If you have paid any attention to the news over the last several days, you are aware that there is a country in the Middle East plagued by civil unrest and violent atrocities, and the United States finds itself in the position of determining if and how to intervene. Sounds like a story that we’ve heard several times before, doesn’t it?
Knowing the proper response to the messy situation in Syria is difficult. I am not a foreign policy expert, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This helpful article has made the rounds on the internet, and basically suggests that although there is no good solution and military action is likely to be unhelpful in the long term, it is unacceptable for a brutal regime to attack its own citizen population with chemical weapons and not be punished for it (I recommend that you read the article linked to above if you haven’t already).
As I think about the situation in Syria (and similar conflicts in other parts of the world in which the U.S. has sometimes intervened in and sometimes not), I can’t help but think about the little Old Testament Book of Obadiah.
We don’t talk about Obadiah all that often. It is short—only one chapter long—and is hard to find tucked away in the minor prophets. Basically, the Book of Obadiah is a judgment against the people of Edom which proclaims their coming downfall. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and thus cousins of the Israelites. Obadiah’s suggestion is that, as close relatives of the Israelites, the Edomites should have come to the aid of Judah during its conflict with Babylon, but they didn’t, and will be punished as a result (Obadiah 1.10-14). I find verse 11 to be particularly haunting (emphasis mine):
“On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.”
Now, I am aware that the situation of Edom and Judah (and Babylon) in Obadiah’s time and the situation today in Syria and the U.S. response to it are not direct parallels. I am further aware of the need for caution when it comes to seemingly removing a passage of Scripture from its context and applying it elsewhere.
But at the same time, I’m also aware that Scripture teaches certain principles that seem to apply regardless of context, and I think this is one of them. The Bible teaches repeatedly that God blesses people not so they can hoard those blessings, but so that they can be a blessing to others. The Bible teaches that we are supposed to consider others to be our neighbors, and rather than ignoring their plight, to step in and help them as we can. The Bible teaches that when we come to the aid of the “least of these,” we are coming to the aid of Jesus Himself.
So, that brings us back to Syria. What are we to do? Again, I am not a foreign policy expert, and in a real sense, I’m not qualified to give an answer. But at the least, it seems that we should consider tactical missile strikes against chemical weapons stockpiles (as the article above suggests).
But maybe a different question that I am (somewhat) more suited to answer: what would the Bible suggest that we do? Biblically, I think we have to do something. At least try to help. Something more than standing aloof and being like one of them, which is the response I have unfortunately heard from several Christians. They give excuses like:
- We shouldn’t get involved because it will be expensive.
- We shouldn’t get involved because it’s none of our business.
- We shouldn’t get involved because we have problems of our own to deal with.
- We shouldn’t get involved because it will make other countries more annoyed with us than they already are.
Are those good enough reasons to justify standing aloof on the sidelines? I really don’t think so. In fact, I think the Edomites could have used some of those same excuses, and God wasn’t too pleased with them.