|Jesus and the Cannibal Kings|
|Written by Peter J. Leithart|
|Wednesday, 04 August 2010 14:34|
Micah 3 opens with a gory description of the “heads” who oppress of the people of God: “Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron” (Micah 3:1-3).
In Genesis 3, God condemns Satan to crawl on his belly and eat the dust of the earth all the days of his life. Only a few verses later, He says that Adam will return to the dust from which he was taken. Satan eats dust because Satan eats dusty people. It’s no surprise when we learn from Peter that Satan is a roaring lion who prowls seeking someone to devour. Satan is an anthropophage, and the cannibal kings of Israel and Judah are quite literally Satanic. They are called “heads,” but strictly speaking they are little more than “mouths.”
Surely, we might think, Micah is exaggerating. Surely this is just for rhetorical effect. But he is not exaggerating.
In China, one scholar estimates, there were “probably 20 million deaths out of the multitudes that passed through China’s ‘hidden Gulag,’ the laogai; more than 20 million deaths from the ‘political famine’ of the Great Leap Forward of 1959-1961, the largest famine in history.”
In imitation of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” the Cambodian tyrant Pol Pot also brought a famine. As one historian has put it, hunger was a weapon of control: “The hungrier people were, the less food their bodies could store, and the less likely they were to run away. If people were permanently obsessed with food, all individual thought, all capacity to argue, even people’s sex drive, would disappear. The games that were played with the food supply made forced evacuations easier, promoted acceptance of the collective canteens, and also weakened interpersonal relationships, including those between parents and their children. Everyone, by contrast, would kiss the hand that fed them, no matter how bloody it was.” As in China, the number of dead was numbing.
Under the tsars, there were over 6000 political executions between 1825 and 1917, but in two months of the Red Terror in the autumn of 1918, the Bolsheviks killed some 15,000. The death toll mounted over decades. A historian has estimated that “6 million deaths during the collectivization famine of 1932-33, 720,000 executions during the Great Purge, 7 million people entering the Gulag (where huge numbers died) in the years 1934-1941, and 2,750,000 still there at Stalin’s death.”
Lest we think that we escape Micah’s condemnation, we should notice that Micah isolates money as a corrupting leaven in Israel. Judges take bribes, priests teach what they are paid to teach, and prophets re-assure Israel for cash (3:11). God created all things, and all things are good and to be received with thanksgiving. But there can be no justice in a community where money is the god; justice will come to mean whatever the big spenders want it to mean. There can be no truth in a community where money is the idol; truth is determined by the highest bidder. There can be no peace in a community where money is the idol; peace is shattered by the competition for benefits. In our day as in Micah’s, justice, truth, peace are sacrificed to the god Mammon.
The more we consider the history of modern politics, or ancient politics, or contemporary politics, the more we realize that Micah is not exaggerating. In a perverse, Satanic inversion of the rites of sacrifice, rulers have slaughtered their people, stripped their skin from them, removed the flesh from their bones, and consumed them. Instead of laying down their lives for their subjects, they have forced their subjects to lie down for them.
Has anything changed? Has the coming of the true Prophet and Head of all things made any difference at all? Has Jesus had any discernible effect on the behavior of rulers? Has the gospel transformed political life?
It has, but it hasn’t as much as it should. And one reason for that (not the only reason) is that the church has too often preached an implicitly Arian gospel. Too often Christians preach and act as if they believe, as Arius did, that God is too high, too pure, too above-it-all to get embroiled in the dirty brutal world of politics. He might send a king or a prophet, but He is not going to come in person to face down the tyrants.
This is not the gospel of the Bible, nor the God of the gospel. The gospel is good news for individual sinners, but it also good news for the nations, good news for the poor, good news for the oppressed. Centrally, the gospel is the announcement that the King of heaven and earth has set His King on Zion, and that He will reign until every oppressor is humbled, until He snatches the flesh of the innocent from the mouths of Satanic devourers, until He breaks the teeth of the cannibal kings. Confronting injustice, oppression, brutality, cruelty in the name of Jesus is proclaiming the gospel.