–17; 1 John 3:16–17; etc.).
But before I say more about that action, I need to at least mention in summary form why I think the unborn who are being taken away to death are indeed a group of humans who ought not to be killed in the abortion clinics of our city. And if the unborn are human beings, they qualify for protection under this text.
Are the Unborn Human Beings?
Here are some of my reasons for counting the aborted unborn as human beings in their own right.
They have been conceived by two human beings, not by two animals or a human and an animal. Therefore they are utterly unique in the animal kingdom. Genetically they are human, not whales or horses or apes.
2. God's Creative Work in the Womb
The Bible teaches that in the womb God is knitting together a person. Psalm 139:13 says, "Thou didst knit ME together in my mother's womb."
3. Personal Description in Scripture
In the Bible the unborn are referred to in personal terms. For example, in Genesis 25:22 Rebekah's pregnancy is described like this: "The children [the ordinary word for children or sons outside the womb] struggled together within her." Luke 1:41 says that "when Elizabeth [who was six months pregnant] heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb." The word for "babe" (brephos) is the same word used in 2:12 and 2:16 for the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (and in 18:15 for the infants being brought to Jesus). The unborn are not regarded impersonally in the Bible.
4. How They Look
The unborn look like you and me when they are being aborted. The science of fetology with its photography and ultrasound has opened a window on the womb that is breathtaking. We can now look at these little beings and let their face and eyes and nose and ears and hands and arms and feet and legs testify that they are one of us. There is no question anymore of aborting a mass of tissue or something like an egg yolk.
(Sheila Kitzinger's book, Being Born, gives clear pictures of what the baby looks like at the key stages of pregnancy. Most abortions happen after the seventh week of pregnancy. Midwest Health Center for Women four blocks from our church doesn't even quote prices on abortions before seven weeks. The 1987 fee schedule was 7–12 weeks: $195; 12.1–13.6 weeks: $260; 14+ weeks: $360. Much later than this they refer mothers to another facility for the abortion. In the Twin Cities St. Paul Ramsey does late abortions. I know of one several weeks ago of a 21 week old baby.)
Pictures matter. If someone asked you to look at a group of animals and identify which was a human, you would not have any trouble. You would do it on the basis of what it looks like. There is a human likeness. And the unborn have it as early as most abortions take place.
It is not only the still life photographs that make the humanity plain but also the moving pictures of their activity and their recoiling at pain.
5. They Will Grow Up If Left Alone
These little beings will grow up if left alone. If we do not intrude with violence on their life, they will come to maturity. They are not becoming human; they are growing "into the fullness of humanity that they already possess" (John Stott, Christianity Today, 5 Sept. 1980, p. 50f.).
6. Nothing to Disqualify from Being Human
Being tiny does not make them less human. We know this because we don't regard born infants as less human than adults even though they are humorously out of proportion with their big heads and short arms. We've just gotten used to looking at them at that funny stage—and we will get used to looking at the unborn at their stages too when we open our eyes!
Nor does not breathing make the unborn less human. I would not regard Noël as less human if she had to be sustained on a respirator for a few months.
Nor does the lack of rational abilities and language make the unborn less human. We don't hold that against a born infant and there is no reason we should hold it against an unborn infant.
Nor does the location of the unborn inside a woman's womb make it less human. Location is an irrelevant consideration in defining humanity. Nor does the dependence on another for its blood transactions make it less human—not any more than a person who lives by repeated dialysis.
In other words the things that are unusual about the life of the unborn do not disqualify him or her from the human family.
7. Ability to Live Outside the Womb at Earlier Ages
Finally, the unborn are humans because more and more of them at earlier and earlier ages can live outside the womb if cared for adequately. I have a picture here of Kenya King, born in Orlando Florida (four and a half months along). She weighed 18 oz. She is shown here healthy in her mother's arms at five pounds. Alongside this picture is a dead baby the same size as Kenya when she was born. The dead baby was killed by abortion.
Now what is the difference between these babies? One was wanted and the other was not. And, brothers and sisters, that criterion for humanity will not be accepted in heaven! And it ought not to be accepted on the earth. The Bible is full of statements commanding love and protection for the unwanted.
I conclude, then, that the unborn are a group of humans who are not disqualified from the command of Proverbs 24:11 and that when the Bible says, "Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter," we have no right to put the unborn in a subhuman class that does not qualify for our rescue. We ought to rescue as many as we can.