For Three Transgressions And For Four: Amos On Abortion

Having previously examined the corpus of biblical law showing that even reckless and accidental death of an unborn child was counted as murder by the divine legal standard [1], I wished to ask and answer a simple question: does the Bible anywhere talk directly about abortion? And if so, what does it say, and what does that mean for us? To answer those questions, I would like to spend a bit of time today in the book of Amos, which answers those questions in a very noteworthy and important way.

Let us begin by examining a clear reference Amos makes to abortion leading to the judgment of a nation in the opening section of Amos. Amos 2:13 gives divine punishment on a heathen nation for abortion: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment. Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, that they might enlarge their territory.” ” This is, so far as I am aware, the clearest biblical condemnation that exists for the wicked practice of abortion. Let us note a few aspects of this biblical condemnation abortion, which is (correctly) viewed as violence committed against women and children.

First, let us note the purpose of these abortions. The people of Ammon behaved cruelly towards the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their territory by limiting the population growth of the Israelites in the area. By killing the unborn children, the people of Ammon wished to stop Israel from growing and therefore increase their own territory because of the empty land that would now be free of a growing Israelite people. Abortion was, in the ancient world and today, a tool of demographic warfare. Those populations that are able to grow in size are usually able to project that strength later on through other means, both military and economic. Meanwhile, those nations that do not produce children generally become weaker through time as fewer young workers are able to defend nations or to provide for the elderly. A wise nation encourages parents to plan out their families and to ensure that they can take care of their children and also raise their children to honor and take care of them in their old age, lowering the burden of the elderly on the institutions of the church or the state by putting it in its proper sphere of the family. By killing and harming children we attack the future of a civilization, its hope for a better tomorrow.

Second, let us examine the context of Amos 1-3 to determine the way in which Amos’ anti-abortion comments reflect a general concern with the dignity of human life. We find, unsurprisingly, that Amos has a consistently high concern with the dignity of human beings. For example, Amos’ condemnation of Ammon for abortion comes within a general context of condemnations for crimes against humanity. Amos 1:3 states: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.” ” Damascus (Syria) is condemned for Hazael’s harsh and abusive attacks on Gilead that treated it like grain being sifted for the harvest. Amos 1:6 states: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they took captive the whole captivity to deliver them up to Edom.” “ Amos 1:9 states: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.” ” Here both Tyre and Gaza are condemned for their slave trading, providing the nation of Edom with enslaved prisoners of war, treating human beings like chattel property, also an offense to the moral standards of the Bible. Likewise, Amos 2:1 reads: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he burned the bones of the King of Edom to lime.” Here we see that the dignity of human beings is defended not only before birth (against Ammon), during life (against Gaza and Tyre), but also after death. To desecrate the graves of people and attack their dead bodies is also a violation of God’s universal moral standard. Likewise, Amos’ condemnation of Israel for selling the righteous for silver and articles of clothing (Amos 2:6), panting after the dust on the head of the poor (Amos 2:7), sexual immorality (Amos 2:7), or lying down on clothing they have taken by pledge (Amos 2:8). Amos’ concern for human dignity and the rights of the poor and helpless (including the unborn) is profound and consistent, and Amos demonstrates that both the ancient world and our present wicked world are full of evil men who desire to exploit those who cannot defend themselves, who place themselves under the harsh judgment of God by their oppression.

Finally, let us examine the implications of the divine condemnation of Ammon for its abortions on the pregnant women of Gilead. Let us note that Ammon was not part of the nation of Israel, but was a Gentile “cousin” nation descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot (along with Moab). The fact that a nation outside of a covenantal relationship with God was judged for abortion indicates that abortion is not part of the special revelation of God but is rather a part of general revelation, and the standard by which all peoples are judged, whether or not they know the Bible at all or have ever heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Jesus Christ. God judges abortion as an evil worthy of divine condemnation even for those nations who have zero biblical knowledge and who are not in any way protected by a covenant relationship with God. How much more harshly will God judge those who claim to be in a covenant relationship with him through baptism and who slaughter those created in the image and likeness of God in their own wombs, or in the wombs of their loved ones?

For just as God did not turn away punishment on the nations of old for three transgressions and for four, so He will do to us. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and there is no variation or shadow of turning within Him. As God condemned abortion and brought a national judgment 2700 years ago upon a wicked heathen land for their use of abortion to control the population of their enemies, so God will judge us today for practicing and supporting that which He violently condemns. If we wish to escape divine judgment, we must therefore repent of our wicked practices against His law, and cease to practice them. Do we wish to suffer as did those nations of old for their rebellious hostility towards God, or do we wish to be restored again to God’s favor and grace, by which alone we can be safe and secure? That is our choice to make today—for we cannot escape responsibility for the consequences of our choices


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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23 Responses to For Three Transgressions And For Four: Amos On Abortion

  1. cogwebcast says:

    Great post about the sin of abortion and how God holds all peoples to his universal moral standard, not only those in a covenant relationship.

    • You’re very welcome–I’m glad Amos made the point for us all first, but it’s useful to be reminded that the moral standard of God is universal and not limited either to physical or spiritual Israel.

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  12. Tony says:

    While I agree that abortion is a travesty and a blemish on society, it seems like your argument begins with an assumption…when I read Amos 1:13, I see it as an excessive and violent attack on innocent people that was culturally uncharacteristic. It only marginally sounds like the abortion process we see today. Can you explain why you think this is the “clearest biblical condemnation” for abortion?

    • Thanks for your comments. The issue is the negativity the passage shows to the death of the unborn, and that it is the violence towards the unborn being done that is so harshly condemned as a sin worth judging an entire society for.

  13. Gerardette says:

    Judgement for abortions to enlarge their borders with the profits of abortion is certain. However, there is a disctinve difference between the pregnant women in the day of Amos & today. There was not a choice for the women in Amos’ day. Today’s pregnant women are going by their own will, which is not a strong case against abortion. They too will be judged.

    • It was not the fact that the killing of the children was against God’s will that was the only objectionable act. The first command from God to mankind was to be fruitful and multiply, a commandment that was repeated after the flood. Barrenness is uniformly viewed as a curse in the Bible, and to actively promote barrenness and to defy God’s command to multiply is an offense regardless of whose will it is.

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  19. Carol Espie says:

    It was Amos 1:13 not chapter 2.

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