An Indictment Against Jingoism: An Oracle Against Ammon (Amos 1:13-15)
Yahweh says: “For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment; because they have ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead, that they may enlarge their border. – Amos 1:13 (WEB)
The fifth indictment that Yahweh brings through Amos is directed toward the nation of Ammon, the descendents of Lot, whose nation was set in the region east of Israel. Through the whole of Israelite history, the Ammonites are perpetual invaders who are constantly seeking to expand their borders at Israel’s expense.
As the nation of Israel fractured and weakened, Ammon continued to press Israel’s borders and continually invade the land of Gilead and treat the people with amazing cruelty. It is this cruelty for which Yahweh indicts them in Amos’s oracles against the nations.
Many have looked at this violent imagery and failed to get past the graphic nature of their sin. They ripped open the pregnant women. Many commentators and pastors have used this passage time and again to call out the mistreatment of women and the unborn in our society. While Ammon is certainly guilty of these sins, that is only a byproduct of their primary purpose.
Their actions were an attempt to kill any and all heirs to the land of Gilead so that they might then claim it as their own. Yahweh indicts them for their unjust actions in the expansion and promotion of their nation.
In modern terms, we might call this colonialism or imperialism. We see it writ large across history in the European invasion and desiccation of Africa, or the Dutch’s invasion of Indonesia, or Britain’s incursion into Hong Kong, India, and pretty much everywhere else. In every single one of these instances, the empires grew in a violent and unjust manner.
Even when the purpose was not imperialism or economic exploitation but to escape religious persecution, peaceful migration was never long-lasting. Initial immigration to America by Europeans came by way of escaping persecution. And some initial settlements did indeed find refuge on the Native shores and lived in relative peace. By the 1700s, native land was being taken by force and the native peoples were being pushed farther and farther west. The tone shifted from a shared economy to one of European domination.
We moved from colonialism, where small settlements come to live within a native land, to imperialism, where another land is taken over by force. In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which forcibly relocated five of the largest native tribes from their homeland to western territories.
Our nation’s history of less than two hundred years ago is one of imperialism and dominion, where, for the sake of expanding our influence and borders, the sovereign rights of humans made in the image of God were disavowed.
Now it’s easy today to look at a globe and see all the pieces filled in and just assume that we’ve taken care of imperialism. Post-World War II, Britain divests itself of its colonies and other oppressed nations begin petitioning for independence. Just sixty, seventy years ago, the world begins to settle into this kind of uneasy state where every bit of land is controlled by someone, where national borders are a bit more defined, where there is more of an uproar when those boundaries are crossed—either by civilians or military.
And yet this imperialism remains with us today. We see it in Tibet’s conflict with China, in the Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, in India’s conflict with Pakistan, and on and on. Whether it is entire nations or just a few square miles of land, nearly every nation on Earth seems hungry for more power, more land, and more influence. And quite often, we are prepared to go to extreme and unjust measures to get there.
This imperialism and quest for power extends beyond borders and has military and economic implications as well. Modern imperialism occurs less in land wars and more in military presence and economic influence. Not all of this is bad. Note that Ammon is not indicted for her desire to make her borders strong or to promote or expand their empire. They are indicted for their practices in doing so.
I think we could look to our business practices of today: to outsource labor to low-wage nations to maximize profits, to create mega-companies and monopolies that drive out small businesses and competition, to see workers as expendable. It’s economic imperialism.
The business presence of the United States controls world markets. Our consumerism fuels the sweatshops of China and the call centers of India. And while this business presence is not inherently bad, American businesses and consumers have long used the cheap labor and desperation of other nations to the American benefit of higher profits and cheaper prices.
We could look toward our military practices: to be involved in every conflict, to have an outpost in nearly every country, to expand our nuclear arsenal. It’s military imperialism. American military might has controlled the fate of nations, from our wars in Asia to the Middle East. And again, while not inherently wrong, we have often used our military presence not primarily as a means of liberation but of promoting an American agenda.
And when these economic or military practices are done in a way that tramples upon the human rights of another nation, another culture, another group of human beings made in the image of God—then God says he condemns it.
From imperialism, we move to immigration. Ammon is very clearly indicted for unjustly wanting to expand its borders and its influence. A modern day equivalent of that is unjustly protecting those borders as well.
Since the world is more locked in and settled than 2,800 years ago, since people are not as tied to the land in terms of livestock or agriculture, the concept of national borders has become more rigid. Human aggression in border disputes has begun to migrate from expansion of territory and extermination people to protection of its territory and exclusion of people. Ammon’s aggression on their borders and their mistreatment of those living on the other side has a fairly clear modern application in American immigration policy.
This does not mean that we should fail to protect our borders. This does not mean that we erase any and all guidelines or limitations to immigration. It does mean that, whatever our laws may be, we must make sure that they treat both the foreigner across the border and the foreigner among us with the respect and decency as befits their nature as a sovereign creation of the Almighty God.
When we turn to other Old Testament Scriptures, we get a clearer view of how Yahweh expected the nations to treat immigrants and foreigners. For Israel specifically, we see that the root of many of their laws regarding foreigners are drawn out from their experience as foreigners in Egypt.
God’s greatest act of social justice came in his deliverance of the Israelite foreigners out the hands of Egyptian oppression and slavery. And because of Israel’s experience in Egypt, Yahweh expects his nation to treat foreigners different than Egypt treated them. In Leviticus 19,
The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God. – Lev 19:34
This passage establishes a couple of things. First, there was an expectation that people outside of the line of Israel would live and work in Israel. These people would not be second class citizens. They would have the same rights and function under the same laws as the citizens of Israel. The foreigner was to be treated like the native-born.
Second, the inverse is true. If a foreigner was to take up residence in Israel, they were expected to abide by the laws of Israel. If they wished to participate in Passover, they had to be circumcised. They could sacrifice at the Tabernacle or Temple, provided they followed the laws and customs. In other words, the rights and privileges and responsibilities of being an Israelite could be conferred on someone who was not ethnically an Israelite.
We see this in Israelite history as soon as Othniel, Israel’s first leader and judge, who was not ethnically Jewish. Nor was Shamgar, a later ruler and deliverer. King David himself is descended through the immigrant Moabitess Ruth.
All of this details for us a biblical policy that our churches and our nations should be welcoming to the immigrant, specifically those immigrants that have come to our churches or our nations in order to escape persecution or pursue a better life. Healthy legal immigration and the recognition of immigrants as equals with the native-born population is a hallmark of a nation following the principles of Yahweh.
And this has immediate implications for our nation. Who we allow into our nation should be merit-based, but based on the merits of character and of need, not the merits of whether or not they are useful to us.
It is unbiblical for a nation to only take in immigrants who are wealthy or well-educated.Throughout Scripture, the poor and the marginalized are lumped in with the foreigner. It was expected that the foreigner who had taken refuge in Israel was escaping a bad situation. They were expected to be poor and marginalized, which is why Yahweh commands that they be treated with generosity.
We must see those across our borders as humans and treat them as such. Our immigration policies should reflect that humans are made in the image of God. Our refugee policies should reflect that humans are made in the image of God. Our border control policies should reflect that humans are made in the image of God.
How, then, should we deal with this issue of illegal immigration? Key to Ammon’s indictment is that they violated a national boundary. They crossed the border that God had ordained in an illegal manner for unjust purposes. This is different than seeking asylum. This is different than welcoming the refugee. Scripture is clear that national boundaries should be respected. National boundaries should not be crossed without permission unless there is some urgent and dire purpose.
The nation of Israel was meant to be a city on a hill. They were to influence the nations around them. That did not mean conquering those nations and bringing their land into Israel. That did not mean relocating those nations and bringing their people into Israel. But if those people came, and they came without the intention of warfare, without the intention of conquering, but with the intention of escaping to a better life in the community of Yahweh, Yahweh instructs that we allow them in, that we treat them generously.
In the book of Ruth, Ruth encounters Boaz. She is a Moabite woman, someone who is from a foreign nation not friendly to Israel forbidden by the Law to be a citizen. Deuteronomy 23:3 says:
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.
And yet, Ruth the Moabitess who disavows her past life, who gives everything up to follow Yahweh, is not only brought into Israel by Naomi, she is shown kindness by Boaz. In Ruth chapter 2, Ruth requests to glean in Boaz’s field.
This was already a bit of a strange request because the law of God specifically allowed for this gleaning by the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. But Ruth wasn’t just any foreigner—the primary Hebrew word being ger—she was a Moabite foreigner, an enemy foreigner. The negative word for foreigner is nokriy.
And while the Law provided for the ger foreigner in this manner, it did not offer the same to the nokriy. Yet, Ruth asks and is allowed to glean. Boaz then tells Ruth not to glean in any other field, knowing that she will not find the same kindness to foreigners there.
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” – Ruth 2:10
And she uses that word nokriy. An enemy foreigner. Boaz replies:
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” – Ruth 2:11-12
Boaz easily recognizes the difference between an enemy foreigner and a foreigner who is a refugee—even if they come from the same ancestry. And you know how the story goes. Boaz redeems Ruth in this grand picture of salvation and the illegal immigrant, the undocumented alien, becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
Grace triumphs over Law. Boaz—and then the nation—understood that Ruth’s admission into Israel was not a violation of the Law because she had willingly given up her status as a child of Moab. Where you go, I’ll go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. Your people will be my people. I think this story holds tremendous value for determining as a nation how we handle the issue of undocumented immigrants, including those who were brought her by their parents and know no other homeland.
As a nation, we need to begin to think about why people flock to America. Why would someone risk entering the nation illegally with everything that entails? It’s not because their home nations are great and the economy is going well. It is because being an “illegal American” still holds more privileges and more value than being a legal citizen of wherever they trace their ancestry.
And yet Yahweh is also clear that national boundaries ought to be respected and, should one come into a new nation as a refugee or as an immigrant, they are expected to abide by the laws of that nation.
What Can We Do?
In the end,
when Scripture weighs the balance between safety and salvation, it always errs on the side of salvation.We value safety, but we do not idolize it at the expense of the oppressed. Between law and grace, grace wins every time. We value the law, but we realize the better way of grace.
The Gospel is one of inclusion and empowerment. We not only take care of those who come in, we are also go out into those destabilized and poor and corrupt nations and take care of them there as well. Christians have to be doing this and, if we want our nation to be following the way of Yahweh, our nation must follow it as well.
There are a fair number of Christians who have reacted against this. I’ve personally been told that the president would gladly fly me to Syria and drop me off there if I loved them more than America. There’s a definite dichotomy in evangelical Christianity that says “Help them…but not here.”
We can do that. But if we do, we lose the distinction our nation has long held of upholding Judeo-Christian values. And if that’s the case, so be it. If Christians must turn to work outside the law to enact the community of Yahweh, so be it. The church in persecution flourished. The church without political power turned the world upside down. It has always been the church in power that Yahweh has judged. How long will he be patient until judgment?