Fouad Ajami, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, noted: “The Arabic word shamata has its own power. The closest approximation to it is the German schadenfreude—glee at another’s misfortune. And when the Twin Towers fell 10 years ago this week, there was plenty of glee in Arab lands—a sense of wonder, bordering on pride, that a band of young Arabs had brought soot and ruin onto American soil…Everywhere in that Arab world—among the Western-educated elite as among the Islamists—there was unmistakable satisfaction that the Americans had gotten their comeuppance.”
Since then, the United States has disposed of Saddam Hussein, ferreted out Osama Bin Laden, and aided revolutionaries in the Arab Spring. Our nation has foiled threats and has prevented large-scale terrorist attacks. Other nations are now sending the United States anniversary messages of condolence for its loss and congratulation for its victories in the last decade. Ajami shows in his article that it is really the Muslim nations that are reeling now. How should we respond?
Scripture gives us an answer in a passage with parallels to our own situation – though we must be clear that the United States is not to be correlated to Israel of old in every way.
Isaiah 14:28-32 delivers the oracle, or burden, against Philistia. Samson, David, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah, among others from Israel had ruled over the cities of Philistia and had generally been a thorn in Philistia’s side. When Judah’s King Ahaz died in 715 B.C., Philistia was warned:
“Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you, that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent. And the firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant it will slay. Wail, O gate; cry out, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you! For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks” (Isaiah 14:29-31).”
A decade later, Philistia ceased laughing. True to his word, the Lord judged Philistia through Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah of Judah (2 King 18:8) and the Assyrian army too (Franz Delitzsch provides an excellent commentary on the details of the passage, including the beautiful Messianic imagery). When Judah was miraculously delivered from the Assyrians in 701 B.C. (and any immediate threat from Philistia), messengers would have come from surrounding nations seeking news and bringing their congratulations. In like manner, the Babylonians sent messengers to inquire of Hezekiah after he was healed from his disease a few years later (2 Kings 20:12-19). And so, Isaiah concludes the oracle against Philistia asking:
“What will one answer the messengers of the nation? ‘The LORD has founded Zion, and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge’” (Isaiah 14:32).
Sadly, Hezekiah responded to Babylon by boasting of his wealth, knowledge, and power (2 Kings 20:12-19, 2 Chronicles 20:31) instead of as God had instructed. God brought him low.
How should we respond to those who congratulate us on rooting out Osama Bin Laden and preventing further attacks? Listen to the news – our nation takes the credit for itself because of its superior technology, intelligence, and firepower. Comfort is sometimes given to those who are still grieving by declaring that judgment has come upon our enemies in these intervening years. Where is gratitude for and to the One who has truly protected us?
The best answer for all who are asking questions about 9:11 ten years on, is to point them to Zion, Jesus’ church as God does in the last verse of the oracle. He has founded this heavenly city, and it is only in her that the afflicted of the earth will find true refuge, true stability, and true hope. There is no ultimate refuge in the United States or any other earthly nation. But God has preserved his city, and the doors are open for people from around the world to enter through faith in Jesus Christ.
What should we announce to the messengers of the nations and to our friends and neighbors? That the Lord has founded Zion, and that our refuge is in him. But let us not simply answer them, let us invite them to experience it for themselves this Lord’s Day by inviting them to worship the One who is our refuge and our strength.
Everyone remembers where they were that tragic morning a decade ago. Lord willing, some will forever remember where they entered the true tower of refuge for the first time on September 11, 2011.