“The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing the Ammonites for three crimes, even four, because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their territory. Therefore, I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah, and it will consume its citadels. There will be shouting on the day of battle and a violent wind on the day of the storm. Their king and his princes will go into exile together. The Lord has spoken.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What do we do about evil that is happening a great distance from us? There’s a nice, encouraging question to start of this new year. We live in a nation that in spite of our growing secularity has a system of laws rooted in a Christian worldview. We strive for justice as a people, even if imperfectly. But around the world are evil regimes and human rights’ being devastated by oppressive rulers. What does God have to say about that? In what will be the first stop in one of three occasional series we are going to be working through in this new year, we find part of an answer from the prophet Amos. Let’s take a look at this together.
Let me start this here: As a nation, we have a plethora of human rights issues that need to be addressed. Our southern border is quickly approaching the point of being an unmitigated disaster with no end or solution in sight. All the while, politicians on both sides of the aisle treat it as a political tool for personal and party advancement instead of the human rights crisis in desperate need of a solution that it is.
Our culture is on a suicidal path when it comes to our future. We allow (and in some places celebrate) the murder of unborn children for the sake of convenience and personal advancement up to the moment before (and even just after in some states) they are born.
We aggressively sexualize children, push sexual confusion on them, and actively encourage the mutilation of their bodies so that broken adults in need of compassion and accountability, not encouragement, can hide from the consequences of their sinfulness.
We are nearly hopelessly consumeristic and materialistic, seeking to salve every wound with stuff of some sort. We don’t blink our eyes any longer at the incurring of huge debts, giving no thought to the fact that we are indenturing not ourselves, but our children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren, so that we can have what we want when we want it.
There are communities that have long refused to countenance even the idea of biblical sin. The tragic reality of this folly is beginning to pay dividends now as these communities are being completely overrun by crime being committed by criminals who have no fear of being punished, much less even caught. This is serving to devastate small business owners who have devoted their lives to a craft only to have a few thugs destroy it. Locals who don’t have the means to move out of these communities are being oppressed by the dwindling number of opportunities to work and have access to the quality of life available in much of the rest of the country resulting from businesses fleeing these areas because the costs of operating in them are too high.
I could go on, and I’m sure you’ve already thought of some things I have missed, but the point here is clear by now: we are broken as a nation. How we could even think about casting judgment on any other nation given our slate of issues seems like it should be beyond any reasonable explanation.
As we look around the world, there are nations whose human rights records make us look like angels by comparison. The Taliban rulers of Afghanistan—who are only in control of that nation because after twenty years’ worth of investment, we bailed out on the nation in as incompetent of a way as we could have possibly done so—are oppressing Afghan women in more and more terrible ways. They are systematically eliminating every single opportunity for them to be anything other than submissive, uneducated slaves to whatever man has control over them.
Iran is still being roiled by protests against that nation’s long-oppressive regime resulting from a woman’s being put to death because of her refusal to wear a hijab. Rather than listening to their people’s anger, the governing authorities are either shooting protesters in the streets or else arresting them, charging them with entirely false crimes, and hanging them in public executions.
China has been systematically committing genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority population in a series of concentration camps. This is in addition to a host of other human rights abuses the totalitarian government there has racked up in recent years including increasing vigorous persecution against its rapidly growing population of followers of Jesus.
Then, of course, there’s Russia, whose crimes in and against the nation of Ukraine are grotesque and ongoing. This is in addition to the curious case of public critics of the nation’s authoritarian strongman, Vladimir Putin, suffering from a rash of dying by falling through the plate glass windows of high rise apartments and hotels in various places around the world. Another former critic faced this rather sudden and totally mysterious end just recently.
Again, our nation has problems, but these are tragedies screaming for solutions but for which solutions are nowhere in sight. What can be done about all of this? The even more poignant question is here: What is God doing about all of this? What could He do? These nations and their leaders generally don’t have anything to do with Him. We don’t have much to do with Him anymore, I’ll grant you, but these other nations are much further afield. Are they simply adrift on their own, able to oppress and abuse and let injustice flow without recourse?
The prophet Amos gives us an answer to this question in the opening lines of his prophetic record. The kick is that the answer he gives isn’t exactly the answer we want. What we want is a clear and definitive answer that God is going to come in and clean house and make all things right. That’s not what we get. There are no quick or easy answer to the problem of sin and its bitter fruits. What we get, though, is better in the long run.
Amos opens his prophetic record with a formulaic series of statements of judgment against the various nations surrounding Israel. This particular passage is intended to be merely an example of these. They all follow the same basic form. Now, as a feature, this is something included in many of the Old Testament books of prophecy. All of the major prophets and several of the minor ones have sections in which God turns His attention away from His people to pronounce judgement on their neighbors.
Now, on the one hand, we take this in stride and don’t think too much about it. On the other hand, though, these are really a remarkable thing. Gods back then were considered territorial. When you left the borders of a nation that worshiped one god and entered a different nation which worshipped a different god, you were going from one god’s territory to another. And although one god may have led his people to conquer a neighboring nation and by that expand his sphere of influence, beyond something like that, the people of one nation didn’t care what the god of another nation thought. Neither did the god of one nation bother speaking against the people of another. Those people were the purview of another god. It wasn’t his business what they did or didn’t do.
Then, along comes the God of Israel judging everybody by the same standard whether they considered themselves His people or not. As far as He appeared to be concerned, injustice was injustice no matter who was committing it, and He wasn’t going to tolerate injustice anywhere. But who did He think He was? The God of the whole world? Exactly that actually, yes.
Yet notice something important here. These nations were not being judged because of their lack of adherence to the Law of Moses. God doesn’t say a word about the law or any kind of other commands He had given Israel. They were being judged because they pursued things any objective observer could have looked at and recognized were unjust and evil. People who don’t have God’s law aren’t held liable for keeping it by Him. He’s not unjust like that. If they have rejected His law, He takes their rejection of it in stride, and holds them accountable for failing to live up to whatever other moral standards they have adopted for themselves instead. Forget keeping God’s standards, we don’t even keep our own standards. But all of those standards flow out of God’s character, so everyone is accountable to Him.
That’s the heart of God’s answer to us on the problem of injustice around the world we seem powerless to do anything to address. His answer is that He is not like some powerless, regional, pagan god who cannot do anything meaningful about evil and injustice except perhaps to throw around a few lightning bolts and bluster in anger. He is the holy and righteous God of the whole wide world. All people are His people, and He is passionately concerned about evil and injustice wherever they appear and whoever happens to be committing them. If that’s an individual, eventually, he will be judged. If that’s a nation, eventually, we will be judged.
God’s answer to the problem of injustice and terrible leaders is that when the time is right, He will bring judgment on them. It will be more thorough, but also more just than anything we could manage to cobble together to deal with it. He has seen it all and He will not forget. It may not come on our timetable, but it will come. He will come. Fear Him with hopefulness, and pursue the path of His character while there is yet time.