Silence in the Face of Evil – Bonhoeffer and Bible Prophet on Antisemitism
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.” These are famous words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor who was killed by the Nazis for resisting the regime. However, he was not the first man of God trying to point out this profound truth to a deaf generation. Meet Obadiah.
Who was the Prophet Obadiah?
Obadiah lived during the time of Jeremiah, the Babylonian siege and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem. It’s interesting that God used Obadiah to prophesy not to Israel, but to Edom.
When asked, most will say they only read the Book of Obadiah because it as in their Bible reading schedule. But I bet not many would remember its contents. Hopefully, today this will change. Wedged between the books of Amos and Jonah, Obadiah’s is only one chapter. But its message is very clear — stand with Israel who is your brother.
Edom was the nation directly east of Israel and Edomites were descendants of Esau. Genesis 25:30 tells us that after Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of “red soup” he was called Edom. So Jacob becomes Israel and Esau becomes Edom, making Israel and Edom brothers.
The Rift between Brothers
The word of the Lord for Edom was a strong one – it was of a coming destruction. What so impassioned the Lord that He would use a Jewish prophet to speak to another nation about judgment? Was it their sin? Was it corruption?
While these may be partially true, the real issue was how Edom treated Israel in their time of need. Verse 11 and 12 are at the core of this message:
“On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem — you too were as one of them. Do not gloat over your brother’s day, the day of his misfortune. And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction.”
In current events regarding Israel, we need to hear Obadiah’s message. The real issue the Lord had with Edom was what they did: which was… nothing.
Silence in the Face of Evil
The day that strangers and foreigners invaded Jerusalem and carried off their wealth, Edom just stood aloof. In Hebrew this word aloof is “neged” and means to be in front of or to be in someone’s presence. The original Hebrew gives the impression that Edom showed up to watch, but did not get involved. Silent in the face of evil.
Edom arrogantly stood back to watch the destruction of Jerusalem. They even enjoyed watching Israel “get what they deserved”. God said that because of this, He counted them as if they were the invaders.
It can be easy to focus on perceived problems with Israel and use it as an excuse keep our distance. Some go so far to say, the attacks that Israel experiences are due to their sins. “They should get what they deserve.”
While the sin issues may be true, we should be cautious making such judgements. We all should get what we deserve. But that is not the message of the Gospel.
Taking Heed to Obadiah’s Warning
The message is clear about how God feels when we “stand aloof” when anti-Semitic events happen. Christian differences are never an excuse for inactivity or gloating when Israel is hurting or needs help.
In God’s eyes, when our brothers are suffering, standing aloof in not an option. Let me repeat Bonhoeffer’s poignant words: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless”!
So what can we do?
First and foremost, we can pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We can speak up for the Jewish people when we see or hear anti-Semitic comments. And we can encourage Israeli believers that live in the land with our comments and support them. Go to Israel and get to know the nation firsthand.
Reach out to your Jewish neighbors. Find out if there are any Israeli organizations in your state or country that are making a difference. Can you volunteer or support them in another way? We can speak mercy and peace when judgment is deserved. We can adjust our perspective to God’s perspective.
From God’s perspective, standing aloof and watching enemies come against Israel is not an option. He will not hold us guiltless.