How ready are any of us to stand firmly against an angry mob bent on wickedness and oppression? How willing are we to risk our property, status, or lives for the sake of defending those who are being exploited? Tucked away in the 28th chapter of 2 Chronicles is a very short story about “Certain Chiefs” of Israel who did just that.
To be perfectly candid, this is one of those stories that I’m sure I must have read before, but had my life depended on it, I couldn’t have recalled a single detail. Not one. Until now. Now I will never be able to read this passage again without also marveling at God’s character displayed through what these “Certain Chiefs” did. And I will now also be searching out and calling for Certain Chiefs to rise among us with me to do the same.
The kingdom was divided – Israel and Judah were, in fact, warring with one another. Ahaz, one of the most despicable men to ever reign, was King over Judah. Not only was Ahaz guilty of flagrantly whoring after false gods, he was leading God’s people to do the same. He led them into the darkness of pagan practices, and into committing abominations before the LORD, including offering their children as burnt sacrifices. It was an abhorrent, ugly time and Ahaz had no shame.
Therefore, God handed Judah over to the King of Syria and also into the hand of the King of Israel, whose army did incredible damage to Judah. In one day, Israel cut down 120,000 of Judah’s warriors. Judah’s top officials were slain, including the King’s son. And still fomented by their oppressive victory, Israel’s army rounded up captives indiscriminately – 200,000 women, children, elderly, and infirm. The soldiers confiscated their possessions and stripped many of them naked. Then they proceeded to march this humiliated, defeated throng toward Samaria, into slavery.
Though God had given Judah into Israel’s hands because of Judah’s great sin against him, it is clear from the passage that Israel went too far. They had slaughtered their kinsmen in a blind rage, and it was clear that their lust for domination had not yet been satisfied.
Unfortunately, there are many such stories recorded in the Bible. The account of one nation ruthlessly defeating another and carting its inhabitants off into bondage is not unique. But to my shame, and perhaps yours, too, this is also what made this passage one that I didn’t remember anything about. With a proverbial yawn I can easily read past an account like this. I can become numb to horrific suffering because there is so much of it and it doesn’t really seem to affect me. Yet that very fact should stop me in my tracks and shake me to my senses! The commonness of accounts of brutality is no excuse to fail to recognize the reality of the human drama – and trauma – that is being described in these stories. In one day, 120,000 valiant men were wiped out, civil order was destroyed, and an army drunk with rage rampaged through the streets gathering up everyone they could, stripping people of everything they had, and driving them into captivity. Can you imagine the terror?
Courage amidst the carnage
But God is faithful, even when his people are not. The oppression of his people – especially when it is oppression committed by his people – is something God hates. He will see to justice – sometimes through the carnage, sometimes because of or in spite of it, and sometimes, in the very midst of it.
We begin to see the character of God revealed in verse 9 when we read, “But a prophet of Yahweh’s was there (in Samaria), whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army…”
Prophets’ courage to speak truth to power is well-documented. It might be easy, again, to miss the impact of this man’s actions because they are not singular, but rather expected among the “prophet guys.” But listen to what he said to this blood-stained army returning after their shameful conquest: “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God? Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.”
This prophet, this human being, stood up to a horde which had just slaughtered over 120,000 seasoned fighters. He might have done it shaking in his sandals, but he did it. He might have done it thinking, “today is the day I die,” but he did it. He knew the kind of callous disregard for human life they had displayed, and yet despite the risk of being just one more body added to their heap, he went out to meet them and warned them against continuing in their wickedness. He warned them that their sin had already reached the God whose name they claimed to be defending, and that they were only adding to the enormous guilt they already bore.
Oded said and did all the right things, but the army didn’t listen. I can’t help but think that sometimes faithfulness seems fruitless. But it never is. We need men like Oded today, but sometimes, warnings are not enough.
The story says that “Certain Chiefs… stood up against those who were coming from the war.” These Chiefs – men who had already been recognized as leaders and who were well-respected in their communities – took Oded’s work a step further. While Oded warned and instructed the men of the army not to continue in their wicked scheme, these chiefs stood firmly against them and said, “We will not allow you to do this.”
This is not warning alone – this is standing together and saying, “Even if you are willing to persist in this unconscionable thing, we will not allow you to do it. We will stop you. We will fight against you if we have to, but we will not just sit idly by and watch you ruin all of us by your wicked oppression.” It’s the ancient equivalent to “over my dead body!” We need men like Oded today, but we need Certain Chiefs, too.
When I read this passage through clearer, humane eyes, I was astounded by the courage and integrity of these leaders. They stood for what was right in the face of great power, great hostility, and tremendous evil in front of them. They stood firmly and were undeterred by what had to have been the very real threat of their own lives. But because I also read this passage through the lens of trauma, I wept at what these words must have meant to the 200,000 captives standing there watching their fates being held in the hands of the men before them.
Those who had no hope of being redeemed were suddenly presented with that very hope. Rescue. Those who had no power to free themselves from the tyranny of their powerful oppressors probably caught their breath with the gravity of it all – could this really be true?
I don’t know what it was that convinced the armed men to scatter, leaving the captives and all their spoils just lying there, but they did. Was it a steely glare? The firmness of the Chiefs’ united front? Was it because the Chiefs were father-figures to these young soldiers, and they were able to shame them into abandoning their plans? We can’t know from the text why the armed men took off, but we know they did. And if the righteous actions of Oded and the Chiefs hadn’t already been noteworthy enough, what follows in the account shows the abundant and compassionate tenderness of the God we serve towards those who have been victimized by others.
These Chiefs – these same respectable men of rank and position in their communities – went into the throng of captives and did the unthinkable. These Chiefs clothed the women and children and the elderly. They gave them sandals for their feet. They distributed food and drink, tended to wounds, and assisted the weak and disabled to get them all safely home. The text could be translated, “the Chiefs took the captives by the hands…” What a beautiful picture of Christ-like, servant-leadership. These Chiefs used their power, position, and resources to rescue, and then to serve, to bind-up, to feed, clothe, and to restore. Like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, these Chiefs of Samaria knew that the true character of God is revealed when we love our neighbors as ourselves. And like the wicked, unforgiving servant who had been forgiven a great debt needed to learn, these Chiefs knew that though Judah’s sins were great (and they truly were) there was nothing to be gained in subjugating, oppressing, or grinding Judah into the dust. Israel had her own sins to reckon with, she could let God deal with Judah’s.
Where are our “Certain Chiefs”?
If this story was only intended to give us a picture into the true and tender character of our God in the face of wicked oppression, it would be sufficient. The God of the Bible hates the oppressive abuse of people. There is no doubt that the domination and control of one person over another is an affront to the image of God in that person, and his wrath is kindled against oppressors in a way that little else manages to provoke. Abuse is never OK with God. He will mete out justice against perpetrators, and he will do it in a way that tenderly cares for those who have been damaged by them.
But today we are in the midst of a reckoning of our own. Anyone who is awake has heard of the many, many scandals and stories of all kinds of abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and criminal misconduct coming to light from every sector of society – including the church. There is no denomination or faith that has been untouched – we are all affected by this wickedness that has been tolerated in our own ranks for far too long. So many lives have been irrevocably damaged because of the wicked things our own people have done. It’s been ignored, minimized, and even tolerated across every social divide. In the name of “protecting reputations” of organizations or personalities, we have collectively permitted perpetrators to oppress victims – our own sisters and brothers – in our churches, organizations, and homes.
So I have to ask the question: Where are our Certain Chiefs? Who are the faithful among the leaders of our own faith communities who will stand firmly against this terrible blight? Who will be the ones with integrity who already have positions of authority, status, privilege, and respect, who will not only cry out, “This is wrong!” but who will stand together and declare, “Abuse will continue here over my dead body!”? Who among our current leaders has the guts to risk property, comforts, and life for the sake of the vulnerable, the weak, and the oppressed? And once redeemed, who will serve, feed, shelter, and protect?
Be assured, it will cost you a great deal. The vulnerable can only afford to thank you. Most of them will, but not all of them. (Some of them might even criticize you for taking so long!) Before one victim is completely rescued another will appear needing even more help. Abuse is ugly and evil – it morphs and it dodges behind really, really good sounding words. It is incredibly difficult to root out. You will be called to stand against people you thought you knew. You will be called to hold friends or superiors accountable for their wicked deeds. You will be misjudged, your character will be maligned, and you will be called crazy, or evil yourself. But it is right to love your weak, vulnerable, oppressed neighbors as yourself and to seek justice for them. You will honor God by your lives if you are willing to be like these Certain Chiefs. In that day, you will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!”
God’s heart is to rescue and redeem. We reflect his image well when we do the same.