“The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Moab for three crimes, even four, because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been accused of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong? We tend to think through our world in terms of spheres of influence and impact. Certain things and people and relationships and ideas are reserved for certain spaces. We recognize that for ourselves and the people around us recognize it for themselves too. And when something that belongs in one sphere begins to cross over into realms that it does not belong, it doesn’t usually get all that friendly of a reaction. What we see here is an example of God doing this very thing. What should we do with it?
The book of Amos opens with a series of six prophecies against Israel’s neighbors. The prophet begins with Syria, and in turn gives attention to the Philistines, Tyre, the Edomites, the Ammonites, and finally the Moabites as you can see here. This kind of thing is actually fairly common across the various prophetic books in the Old Testament. Many of them have a section of prophecies against the nations like this in which God promises judgment on them for their various sins.
Now, on their face, these sections don’t seem so notable. If God was going to pronounce judgment on Israel, He might as well pronounce it on their neighbors too for the sake of fairness if not for any other reason. But, culturally speaking, gods in the ancient world tended to be local. They were concerned for their territory and the people under their authority, but that was about it. Oh, they might get on a neighboring nation on occasion when they wanted to justify conquering them in order to expand their territory, but that was about it. What you did in your territory did not concern the god whose primary concern was a different one.
For the God of Israel, though, to keep having His prophets denounce not only His own people, but the nations around them as well was something new. He was sticking His nose into matters that were not His concern. Or was He?
The way God speaks through His prophets suggests that He was in fact concerned about the goings on in nations that were not “His.” And if this is really the case, it reveals a few different things about God that, although we may assume on them now, weren’t always ideas associated with a single god.
For starters, the God of Israel wasn’t just another regional deity who was concerned about His people and no one else. He proclaimed Himself the Lord of heaven and earth. All of creation belonged to Him. The earth is the Lord’s the fullness thereof. If there was a people, they were His people even if they didn’t naturally recognize that fact. And because He was the Lord of all creation, He was–and is–concerned with the state of all of it.
Every sin any people committed was ultimately against Him and He was the chiefly offended party. Where there were matters of injustice happening, He wanted to see those made right. Where the worship of idols was stealing the joy of a nation, He wanted to see that idol smashed to pieces so they could live as He had designed them to live.
Another thing these international pronouncements of judgment reveal is that there is some standard of behavior to which all of us are held. And, because God is just and doesn’t hold anyone to account for a standard they do not know, this standard must be universally knowable. This is exactly what Paul told us in Romans 1. The basic things of God can be known by anyone who cares to look. His character and power have been clearly revealed in the various facets of creation such that we are all without excuse for violating them.
One more thing here: As we come to more deeply understand the judgment of God in the context of His various pronouncements against the people of Israel and Judah, we begin to see that His judgment is never expressed without His love and mercy close at hand. The whole purpose of God’s judgment is to call us to repentance so that we can live once again within the spacious boundaries of His love. The very fact that He calls for judgment suggests that we are a people worth judging. It speaks of His love for us and just how highly He esteems us.
This is a picture of the faithfulness and graciousness of God we don’t often consider. He may have been primarily concerned for the people of Israel because of the plans He was working out through them, but not exclusively so. Indeed, the plans He was working out through Israel were plans intended to bring a blessing to these other nations. The concern expressed through His judgments echoes this passion. He doesn’t want for just some of the world to know Him, but for all of it to be given such an opportunity.
This would eventually be expressed in the most powerful terms imaginable when He sent His only Son Jesus, the Christ, to face the horror of the cross so that we would never have to do so ourselves. Now, anyone who calls on Him can be saved. It does not matter where you are from or where you are going; God’s love is for you in Christ. The only really important question right now is this: Will you receive it? Will you receive the “no” He gives to the way you want to live in order to receive the “yes” He has given you in Christ? The choice is yours.