The sleepy Sunday evening of May 1, 2011, suddenly turned surreal. Amid a flurry of media activity, President Obama was preparing an impromptu announcement. Even before the President strode to the podium, the word was out: Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
This late breaking news report was greeted in America with great joy and revelry. Literally, there was dancing in the streets. The Star Spangled banner was sung--badly--in a New York subway. Baseball stadiums reverberated with spontaneous eruptions of “USA, USA, USA.” It was a night to be remembered. And more than remembered-- it was a night to be contemplated.
How does America’s response to the reports of Bin Laden’s death appear--when viewed through the lens of the Holy Bible? This is the question to be considered if we would be biblical in our worldview. A few scripture passages come to mind and we will briefly examine each one in turn.
But first, this caveat. Please understand, this isn’t about whether or not Bin Laden was deserving of death. Of course he was. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of people. And God’s word is exceedingly clear concerning the punishment of murderers: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). So, we are not here addressing the justice of killing murderers. We are here addressing our response to the killing of murderers. How should we respond to the killing of our enemy?
We begin with Proverbs 24:17. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
Many in America were and are rejoicing in the demise of Bin Laden. While I do not feel one ounce of regret for this terrorist, neither am I inclined to exult in his execution. (I am sure I would feel differently if I had lost a loved one on 9/11. This however, would not make my feelings right in the eyes of the Lord.)
So, on the one hand we are exhorted to be subdued in our response to the death of our enemy. But then we read Exodus 15:1-18. This is the song of rejoicing the children of Israel sang when the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. The people of God were indeed rejoicing. But were they celebrating the deaths of these men per se? Or, were they jubilant in the salvation of God?
We must remember, at this point the children of Israel were facing certain, imminent genocide. But their omnipotent God saved them. God’s power to save is the central message of their song.
“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously! The LORD is my strength and song. And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him…The LORD is a man of war…Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power….in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You” (Exodus 15:1,2,3,6,7).
I do not believe the late night revelers, gathered in front of the White House, were thanking and magnifying God for delivering them from Bin Laden. That certainly wasn’t the message of their slogans or signs. God uses many methods and means to distribute His justice. He used the Red Sea then and He may have used SEAL team 6 now; but then He was praised, now He is ignored.
Another passage pertinent to our examination is 1Samuel 18:6-7.
Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said: “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”Obviously, the entire song is not recorded. Perhaps they praised God, perhaps not. But we must observe two things. 1)This seemingly innocuous song culminated in a bloody civil war, lasting 7 years, between the house of David and the house of Saul. 2)This narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, it merely describes the response of the women to God’s victory--through David--over His enemies. It does not command or infer: “Go and do likewise.”
Next, we consider Ezekiel 18:23,32.
Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live…I have no pleasure in the death of one whodies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”
Here we find that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. To be sure, God ordains the death of the wicked--as He does all things--but He gets no fiendish enjoyment out of such things. God’s justice is manifested in the death of the wicked but He is not sadistic in His righteous wrath. That is, God reveals both His pleasure and His displeasure in His inscrutable dealings with sinners.
Thus, we may recognize the hand of God in all things and bask in the display of His glory, without delighting in the death--in and of itself--of wicked people.
Finally, I will end where we began. We looked at Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” Now let’s read the conclusion of the thought: “Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:18).
As we exult in the death our wicked enemies, are we failing to face the wickedness in ourselves? I love America, and sometimes love is blind. [As is hate.] But I clearly see, in the light of scripture, that America is a wicked nation. I do not need to delineate our national sins, but they are many.
Think of the judgment of God which rests upon our own people: an economy in shambles, a society spiraling downward into decadence, poor leadership in government [both civil and sacred], ten years of warfare with no end in sight, a lack of unity and a devaluing of national identity, etc. etc.
I echo the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson. “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” These are sobering words, my friend. And also remember this: Those who joyously sang after God’s killing of the Egyptians in Exodus 15, were themselves judged by God. They wandered 40 years and never stepped a foot into the promised land.
And so we must be cautious when dancing on graves. Because someday the grave will be our own.