For the last of the pagan nations which Amos addresses, we turn to Moab. This nation, like Ammon, was related to the Israelites through Lot’s progeny (you can read about it here, but be warned, it’s a pretty sordid story involving incest).
As you might have guessed from today’s passage, Edom and Moab weren’t exactly best buds. Their mutual hatred went back a long time. There’s at least one recorded instance in Scripture in which Israel, Judah, and Edom all joined together to put down a rebellion of Moab against Israel. The interesting thing is that although Moab and Israel (the whole nation) had a hostile history together, please keep in mind that Ruth, the ancestor of our Lord, was from Moab. Also you might want to know that Moab’s main god was Chemosh, a disgusting deity to whom children were sacrificed. So the history was mostly bad, with one bright shining counter-example.
The actual incident that Amos alludes to—the burning of the bones—is not recorded elsewhere, so we’re not exactly sure of the exact circumstances. Obviously Moab and Edom were mortal enemies, and perhaps this was revenge for the attack in 2 Kings 3, we’re not sure.
Of course, Moab was guilty of a lot of crimes: Seducing Israel into idolatry and sexual immorality in the days of Moses, oppressing Israel in the days of Ehud, and providing some of their women to lead astray King Solomon into idolatry. But apparently this was the last straw, the burning of the bones of an Edomite king. Why the big deal over this?
In the Navigators Lifechange Series study on Amos, they say “Cremation was not practiced in the ancient Near East, for people believed that man’s spirit could rest only if the body was decently buried. Thus, as Ammon showed utter disrespect for persons yet unborn, so Moab deliberately desecrated a dead person. While Ammon’s motive was greed for possessions, Moab’s was hatred.”
Please forgive me for repeating myself so shamelessly, but it’s a point I can’t emphasize enough: Our treatment of other people must always be informed by the fact that every human being is created in God’s image. That means that each person is due a certain amount of respect and dignity, even an enemy in war. God commands us to honor him by respecting human life, not treating it as property, desecrating it, or by wantonly destroying it.
Why do I bring this up? By burning a set of bones, you could argue that the Moabites did the least amount of damage of all the offenders in chapter one. If all we went by was the book of Amos, then Moab seems to be condemned for something pretty minor. Look at the crimes noted in chapter one: Extreme cruelty in warfare against civilians, selling communities of people into slavery, and wholesale slaughter of pregnant women. When you compare that to what the Moabites actually did, it seems pretty tame to us. As they say about animals at the end of movie credits, “No one was harmed. . .”
But that’s where the “image” principle comes in. Human beings carry such innate dignity--as image-bearers of God--that this extends to what we do to bodies after death. I’m not against cremation as such, and I really don’t think it’s a sin per se. The issue wasn’t the cremation itself; the issue was the utter disrespect and contempt for God’s image. This is apparently a huge issue with our Maker.
Now, probably none of us are guilty of literally desecrating a human corpse. But even when no one is physically harmed, our Lord cares deeply about how we treat his image. That should affect how I speak about image-bearers. That should affect how I treat image-bearers who bore me, or who annoy me, or with whom I disagree.
Father, every person I see and meet and collide with is made in your image and is infinitely precious to you—just because of that one fact. May that one truth make a change in the way I talk and act. Please.