Proverbs 3:27-28 reads, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”–when you have it with you” (all Scripture in ESV).
We can probably think of many different examples of withholding good from someone or delaying a payment or return of a borrowed item. However, Scripture itself may provide a couple of great illustrations of this proverb in the Law.
Leviticus 19:13 says, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” The latter half of that verse perfectly echoes what Proverbs 3:27-28 talks about (or rather, Proverbs 3 echoes the Law!). If you’ve hired a servant to do some task, don’t even keep their wages until the next day. Ancient Near Eastern society didn’t usually pay employees weekly or bi-weekly, but daily. Withholding a daily paycheck meant that a family usually wouldn’t eat the next day. Only a cruel master would withhold money when it was due, which was tantamount to “oppression” or “robbing” a neighbor (Lev 19:13a).
Deuteronomy 24:14-15 may also provide another parallel to this principle: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the LORD, and you be guilty of sin.”
These verses elaborate on what Lev 19:13 says more concisely. It doesn’t matter if the servant is a fellow-Israelite or an illegal alien: if you’ve hired them and they’ve done their job, pay them their wages – now! Their livelihood depends on it. And the Lord does indeed hear their prayers, which means He will deal justly with us if we neglect doing what we should.
Exodus 23:4-5 may also give an excellent illustration of the principle of not withholding good to a neighbor: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.”
Here, the situation is not with a “friendly” neighbor, but with an “enemy” neighbor. If you come across your neighbor’s escaped ox or donkey (or dog or cat or whatever), bring it back. Even though you’re enemies, that’s how godly compassion acts.
If you come across your enemy’s animal collapsed beneath its load (or he’s struggling to fix a flat tire on the side of the highway), pull over and help. That’s what God desires of His people. Even if your action is undeserved, if you’re able to do good, do it. This Exodus passage makes it so that the “to whom it is due” part of Proverbs 3:27 isn’t even required on all occasions. If we were to just read Pr 3:27, we would think we only had to do good to those who earned it, “to whom it is due.” But Exodus 23:4-5 pushes us to go even further beyond this to help those to whom it is not necessarily due.
No matter how we illustrate it, Proverbs 3:27-28 remains relevant to our situations today. So do good to those around you, and don’t procrastinate doing it, either!