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Amos Would Have Condemned The Brutal Death Of Muammar Gaddafi Under the Unwritten International Code of Ethics

The death of Muammar Gaddafi (on the 20th of October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte) and the subsequent parading of his lifeless body on innumerable international television channels in the full glare of his nemesis and sympathisers will leave lasting images on many minds of the extent of barbaric human brutality and despicable unethical practices by nations in war situations. 


It reflects how the rich and powerful (and often victorious in war situations) show utter disdain for the rights of weak and the poor (often on the losing end). Such condemnation reverberated from the four corners of the globe despite the senseless and heartless celebrations by the depraved west as this quotations by world leaders from the depraved west including Hilary Clinton appearing in the Guardian of 20th October 2011. Viewed from the perspective of Yahweh’s dealings with his people Israel and Judah on one hand, and the other nations surrounding them on the other hand, Amos would have condemned, in categorical terns, this brutal death (and parading) of Muammar Gaddafi under the unwritten international code of ethics (UICE). This paper will seek to justify this assertion and in the process narrate in detail what the UICE entailed in the times of Amos’ prophetic ministry and its relevance today.

This paper will start by discussing the identity of Amos, his ministry and the milieu in which he executed it. Amos originated from Tekoa and was an 8th Century prophet (Routledge 2008) who was a contemporary of both Hosea and Isaiah and prophesied in the Northern kingdom. He prophesied during the years of blooming prosperity for the Israelite nation and, as always had been the case, this prosperity brought with it various challenges to the nation. Such prosperity is attested to by Heschel (1999:27) when he suggests that “…the Northern Kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Israel, reached the summit of its material power and prosperity …” during this time of Amos. This led to the inevitable emergency of social classes; the rich and the poor. The rich (contrary to the D-historian’s theology of prosperity, blessings and curses) were becoming richer through unscrupulous means and brazen exploitation the poor who kept being impoverished. Such a status quo invited extreme, yet befitting, condemnation from Amos’ prophetic ministry.

These socio-economic factors did not spare the religious life of the nation. The religious effect was not that of neglecting Yahweism, but its perversion and syncretism. Yahweism in its purest form had no sincere practitioners despite people who kept thronging the national shrines of Israel (cf Amos 4v4, 5v21-24). It was being undermined by the attraction (and inevitable embracing) of Baalism and other gods of communities around the Northern kingdom. Amos, like other “Israel’s prophets attacked the tolerant syncretism of the time and insisted on fierce devotion to Yahweh” (Anderson 1966:222). Such was the amorous task that Amos had in his prophetic assignment.

Amos’s message was not only limited to the Northern kingdom; it also affected the nations surrounding the Northern kingdom. There is disputation among scholars as to the authenticity of the oracles proclaimed against foreign nations by Amos. There is a group of scholars who argue against the Amonian nature of such oracles on various reasons. One of the reasons proffered is that these oracles are conspicuous by their omission of the prophetic formula “thus says the Lord” (Bullock 1986:65). On the basis of that such scholars see the pen of a redactor, this paper strongly dispute this claim and assert Amonian authorship and utterance of these oracles as will be demonstrated below.

Sponsors of the above-stated view seem to limit Yahweh’s ‘monotheistic governance’ to the Northern and Southern kingdoms unfairly and unnecessarily. To the contrary, Amos shows us that Yahweh is the God of all universe and therefore all nations are accountable to him, this is reinforced by Anderson (1966:234). Further, Motyer (2001) is very emphatic on Yahweh’s sovereignty when he introduces the concept of “governmental monotheism”, he says “his (Amos) theology of ‘governmental monotheism’ dominates his book. In 1:3-2:3 he reviews the surrounding pagan nations and pronounces them answerable to Yahweh, the only God of all the earth” (:91, insertion mine). The condemnation comes to these nations through these oracles because ‘they are guilty of offending against universal divine law that derives from Yahweh’s dominion over his creation” (Routledge 2008:317). This paper notes as does Hubbard (1989:128) that the crimes of these non-Israelite nations are termed “acts of rebellion… suggesting that they, like Israel and Judah, are so under the Lord’s authority that their wicked deeds outrages against his rule”. Thus, these nations are part of Yahweh’s rulership and dominion hence accountable to Him!

Another point of contestation by many authors on the oracles against other nations is the basis of the Lord’s judgement of these. For Israel, there was clearly articulated covenant which according to the D-Historian, clearly spelt out the blessings that resulted from obedience and the curses that emanated from neglect of God’s covenant. The challenge with the other nations seems to emanate from the fact that there was no written laws that could have been the basis of dispensing of blessings or curses by Yahweh on these nations.

This paper seeks to assert the fact that Yahweh does not act arbitrarily. His message to these nations assumes the existence of what scholars refer to as the “unwritten international code of ethics” (UICE) to which all nations subscribed, as already alluded to above. Bullock (1986:66), citing Driver, calls these “common and universally regarded dictates of morality”. Further, this can be referred to as “human rights and human decency” (Hubbard 1989:128), whose violation attracts the Yahweh’s judgement. These ethics governed the Ancient Near East (ANE) communities in war times and such dictates are very much relevant to today discourse on what is acceptable and not acceptable in war situations. How did the nations come to have this code? Bullock supplies a very candid response to this question in the citation below.
“Even though foreigners did not enjoy the covenant privileges and responsibilities, they nevertheless had knowledge, though indistinct, of the ethical demands of Yahweh. The nations, therefore, were accountable, not because they had heard the voice of God through law and prophets, but simply because they had heard His voice through nature and social convention, what has come to be called natural revelation” (1986:67).

Nations had an obligation to observe these. Just the Israel’s covenant with Yahweh, failure to observe these attracted Yahweh’s wrath expressed in judgement to those nations. Such judgement is the judgement pronounced in oracles by Amos to the other nations; it is judgement over their war crimes against humanity. Their war atrocities, as will be illustrated below, betray “absence of loyalty and the absence of pity” (Heschel 1999:27) or what Hubbard (1989:128) “acts of inhumanity”.  Israel on the other hand, and in stark contrast to the former, is judged “… because of atrocities committed in peace and prosperity… (2:6-8)” (Anderson 1966:234).

In the following paragraphs we now proceed to unravel the contents of the UICE or the so-called common and universally regarded dictates of morality. To start with, the use of disproportionate military force was a case in point in the Gadhafi saga. Gadhafi’s opponents were superpowers who had cast weaponry and advanced military hardware and technology at their disposal. They deployed such weaponry without restraint and in disproportionate force against the sub-equipped army of Gadhafi. These forces or superpowers like Syria, control vast territories (directly and indirectly) by virtue of their military and economic muscle in the same way Syria ruled from its capital in Damascus and slaughtered the people of Gilead (Amos 1v3) “with threshing sledges of iron” (Anderson 1966:29.  Hubbard (1989:131) suggests that these threshing sledges of iron “are probably a figure of speech implying extreme cruelty… to those who opposed Damascan invasion”. This is the same way America, a superpower today (just like Damascus was a superpower then), handled the Gadhafi saga, hence Amos would have condemned Gadhafi’s killing as violating norms and ethics regulating the conduct of warfare in the ANE communities.
Gaza’s behaviour of “taking the whole communities “(Amos 1v6f) into exile and forced slavery was an affront to Yahweh and a clear violation of UICE. There were rules that governed the treatment of prisoners of war or those defeated by a mightier force. It was important that the entire population was not to be killed or driven into exile to balance the ethnical scales of ANE communities. There were communities in Libya that were evacuated in fear of the reprisals and military attacks form the allied and their local gangs of ‘blood-thirsty’ militias who were using “weapons of mass destruction” and “unconventional means of warfare”. Such forced evacuations by the allies and armed gangs (armed by the allies) violated UICE and ultimately would have attracted unchecked condemnation from Amos as well as the death of Gadhafi.

One’s kindred were to be protected and not to allow one to turn against them in situation of war. Loyalty to one’s family and relations was of utmost importance (Amos 1v11f). Tyre and Edom stand out as nations committing such unheard-of-betrayal of brotherhood in these oracles. Tyre’s charge according to Anderson (1966:29) is that “Tyre had violated a treat, ‘the covenant of brotherhood’…” Further, “…Edom had “pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity, his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever” (:29). This violation of brotherhood was rampant in the Allies’ war in Libya. It is alleged that a number of Libyans (including Gadhafi’s own blood relations) were paid by the Allies to sell out information on the whereabouts of Gadhafi and the military secrets of the state. These locals were used in the pursuit of their own brother in violation of the covenant of brotherhood like Tyre. Those who ‘bought’ these locals were as equally guilty as the locals who “sold out”. Hence Amos would have condemned the death of Gadhafi on such basis.

Amos Would Have Condemned The Brutal Death Of Muammar Gaddafi Under the Unwritten International Code of Ethics


The UICE made provisions for those who would escape from a war situation. Two gates were left for them to escape and given an opportunity to seek refuge in other friendly communities or states or to surrender. Gadhafi should have been allowed an escape route to other Arab countries under the UICE. This did not happen because the neighbouring states were under threat of sanctions or no escape route was left open for him. Hence this would have attracted condemnation from Amos.

Further, the treatment of women and children in a war situation was of utmost importance. They were to be protected. Scales escalated when it was a pregnant woman, they were to be offered maximum security together with those with various kinds of disability. The Ammonites (Amos 1v13) opened the wombs of pregnant women with child in insatiable pursuit of territorial gains. USA in particular will not be a stranger in condoning the treatment of women (non-American) in this way. Their unconditional support of Israel in their conflict against the people of Palestine is a case in point. Graphic images of butchered defenceless women on channels like Al Jazeera will not find coverage on Cable News Network (CNN) - America’s flagship news carrier nor will they get the flimsiest of condemnation from the Congress let alone the presidency. There are unverified reports of the violation of women (sexually and emotionally) during the pursuit of Gadhafi. Such violations would constitute war atrocities according to the UICE and hence attract Amos’s condemnation.

More importantly, the treatment of kings killed in combat was very critical in the ANE communities. The UICE demanded that such kings should be accorded respect by way of being afforded decent burials. Denying them such would be an affront to Yahweh and therefore attract his judgement on the offending party. The humiliation of kings was not an option no matter the causes of the war or the hatred of the victor against the deposed and killed king. Amos ends his pronouncement of the oracles against foreign nations by reciting the judgement on Moab who “…burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime. This act of vandalism had not even the poor excuse of being profitable: it brought nothing but the gratification of hate (1:3-2:3)” argues Heschel (1999:30). Such was the humiliation of Gadhafi both during the raging military conflict and in death. Such treatment would later visit Bin Laden at the hands of the Americans. Based on Amos’s eight oracles against Israel’s neighbours (Bullock 1986), Amos would have condemned in the strongest of terms the killing and humiliation of Gadhafi by the Allies.

As hinted in the introduction above, the condemnation of the killing of Gadhafi was not as unanimous as one would have expected. There were sections of the international community who wield so much power and authoritarian global influence in the frame of Syria and the other condemned nations who were in celebratory mood at the announcement of the news. The Guardian of 20th October 2011 captures the following quotations
David Cameron: "People in Libya today have an even greater chance, after this news, of building themselves a strong and democratic future. I'm proud of the role that Britain has played in helping them to bring that about and I pay tribute to the bravery of the Libyans who have helped to liberate their country." Not to be out done was Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general: "Clearly this day marks a historic transition for Libya. Yet let us recognise immediately that this is only the end of the beginning. The road ahead for Libya and its people will be difficult and full of challenges." Finally Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state: "Wow" (on first seeing the news on her BlackBerry). Later, she added it was a "new opportunity for Libya to move forward" (The Guardian, October 20, 2011).
The above quotations are an illustration of the depravity of humanity. Libya has not moved forward in the post Gadhafi dispensation; chaos reigns supreme within its borders and it has become a haven of ISIS and other extremists. Such depravity shown by these world leaders characterised Amos’s day. However, Amos firma and resolute stood to remind those nations including Judah and Israel, that Yahweh will certainly judge them for such “indecency” and gross acts of “inhumanity”. Such should be the message to these superpowers and opinion leaders of our time. Yahweh abhors such atrocities against deposed kings like Muamar Gadhafi, Yahweh abhors the violation of the treat of brotherhood, among others acts of indecency and inhumanity.
This paper has tried to show the relevance of Amos’s message well beyond his own time (in the 8th Century) by illustrating how Amos would have treated the death of Gadhafi in the hands of the allied forces (in the 21st Century). This condemnation is based on the UICE reflected in the eight oracles of condemnation to Israel’s neighbours. Their cries were that “they practiced inhumane cruelty… betrayed brotherliness… outraged the unborn, the dead and the helpless who deserve respectful protection” (Motyer 2001:91). Further, it has illustrated that God would, in his sovereignty, have judged the Allied forces (nations) the same way he through his prophet pronounced eight oracles of judgment against the nations listed in Amos 1v1-2v3 (for Yahweh changes not).



Reference List

Anderson, B W 1966.  Understanding the Old Testament- Second Edition. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Bullock, C H 1986. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books. Chicago: Moody.
Heschel, A J 1999. The Prophets. Massachusetts: Prince Press.
Hubbard, D A 1989. An Introduction & Commentary- Joel & Amos. Leicester: InterVarsity.
Motyer, A 2001. The Story of the Old Testament. Michigan: Baker Book House Company.
Routledge, R 2008. Old Testament Theology- A Thematic Approach. Illinois: Inter-Varsity.


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