Be a Refuge

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Like fluttering birds, like scattered nestlings, so are the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon. “Give counsel, grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab settle among you; be a refuge to them from the destroyer.”
(Isaiah 16:2-4a NRSV)

While on vacation, I came upon this short excerpt from one of Isaiah’s oracles to the nations, in this case to the land of Moab. Relations between the two nations of Israel (Israel and Judah) and Moab were not always good, but Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a woman of Moab who emigrated to Judah with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth, a young widow, survived at first and provided for Naomi by gleaning in the fields.

The destroyer of lands and peoples comes in various forms: an invading army, a plague or epidemic, a negative change in economic conditions, a revolution or civil war, religious persecution, destruction of land by “development” or mining or some other “harvesting” of its resources. Then, as Isaiah describes in the reading’s context, there is no more rejoicing over the harvest and sometimes no refuge anywhere. In the 1980’s, thousands of people fled the slaughter in El Salvador and Guatemala to a land that did not want them (the United States) because their very presence and need for sanctuary gave testimony to the horrors of regimes our government supported for its own political and economic reasons.

Today, young adults (and some not so young) risk their lives to cross a river – not the Arnon but the Rio Grande – to flee from what to what? Why do they brave the brutality of coyotes (the human kind, not the animal) and the dangers of the desert to live in the shadows of fear in a land that offers them extremely hard work at low pay in sometimes unsafe or dehumanizing conditions? Why do they leave their families and communities to endure hardship and xenophobic hatred in a foreign land?

Mexican land reform provided plots of land for the campesinos (people of the fields, peasants). Changes in economic conditions have rendered those plots insufficient for subsistence farming, and now they may be sold to private concerns. So, the people’s land is being privatized, which moves it from serving those with little to adding more wealth to those who already have much. That’s much like what some people north of the river are trying to do to public education and Social Security: take them from the people so the wealthy can exploit them to add to their wealth.

The “destroyer” from which the poor are seeking refuge is the force of crushing economic changes.

“Give counsel, grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive; let the outcasts of (the current) Moab settle among you; be a refuge to them from the destroyer.”

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