Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (37)

There is a short, somewhat mysterious passage in the final speech Moses made to Israel before his death in which he declares that when God divided mankind — presumably referring to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, which ends with the words “the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” — that God also “fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God”.

Now, we know what the phrase “sons of God” means to believers from the teaching of the New Testament. However, in the Old Testament, the same expression is consistently connected with angelic beings.

The Sons of God

The phrase “sons of God” occurs three times in Job and two in Genesis, two of the earliest books of the Bible. The sons of God are spirit beings who gather in heaven to present themselves before the Lord, as we find in the first chapters of Job. It is implied that Satan himself is a being of the same order. Later in Job we find that at the creation of our world, “all the sons of God” shouted for joy. When we come to Genesis, we find that a number of these “sons of God” took human beings as their wives, producing a race of giants called nephilim.

This all sounds sufficiently fantastical that many reject the obvious interpretation, preferring the notion that the expression “sons of God” refers to members of the godly line of Seth, as opposed to the ungodly line of Cain. I see no good reason to do that, and take the position that the expression refers to an elite group of angels charged by the Lord with specific responsibilities toward the various nations of our world, a position that is consistent with the book of Daniel’s repeated references to the “prince of Persia”, “prince of Greece” and “your prince”, who is identified with the archangel Michael. If this is the case, then the number of original ethnic divisions to which Moses refers was set by God to match precisely the number of members of this elite angelic group he charged with responsibility for the direction and protection of the nations.

Fixing the Borders

Whether or not you too see it that way, and regardless of your understanding of the phrase “sons of God”, and whatever the numeric basis on which the borders of the nations were originally set, it is evident from the Deuteronomy passage that Moses credits God not only with dividing up mankind into its various nations, but also with establishing their borders, assigning them territory in which to live, just as Joshua did for the people of Israel when God enabled them to dispossess the former inhabitants of Canaan. It is not mere happenstance that caused the various nations to settle where they did on our planet: God was behind their choices, possibly through the behind-the-scenes direction of these same spirit beings he assigned to be “princes” of individual nations.

I find no compelling reason to think things are any different today, though the situation has almost surely been complicated by the efforts of various globalist entities over the years to break down these divinely established national boundaries and create one great, indistinguishable stew of human genetics. Nevertheless, the Lord surely knows where the lines are, whether or not we do. It is “nations”, not multi-ethnic empires, which will survive to walk by the light of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.

Man makes his plans and hatches his conspiracies, but God always gets his way in the end. The current attempts to bring mankind together under one godless banner are destined to fail as comprehensively as all similar efforts throughout history.

Amos 9:7-8 — Bringing Them Up

“ ‘Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?’ declares the Lord. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the Lord.”

Pieces on a Chessboard

All this background serves to illuminate today’s passage in the final chapter of Amos. It appears that God not only assigned territory to nations that existed shortly after the division at Babel, but that he also claims responsibility for the various movements of the nations in the years following Babel, much like a chess master moving around the pieces on a chessboard with his end game always in view. After all, Israel was not one of the original nations; Egypt, Assyria, Sumer and probably even China preceded Israel into existence and dwarfed it in prominence, and there were surely many other very early civilizations of which even less is known and understood. At least 700 years passed between Babel and the time Israel finally came into its inheritance in Canaan. All this time, God held territory for the children of Abraham, and he gave it to them at the time of his sovereign choosing.

If we believe Amos, apparently this is also true of other people groups, a fact the Gentile nations of the millennial era may find interesting and somewhat encouraging. (Christians, who belong to a “super-nation” that transcends all national and earthly boundaries, rightly consider the matter only of academic interest; our citizenship is in heaven.) Nevertheless, in these verses, God declares that he has always moved around the peoples of the earth as pleased him. He offers the Philistines, Syrians and Cushites as examples. (The Cushites, or Ethiopians, were also a very ancient nation.)

The Table of Nations

The table of nations in Genesis 10 links the Casluhim with the Philistines rather than the Caphtorim, but many authorities believe the phrase “from whom the Philistines came” in that passage actually belongs after the word “Caphtorim”. Caphtor is thought to be either Crete or the Nile delta, while Kir is probably territory east of the Euphrates River. Leaving aside historical details increasingly difficult to confirm with the passage of time and destruction of archeological evidence, we can reasonably assume Amos’s audience was well aware of the established histories of these nations, or else God’s appeal to his providential rule over their distribution would carry little weight. When the Philistines came from Caphtor, they displaced the previous inhabitants of their territory. Likely the Syrians and Cushites did something similar. So too with Israel: God moved his people around as he saw fit, clearing out their enemies before them and establishing their borders.

But the point God is making here through Amos is that what he has done on Israel’s behalf is not unique to them, and he is not in the least compelled to continue to enforce their borders and subdue their enemies before them when they continue to reject his word. Just as God swept nations aside to give an inheritance to Israel, so he can also sweep Israel aside at his discretion. God is under no compulsion with respect to Israel other than that to which he has bound himself by his word in times past, and for this reason he adds an exception in this single case: “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob.” It is perfectly possible for God to keep all his promises to Abraham without protecting or blessing multiple generations of wicked rebels. As Ellicott puts it, “The race shall live, though the kingdom be destroyed.”

Amos 9:9-10 — All the Sinners

“For behold, I will command, and shake the house of Israel among all the nations as one shakes with a sieve, but no pebble shall fall to the earth. All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’ ”

This is the third or fourth time in Amos where we have seen God make a distinction between the elites who would perish in the Assyrian conquest of Israel and those Israelites who would not, a theme which we find repeated in other prophets. God simply does not judge the righteous with the wicked. Never has, never will. Even when he brings disaster on an entire nation, his wrath is not like a tidal wave that overwhelms and sweeps away oppressor and oppressed alike. It is more like a surgical strike. Daniel and his friends flourished in Babylon while thousands of Jews died under the swords of Nebuchadnezzar’s armies. Here it is “All the sinners of my people” who shall die by the sword. In Zechariah, it is “Everyone who steals shall be cleaned out according to what is on one side [of the flying scroll in his prophetic vision], and everyone who swears falsely shall be cleaned out according to what is on the other side.” God’s wrath is very much targeted at those who deserve it. He does not accidentally catch up the innocent in his sieve. “No pebble shall fall to the earth.”

A better translation of “pebble” might be “grain” or “kernel”. The picture is of a sieve full of corn being shaken. All the chaff may be extracted from the good seed without losing a single kernel in the process; God is that precise in his judgments.

Those who believe our present circumstances are a manifestation of the wrath of God against the West may find encouragement in this consistent pattern of scripture.

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