ESV - 10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
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I would say that this passage was expressing the belief that a righteous person shows regard even for animals as a reflection of the fact that, although not human, they have also been created by God, and can possess attributes that even humans can admire and learn from (as expressed in multiple other locations in Proverbs, even with regard to organisms as seemingly small or insignificant as ants (Proverbs 30:24-31)). However, I would also say that the main "teaching point" of the verse cited in the question is to contrast the fact that the kindness of the righteous extends even to animals, while even seemingly merciful actions on the part of the wicked or unrighteous contain elements of cruelty, self-interest, or ulterior motives that betray the true nature of the person who performs them.
Great question, Samuel! The righteous are kind and generous (Pr 21:26 --"All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.”) and show their kindness not only in the way they treat people (Pr 29:7 --"A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.") but also in the way they treat animals. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Pr 12:10 NKJV). [PDF] The Wiersbe Bible Commentary The righteous take care of animals, not just people. (NET note). A godly man would not put even an animal to needless pain. (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary).
We are living in an era where the truth of this statement has never been clearer, and yet many Christians not only do not perceive it but are actually participating in what Solomon calls 'cruel mercy,' in the verse you cited, (Proverbs 12:10). Let us take, for example, the 'modern progressive' treatment of cats and dogs. You may feel 'compassionate' for supporting animal rights groups like the ASPCA or PETA, which are two of the best funded and most 'successful' organizations dedicated to the ethical, moral and humane treatment of animals. They both 'sound' wonderful and collect many $ millions each year to fund missions and projects designed to control animal populations, capture and 'house' animals, provide them with medicine, and even find them a 'forever home' after inspiring people to 'foster' or 'adopt' them. What could possibly be wrong with any of that? I call what they do 'cruel compassion' because nearly 1 million cats alone are captured and caged each year, spending their entire lives isolated and living mostly in cages not much bigger than their body. They are subjected to expensive surgeries to sterilize them so that if they are released or escape, they cannot procreate and survive in nature. I, personally, know of elderly women who feel so guilty about the situation that they themselves live on cat food with their cats because they cannot afford the medicines, surgeries, and cat food for their animals and still purchase their own basic necessities! After spending all of this money year after year, nearly 1 million cats are 'lovingly put down' (that means killed), using an injection of powerful toxins to stop their heart and breathing. Afterwards, their bodies are no longer used for medical training, bottom grade meat, (once used for composting), pelts, or even protein for plant food because this would be 'unthinkable and wrong.' So they are fully cremated. All of this costs even MORE money and offers absolutely no financial return, not to mention being rather bad for air quality and pollution. The cats that do find a 'forever home' spend most of their day sitting in window boxes wishing they were outside with other cats instead of stuck living with humans, who often dress them up like their children, poorly exercise them, (making them sick and in need of even MORE expensive medicines or surgeries), and even sleep with them in their beds, (sometimes making themselves sick too). I will not even mention for propriety's sake what a rare few do with them in their beds after these creatures become surrogate 'companions' replacing healthy human relationships. This entire 'system' is a giant perversion and if it were being done to people we would recognize the practices as the policies and techniques of men like Adolf Hitler, who was, actually, a vegan vegetarian and animal rights activist himself. This is what the Holy Spirit means by 'compassionate cruelty.' The 'secular' world is filled with this false mercy, not only for animals but also for each other. We hear of the 'dreamers' arriving to America through hellish conditions and making it big here. We don't hear as much about the millions who get sold into human trafficking rings, die smuggling illegal weapons and drugs with them, live here like slaves earning far under fair market wages, or end up in prisons or 'ghettos' filled with the same violence they were trying to escape. It would be hypocritical of me to 'condemn' this attempt at 'compassion' without providing a 'better' way, so I will point out that I show genuine compassion for animals and people by simply providing equally for them whenever I find them in need of anything. I have been the object of shouting fits from the 'compassion crowd' who think that I am only 'fueling the problem,' but I don't actually see a problem at all if everyone does likewise. Nature controls animal populations without our 'help,' and people who are hungry or thirsty should ALWAYS be fed, (Romans 12:20-21).
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