An Indictment Against Human Trafficking: An Oracle Against Tyre (Amos 1:9-10)
Yahweh says: “For three transgressions of Tyre, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment; because they delivered up the whole community to Edom, and didn’t remember the brotherly covenant; – Amos 1:9 (WEB)
The indictment against Tyre, capital of Phoenicia, is almost identical to the indictment against Gaza, except for one added element. They too participated in the human trafficking and economic exploitation of the Philistines, only their sin was compounded by breaking a treaty with the nation of Israel.
This covenant is identified as a “brotherly” covenant, which is a bit of an oddity considering that the Phoenicians of Tyre were not related to the nation of Israel. The implication appears to be that, having engaged in this covenant with Israel, the city-state of Tyre had allied themselves as brothers—blood or not. It serves as a reminder that all people of all races are indeed related, of one blood, from one lineage, part of a singular humanity created in the image of Yahweh.
And for many generations, Tyre and Israel exemplified this singular humanity amid a plurality of nations, carving out an alliance of peace when the world around them seemed constantly at war. After David establishes his kingdom in Jerusalem, Hiram, king of Tyre, gives David the gift of a palace (2 Sam. 5:11). Later in his reign, David arranges for Tyre and its sister city, Sidon, to provide similar cedar logs for the building of the Temple. Hiram engages with Solomon in his reign to provide the materials for all of Solomon’s royal construction projects. There seems to be a genuine friendship and relationship between these two powerful kingdoms and their rulers, the end result of which is an official treaty during the time of Solomon (1 Kings 5:12).
Among all the nations mentioned in Amos’s oracles, Tyre stands alone as the nation without a history of warfare with Israel. While Gaza might be expected to engage in such reprehensible behavior due to the long-standing animosity between the nations, the nation of Tyre—due to their treaty with Israel—was guilty of an additional sin. Tyre had purposely and knowingly breached their covenant with Israel.
Theologian Billy K. Smith writes:
Such covenants made the partners “brothers,” a term describing a close tie characterized by loyalty and love. Breach of covenant made the sinful act of selling slaves to Edom far worse.
While the practice of slavery was commonplace in the Ancient Near East and the exploitation of human lives was seen as a mark of victory and strength, it was universally understand that breaking a covenant was a serious and sinful thing. So while we focused on the sometimes legal and more accepted versions of exploitation in our discussion of Gaza’s sin, we now turn to the even more heinous and less accepted versions of exploitation that raise their ugly heads in this discussion of Tyre’s sin.
We often think of slavery as being a thing of the past. Especially here in the United States, we feel like we’ve grappled with that issue and taken care of it. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, then we as a nation had settled it. Even if you do realize the continued influence in slavery on modern life, you typically don’t think of slavery as being something that is still around. And yet, there are more people enslaved today than at any other point in history.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are nearly 21 million individuals currently in some form of slavery, be it labor slavery, sex slavery, or some other type of slavery. That’s 3 out of every 1,000 people at any given time in some form of slavery.
Despite America’s past, labor slavery still exists throughout the world and even in our very own country. One prominent case came in 1995, when 72 Thai nationals were found to be working in slavery conditions sewing clothing for a corporation that has subcontracted itself out to a number of well-known clothing brands.
The individuals worked and lived in an apartment complex surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Their passports were taken. They were not allowed to leave the complex. And they were forced to buy necessary items at highly inflated prices, meaning that they were actually accruing debt the longer they were there.
Workers put in 17 to 22 hour long shifts. They were not allowed social interaction within the complex or any communication with individuals outside the complex. No sick days. No time off. It was slavery. It was the United States. And it was 20 years ago.
But there’s another story that hits even closer home to me, because it happened just thirteen miles from my home. In 2006, the John Pickle Company—an oil industry parts manufacturer—was convicted of the human trafficking of 52 Indian nationals brought over on legal visas to work for the company. Once they got here, the workers had their identification and immigration documents confiscated by the company, were crammed into a warehouse “dormitory,” and only paid between $1.00 and $3.17 per hour.
These workers were brought here as skilled workers—welding specialists, actually—but they were forced to do janitorial work, yard work, and basically anything else the company told them to do. It didn’t begin intentionally as human trafficking. JPC saw it as a way of getting around American governmental regulations. They soon became a model case for why we have those regulations in the first place.
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of more than 5,400 labor trafficking cases inside the United States in a whole range of industries. Construction, hospitality, agriculture—all of these areas are ripe for exploitation—not just for the Third World or the developing nations but for the United States as well. We’ve changed its name, cleaned it up a bit, hidden it from view, but it still exists. The national sin of our past remains the national sin of our present.
Even though it is only a fraction of human trafficking, sex trafficking awareness often gets more publicity. Part of this, I think, is because there’s something particularly heinous about robbing someone of their sexuality that makes it deeper than robbing them of their economy. Another part, I fear, is that labor trafficking exists almost exclusively among minority and migrant populations. Sex trafficking—particularly the kind we raise awareness against in the U.S.—is more likely to involve white suburban teenagers.
More so than labor trafficking, sex trafficking is a sin that affects all races and all classes. Anyone can be a target—or a consumer. There are around 4.5 million individuals that are a victim of sex trafficking, most of them women and children. Just like labor trafficking, sex trafficking isn’t something that only happens far away. It’s right in our own backyard. One study estimated that the illegal sex trade in Atlanta, Georgia runs about $290 million a year.
Quite often, the sex traffickers prey on young teens that are coming from a poor family situation. Sometimes they are even forced into slavery by someone known to them. Many victims are forced into slavery by a friend, parent, or relative for the purposes of money or drugs.
One could possibly even see legal and consensual prostitution and pornography as an extension of sex trafficking. Sexting is quite literally the trafficking of photographs and video of a sexual nature. Consensual trafficking is still trafficking.
Just because a society has deemed an activity legal, just because another human has decided such activity is consensual, does not mean the Judge of Nations has declared it moral.
Pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. Porn sites get more web traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Forty million Americans regularly consume pornographic materials. And it’s easy to justify that relationship as economic—that’s how Tyre justified their use of human bodies as well. It’s easy to justify it as consensual. But it’s very definition of exploitation, a perfect example of trafficking.
What Can We Do
This is not a sin we can get rid of. But we can open ourselves up to stopping it when we see it.
We can advocate for better legislation. In a 2014 study of confirmed, closed cases of human labor trafficking, seventy-one percent of labor trafficking victims entered the United States on lawful visas. Work visas should not be tied to the company the individual will be working for. We need to act within our government to change these laws and close these loopholes that give corporations a legal foundation for illegal activities.
We must enact state laws to ensure all companies certify a lack of slavery or forced labor in their supply chains and to increase transparency so consumers can identify employers that traffic. We must amend state laws to allow victims’ criminal records to be expunged if their crimes were a direct result of being trafficked. We must begin seeing these people as victims, not as criminals.
We can be aware. We can learn and be watchful for the signs of trafficking. We can choose not to purchase from companies that aren’t transparent about their hiring or business practices. We can curtail the use of pornography in our homes and in our communities. We have the ability to change this. And if we don’t, Amos says, we are headed for our own destruction.
Tyre would survive the Babylonian invasion that ended Judah. The people would retreat to their island fortress and wait out the onslaught. It would seem that they had avoided their biblically prophesied destruction. Until Alexander the Great. Like they had for centuries, the people of Tyre retreated into their fortress.
Alexander used their own city against them. He destroyed the abandoned costal city and threw the ruins into the sea, effectively building a bridge that got him closer and closer to the island. He used the ruins of the city to destroy it. And I think that’s an effective analogy for what we might find here. If we do not rise up against this evil within us, we will find ourselves conquered by ourselves. Without a moral compass, we will crumble from within.
In many ways, in relation to Amos’s other oracles, this is as easy message to hear. Views on warfare and wage inequality are highly political and controversial. Christians are unanimous that slavery and sex trafficking are wrong. But it’s also a difficult message to hear because with it comes the realization that we can believe the right things and that not be enough.
If we want to change the world, we have to do something about it. We have to grasp where God puts us and cling to it. We can change this world. We can advocate more. We can educate better. We can legislate more firmly. And we must, else we find ourselves destroyed in our own sinfulness.