WE THANK OUR LEADERS PAST AND PRESENT
“Singapore celebrates its 45th year as a nation, and we give thanks for leaders past and present who have played their part in bringing prosperity, peace and progress. If the mother of Proverbs 31 had been Singaporean, she would pray for our President, Prime Minister and political leaders as she did for her son.”
YOUR SON HAS JUST BEEN ELECTED President or Prime Minister of your country. You are his mother. Your relationship has always been close, and he is seeking your words of wisdom as he takes office. What would you say? Even if you felt it wiser to refrain from exerting any parental influence on your child the new Prime Minister, I am sure you would still pray for him as he forms his Cabinet and starts to lead. What would you pray for him?
Proverbs 31:1-9 records the advice of a mother to her son the king. She begins by warning him against women (verse 3) and wine (verse 4). But this is not her main concern. The reason she warns him against women and wine is not that she thinks they are inherently bad. On the contrary, she acknowledges the positive value of wine for bringing temporary relief to a person in anguish (verses 6-7). But the responsibility of the king (or President or Prime Minister) is to fight the problems, and not forget them in the temporary pleasures of a woman’s bosom or a bottle of wine.
And what is the main problem that her son the king must fight and not forget? She highlights it by repeating the word “rights” three times. He must look into restoring rights and rewards to those who have been unfairly oppressed (verse 5). He should lobby and campaign for the rights of all who are poor and destitute (verse 8). He should ensure a system of justice that ensures the poor are not deprived of their rights (verse 9) whether through ignorance of what they can receive or through inability to engage expensive lawyers to help them.
She repeats a delightful image in verses 8 and 9, an image partly obscured by the New International Version rendering “Speak up”. The Hebrew phrase is “Open your mouth”, which here implies that the king should speak up or champion the rights of all, and especially the rights of the poor whose voice is often neglected or muted by the conscious or unconscious attention given to the richer and more powerful in society.
The use of “open your mouth” forms a delightful contrast to the earlier warning against the distractions aﬀorded by wine. Do not open your mouth to drink wine. Open it to help the deprived and the destitute.
Singapore celebrates its 45th year as a nation, and we give thanks for leaders past and present who have played their part in bringing prosperity, peace and progress. If the mother of Proverbs 31 had been Singaporean, she would pray for our President, Prime Minister and political leaders as she did for her son.
She would pray that Singapore would excel, not only in having the best airport or the cleanest and greenest city streets; and not only in finding solutions to cancer and Parkinsons through its active stem cell research programme. She would pray that Singapore leaders would excel in devising systems that ensure equal access to all advanced medical remedies for poor and rich alike. She would pray that Singapore would lead the way in creating the fairest and most eﬀective means of providing help to the weakest.
May our nation excel in devising a system of justice and rights that ensures the poorest are not neglected by ignorance or inability. And this would be her prayer for the Church as well. May the Church “open her mouth” to provide care and concern for the weak and the poor, to speak up for the rights of all, especially those whose voice is weakest.
The Rev Dr Gordon Wong is the William F. Oldham Professor of Old Testament at Trinity Theological College.