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So far, we have studied the background of Amos and the prophecies by Amos against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, and Ammon. These prophecies Amos spoke to Israel, not to the countries being charged and judged by God. God had a purpose for Israel hearing His charges and judgments against these nations. He wanted them to know He avenged them against their enemies. God, too, wanted Israel to recognize their own sins as He charged the surrounding nations.
Damascus, the capital city of the nation of Aram on the northern of Israel, battled Israel and stole Gilead from them. They took part of God’s promised inheritance to the tribes of Gad, Manasseh, and Reuben. Gaza, the southwestern most nation in Canaan-Philistia-often raided Israel and took their possessions and people as spoils of war. The sold the people into slavery, sometimes with the help of Edom. Tyre and the nation of Phoenicia had a covenant of brotherhood with Israel because of their relationship with David and Solomon. They broke their covenant and betrayed Israel by often capturing Israelites and selling them into slavery with the help of Philistia and Edom. Edom, blood relatives of Israel through Esau, harbored anger and jealousy against the Israelites because of Jacob receiving Esau’s birthright and blessing from his father. Each generation fed that anger and caused them to take every opportunity for vengeance. Ammon’s people, too, were blood relatives of Israel. Through Lot and his youngest daughter, their son, Ben-ammi, became the founder of the nation of Ammon. The people of Ammon remained discontented with the land upon which they lived and were not grateful for Israel’s help in defeating King Sihon of the Amorites. The Ammonites’ greed caused them to want what King Sihon took from them even though it was not part of God’s provision of land for their people. Ammon coveted what the Israelites had instead of experiencing contentment and recognizing the fruitfulness of Israel came from the LORD. Though the Israelites showed they were allies of Ammon against the Ammorites, the Ammonites bore a grudge because they wanted the land for themselves.
If you look on an Old Testament map, you will notice Amos’ prophecies wove a net around Israel. His first prophecy dealt with people to the north of Israel. The next prophecy dealt with a nation, Philistia, in the southwest corner of Canaan. The third prophecy dealt with people in the northwestern corner of Canaan. Next, Amos crossed over Israel to the southeastern side of Canaan to the nation of Edom. He wove his rope to the northeastern side when he prophesied against Ammon. Today, we will understand Amos took the rope back to the middle of the eastern side of the Jordan to prophesy against Moab. He now has pulled each side of Israel into one net. The next prophecy will begin to pull it tight so Israel feels God’s charge and judgment itself.
Today, we will study Amos 2:1-3. This passage is Amos’ prophecy of God’s charge and judgment against Moab. We will learn who the people of Moab were and what God’s charge against them was. Next we will gain an understanding of Moab’s history and God’s later judgment of them. Beyond this, we will look at the history of the fulfillment of God’s judgment against them. Finally, just as Amos and God wanted Israel to hear this prophecy and apply it to themselves and their relationship with the LORD, we will look at our own hearts and lives to see if God could judge us of these same things and what we can do about it. Let’s begin our study.
Who was Moab?
If you remember from our study on Ammon, Ben-ammi, the founder of the Ammonites came from the union of Lot and his youngest daughter. After they fled Sodom, Lot’s daughters thought they were the only people left alive in the world. They assumed it fell upon them to repopulate the world so they caused Lot to get drunk. After he was drunk each of the daughter’s lay with him and became pregnant. Moab was the son of the oldest daughter and Lot. (Genesis 19:30-38) Moab’s name means “from father.”
God gave land to both Abraham and Lot. Lot chose the fertile southern area near the basin of the Dead Sea. In Deuteronomy 2:9, we read of God telling the Israelites, “Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their lands as a possession because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.” Lot’s sons possessed the lands from the southern basin of the Dead Sea to the Ar (Arnon) River on the eastern side of the Dead Sea as God’s gift to them. This land ranged from being fertile because of the water from the Jordan, Arnon, and Zered Rivers to being mountainous. It had plateaus of 3000-4500 feet to chasms and valleys at sea level. The tops of the plateaus were fertile for produce such as corn. The plains and valleys were excellent places for crops and grazing cattle and sheep. Second Kings 3:4 gives us a hint of the lands fertility. Moab could give 100,000 lambs a year to Israel along with the wool from 100,000 rams.
Moab made a living off the land God gave them. They did not recognize the God of their ancestors, Lot and Abraham, as the provider of their prosperity. The people of Moab worshiped false gods. They worshiped Chemosh, Baal of Peor, and Molech. (Numbers 21:29, Jeremiah 48:7, 13, & 46, 2 Kings 3:27) Chemosh was their chief god. Molech and Chemosh were two names given to the same deity. Chemosh demanded human sacrifice as we understand from 2 Kings 3:27 just as Molech did.. King Mesha of Moab sacrificed his firstborn son to gain the god’s favor to defeat his enemies. The worship of false gods comes about because of fear – the fear of not appeasing every god that may exist and could become dissatisfied with people causing them to experience hard times. This belief meant, instead of hard times being times to grow in reliance upon the loving Yahweh, it was a time of fear wondering what wrong you committed and how to appease the gods’ anger. Understand, Moab did not differ the other nations around Israel. They all worshiped false gods. For this, the LORD was punishing them, too.
The Charge against Moab
What was God’s charge against Moab? Was it different from His charge against the other nations? Amos tells us in Amos 2:1,
“Thus says the LORD, ‘For three transgressions of Moab and for four I will not revoke its punishment because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.’” [NASB]
Would the king of Moab really desecrate the corpse or bones of a king? Let’s understand what Amos meant by looking at the Hebrew words and remembering what the prophetic form meant.
Amos began his five other prophecies using this same prophetic form – “for three transgressions and for four I will not revoke its punishment.” Remember, in biblical numerology, three plus four equals seven and denotes completion. The Moabites had sinned so much and often without remorse and repentance that they sin filled them up and God had to act to stop them. Moab had measured sin upon sin and God’s righteousness could take no more. The loving Father, who was the Father of Moab’s father, had mercy upon them for hundreds of years. Now His mercy and love would have to bring about discipline. God had to discipline them to bring them back to a right relationship with Him. God’s righteousness had to bring judgment, and He said He would not revoke it.
Now let us look at the Hebrew words Amos used. The word “transgressions” comes from pesha (peh-shah)and means rebellion against God, other nations, and other people. Transgressions are sins. The word “burned” comes from the Hebrew word saraph (saw-raf) and it means to burn, possibly like an undertaker. It meant they burned the body of the dead instead of burying it respectfully in a tomb. The word “lime” is what we know it to be. It comes from the burning or cremating of bones into calcium carbonate. The charge God brought against Moab means they cremated the body of the King of Edom.
Why would the charge of that sin be significant back in the 800-600 BC era? Consider the uses of lime. It is used in graves and in the treatment of sewage and waste to remove impurities. Plaster, mortar, and whitewash contain lime. Besides these, fertilizer or plant food contains lime to help plants grow. These each are useful things, but realize Moab burned the bones of a king, the King of Edom, one who received God’s past blessings. For people of royalty and wealth, their relatives and servants placed their corpses into hewn-stone tombs to rest with their ancestors. To burn them into lime, meant disrespect of their title and rank among people. Consider Israel asked his sons to take his bones into the Promised Land. Jacob of Arimethea placed Jesus’ body into his own hewn tomb. As in other places in the Bible, the place and manner of burial was very important. For Moab to burn the bones of a king, especially one whose ancestor was Abraham, showed disrespect. The bones of the king would not be gathered to their ancestors or have part in a resurrection of the dead as the Jews taught. By taking bones out of a grave or not burying the corpse, the Jews and people of the region believed the deceased would not find rest and was cursed. Exhuming the bones of a person profaned the dead person’s memory. By turning the king’s bone to lime, the King Mesha sneered and denigrated the status of the king by relatively saying his corpse after death was worthy only for grave, fertilizer, and waste decomposition use. His actions against the king of Edom showed his contempt for the king by placing him below even the lowest caste of society.
Why is that significant? Consider David’s thoughts and actions. While Saul chased David to kill him because of his jealousy, David had a couple times when he could have killed Saul. He explained to his army why he did not kill him. David told his followers to kill Saul would have been killing God’s anointed leader. Who was he to decide who would be king and make himself greater than God? When the king of Moab burned the king of Edom’s bones, he took it upon himself to decide – to judge – the king and display him as being worthless. The king of Moab disrespected the king of Edom and called him worthless by burning his bones.
- Is there someone we know who shows contempt for other people and disrespects them publicly? The person defames their reputation in his or her actions and words.
- Are there times when we do this to people we know? Possible gossiping about a person or cutting a person down to size so we feel bigger and better about ourselves and what we are doing?
The History of Moab
What is the history of Moab? What is the history of this charge by God? Were the Moabites really this ruthless and disrespectful?
Just like Ammon and Edom, Moab had a long history before the Israelites arrived in the Canaan territory. They had a long history of animosity toward Israel, too. Consider these instances.
- Judges 11:15-18 – Joshua asked the kings of Moab and Ammon to allow the Israelites to pass through their land to get to the Promised Land. The Israelites walked around Edom and Moab because their kings would not let them to enter their territory. Fear of the numbers of Israelites caused them to shut their borders to Israel.
- Numbers 22-24 and Exodus 15:15 – The chiefs and leaders of Edom and Moab trembled at the size of the band of Israelites. When the sons of Israel camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan River opposite Jericho, King Balak of Moab with Midian sent for the prophet Balaam to cast a curse upon Israel. He refused three times and blessed them as the LORD told him. At God’s command, Balaam instead cursed Moab in Numbers 24:17. Fear drove Moab to want to harm Israel.
- Number 25:1-3 – Moab’s women seduced the men of Israel while they camped in Moab at Shittim before crossing the Jordan River. They caused the men of Israel to worship false Gods and bow down to them. If the Israelites were too big to defeat, they could make them stray from their mighty God to worship other gods. Fear led Moab to seduce the Israelites into following other gods.
- Judges 3:12-14 – The LORD used Moab under the leadership of King Eglon to punish Israel for not following Him. They served Eglon for eighteen years. The Israelites sent tribute to King Eglon for these years because he defeated and possessed the city of the palm trees. God can use Israel’s enemies to punish them by allowing their actions against them. He will later punish the enemies of Israel.
- Judges 10:6 – Again the people of Moab, along of Aram, Ammon, and Philistia, seduced the Israelites into following their gods – the Baals and Ashteroth. God allowed the Philistines and Ammonites to capture portions of their tribes for eighteen years as punishment. God used Israel’s enemies by allowing them to capture parts of the tribes. He would punish their enemies later.
- 1 Samuel 14:47 – Moab and the other Canaanite nations plundered Israel so King Saul attacked these enemies and afflicted punishment on them. Moab was discontent with what they had and wanted more.
- 2 Samuel 8:2 & 12, and 1 Chronicles 18:2 – Moab kept attacking Israel so David battled them. As before, Moab was discontent with what they had from God. They fought God’s people and He would later punish them.
- 1 Kings 11:7 – Solomon’s wife influenced him to build and altar for Chemosh, her god, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. Again the Moabites seduced Israel to worship other gods. If you cannot beat your enemies, bring them down to your level or lower, is probably what Moab thought.
- 2 Kings 3 – King Mesha of Moab paid duties to the king of Israel as a vassal whom he conquered. When king Ahab of Israel died, Mesha rebelled. King Jehoram of Israel, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the King of Edom went to battle against the rebelling Moabites. Mesha’s rage caused him to sacrifice his firstborn son to appeal to his god to help them win the battle. Moab fought the Israelites and God’s punishment. They practiced human sacrifice, a sacrilege to God.
- 2 Chronicles 20:1, 10, & 22-23 – Moab, Ammon, and the Meunites came against Judah in the days of King Jehoshaphat. God set an ambush for these nations and killed them. Moab still was discontent with their portion of land and wanted to take the Israelites down. They disrespected the Israelites’ God by throwing themselves against Israel repeatedly.
- 2 Kings 24:2 – As punishment for Israel’s sin, God sent Moab, Ammon, Aram, and Chaldee to destroy Judah. Though God allowed these nations to go against Israel as punishment from Him, He did not hold these nations unaccountable for assailing His children. God would judge them, too.
As becomes obvious with reading each of these passages, Moab was not a restful nation. They sought to create discord with both kingdoms of Israel. Moab often disrespected the Israelite rulers. They feared the numerous Israelites. The Moabites feared their own false gods. They wanted more land than the LORD apportioned to them. The Moabites were discontent and disrespectful of the LORD’s people-Israel, other nations and their leaders. They were disrespectful of Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. The Moabites were a fractious people.
Despite this, two instances arose in Moabite history that showed they cared for others. The first occurred in the story of Ruth and Naomi. After Naomi’s husband and sons died, Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law moved with her back to Israel. Ruth cared for Naomi and provided descendants for her family lineage. The second instance of Moab caring for someone other than themselves occurred when David took his parents to Moab. He asked the king to let them stay with him while he tried to survive as King Saul hunted him (1 Samuel 22:2-4).
We need to concern ourselves with God’s charge against Moab. Most theologians through the centuries consider the incident when King Mesha burned the bones of the king of Edom as having occurred after the battle recorded in 2 Kings 3. As a vassal state of the kingdom of Israel, Mesha rebelled against Israel when King Ahab died. The kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom joined together to go against Moab and bring them in line. These three kings sought God’s will through one of His prophets, Elisha. Elisha told them what God said, and they followed His instruction. On the morning after the prophecy, the king of Moab saw the water was red and thought the three kings had fought and killed each other. He ordered his army to get the spoils of war. When Moab’s army arrived at the camp of the three kings, the battle became intense and the Moabites fled. Mesha took 700 swordsmen to try to break through to the king of Edom and could not. In his rage and fear, he returned to his city and burned his firstborn son, the heir to the throne, as a human sacrifice to his god, Chemosh. This appeal to his god emboldened the army of Moab so they rallied with a great wrath against the king of Israel and his allies. The three allied armies returned to their home countries.
Notice in 2 Kings 3, King Mesha burned his son as a sacrifice. He did not burn the king of Edom. God’s charge in Amos 2:1 says he burned the bones of the king of Edom. Though no written Bible passage exists recording the burning of the kings bones, historians and theologians through the ages agree on two possibilities. The one most often cited is that after the kings of Judah and Israel returned to their lands, the king of Moab followed the king of Edom, who was weaker without his allies. Mesha then killed the king of Edom and burned his bones. A slight alternative to this considers Mesha dug up the bones of a previously buried king of Edom and burned them. The other major line of thought is that 2 Kings 3:27 did not mean Mesha burned his own son when it said, “he took his oldest son who was to reign,” but that he took the son of the King of Edom and killed him upon the walls of his city. This scenario is a stretch, but some Jewish historians prefer this understanding.
Whichever scenario is the actual history of God’s charge is not as important as the reason for God to level this charge against Moab. Ultimately, Moab disrespected the remains of a king, judged the king and disgraced him by treating his bones and memory with contempt. He metaphorically made him common, nothing more than lime that makes fertilizer, cleanses gravesites, and makes common whitewash. Besides this, Moab disrespected a person of Israel, Esau’s descendant, or Lot’s descendant if Mesha burned his own son. Just as David knew God would judge him for killing King Saul, God would judge King Mesha for killing and desecrating the king of Edom or the future king of Moab. Both were related to Abraham though only Edom’s king was a direct descendant of Abraham. What judgment would be fitting punishment for disrespecting a king from the line of Abraham, any person of Israel, or any human all of whom God considers sacred? God’s wise and righteous judgment tells us in verses two and three.
- Have you experienced a person who mercilessly continued to harass you? Did they do it to make themselves feel more important or significant in the community or family?
- Do you catch yourself wanting to say bad things about a person or cut a person down because he or she thinks too highly of him or herself or because you feel you are not being noticed?
- What consequences happen when you do these types of things? Does it affect you internally? Do you act upon these impulses? How does that affect you?
Judgment of God
God’s judgment of Moab for their sin of disrespect and desecrating the dead is similar to the His judgments on the other nations. Amos stated it in verses two and three,
“‘So I will send fire upon Moab and it will consume the citadels of Kerioth and Moab will die amid tumult with war cries and the sound of a trumpet. I will also cut off the judge from her midst and slay all her princes with him,’ says the LORD.” [NASB]
As we remember from Amos’ earlier prophecies, “fire” come from the word ‘esh (aysh) and means the flames of God’s anger either as fire from heaven or as war from enemies sent or allowed as punishment from God. “Send” means to stretch out, shoot forth, or let loose. Amos said God’s punishment and anger would shoot out as fire. He would completely destroy the citadels – the fortresses and strongholds – of Moab. Amos named Kerioth of Moab to receive this destruction. As the principal city of Moab, like the other prophecies, it meant the whole of Moab would receive the wrath of God. God would destroy them. Jeremiah 48:24 and 41 note Kerioth as being a fortified city containing a sanctuary for Chemosh. Historians consider Kerioth may be the same as the city of Ar on the northern border of Moab. God stated through Amos that Moab would die amid tumult of war cries and the sound of a trumpet. “Die” comes from the Hebrew word muwth, which means to perish or be put to death. The people of Moab would experience inner fear as they heard the war cries of the enemy army approaching. Their insides would melt in despair at the sound of the trumpet calling the charge of the army against them. The people who disrespected and appeared to have no fear of other nations since they often rebelled and battled the surrounding nations would quiver at the mighty din of the war cries and trumpets, and the crash of destruction as the walls fell.
Besides their fall to enemy armies, Amos prophesied God would cut off the judge from Moab. He would eliminate the leader/governor of their country and they would have no government. They would be a people lost without a leader. The LORD said He would slay her princes, too. Remember, princes can mean the king, prince, or chief. It can mean the priests who lead them to worship false gods, too. God would remove their government and their religious leaders. Their false gods, as always, would have no power over them and no influence. The Moabites would be completely cut off from their gods. They would be lost and wandering.
Given this understanding of the words Amos used, what do these two verses mean? Consider this paraphrase. God would send His wrath like a fire upon Moab. It would destroy their strongholds upon which they counted for safety including the chief one at Kerioth. God would destroy Moab completely. They would perish before their time with much confusion and with war cries that made people fear and put the fear of the LORD in them. The LORD would come like the sound of a trumpet-suddenly and with deathly certainty. Moab would die in war. God would cut off their rulers, judges, and priests. Moab would die and no one would remain to lead the remnant of survivors. There would no longer be a nation of Moab.
- When a person disrespects or denigrates another person, how does that make the community see that disrespectful person? Do they look up to him or her with disdain or with admiration? What happens to that disrespectful person in the short or long term?
- Have you disrespected someone and brought undue scrutiny upon him or her? How did that work out for you? Did you receive praise? Did you feel good about yourself? Did God prick your conscience? Later, did you wonder why your relationship with God wasn’t vibrant?
The Fulfillment of God’s Judgment against Moab
God’s servants, the prophets, prophesied against Moab beginning with Amos’ prophecies. Other prophets spoke God’s judgment against them later. These prophecies include Isaiah 25:10-12, Zephaniah 2:8-9, Jeremiah 9:26, 25:12-38, and 48:1-47, and Ezekiel 25:8-11. What Moab experienced immediately after Amos’ prophecy was not the total fulfillment of God’s judgment against them. The later prophecies confirm that. Isaiah said the Moabites would be trodden down. Zephaniah said they would be like Sodom, a perpetual desolation. Jeremiah said God would punish the uncircumcised. The LORD would slay them like a great storm, and Moab would experience shame and brokenness. The LORD offered hope to Moab. At the end of Jeremiah 48, God told them He would restore the fortune of Moab in days to come. He would remember His people. Though the people of Moab would be leaderless, some taken into captivity, and the remnant left to survive in the desolate places, God would bring them back, He said.
What happened to Moab in history? Did God’s judgment occur? In reading the annals of history, we read of empires battling against the nations of Canaan, the middle and near east, and north Africa. In 738 BC Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria occupied the provinces east of the Jordan River. The Nimrud inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III states the Moabite king, Salmanu became a tributary to Assyria. Sargon II of Assyria mentioned on a clay prism a revolt against him by Moab joined by Philistia, Judah, and Edom. On the Taylor prism, the Assyrian account states the king of Moab paid tribute to Sargon.
After the Neo-Babylonians defeated Assyria, they overtook the previously held vassal states of Assyria in the middle and near-east. Of these, history tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon overtaking Moab, Ammon, Edom, and other small nations on the eastern side of the Jordan River in 582 BC after Judah fell in 586 BC. By 572 BC, Babylon was in control of the whole region.
After Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great of the Persian Empire took over ruling the previous areas of the Babylonian Empire. During the Persian reign, Moab disappeared from historical records. It became an area overrun by tribes from Arabia. Nehemiah 4:7 notes the Arabians of the region, not the Moabites, were allies of the Ammonites. Remember, Nehemiah was the man of God used to get the remnant people of Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem while the others were still in Babylonian captivity. Even then Nehemiah recognized Moab was no longer a nation.
- God will judge people for their sins. Sometimes that judgment and correction comes while we are still alive.
- Have you felt God’s judgment/punishment/chastisement on you when you disrespected another person?
- What did you do when you felt God’s punishment? Did you run and hide or did you repent and return to a right relationship with God?
What was Moab’s sin according to God’s charge against them? They burned the bones of the king of Edom. The king of Moab disrespected and desecrated the body of royalty, one from the line of Abraham, no less. The Moabites continued to rail against authority and God’s judgment against them throughout their history. They did not receive correction and punishment with grace, repent, seek forgiveness, and renew a right relationship with God or other people. The Moabites continued to do what they wanted, when they wanted, for whatever reason they wanted. They were a force unto themselves and considered themselves unaccountable to anyone.
- Do we consider ourselves in this same way?
- Do we go about our lives thinking I want it, I deserve it, I will reach for it, and I will get it no matter what may be in our way?
- Do we think the ends justify the means?
Not even considering the king of Edom was from the line of Abraham, he was a man created in God’s image. God does not condone human sacrifice. He judged people of the Bible for it and for their worship of false gods. God made a commandment and gave it to the Israelites saying, “Thou shall not murder.” Whether murdering is causing the death of a person, the defaming of a person’s reputation, or the disrespecting and desecrating of a person’s body dead or alive, God speaks against this. To God each human life is sacred.
Jesus took this one step farther. When the Pharisee asked Him what the greatest commandment was, He condensed the Ten Commandments given by the Father to the Israelites into two commandments. He said in Matthew 22:37-40,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” [NASB]
If you disrespect or denigrate a person physically or verbally whether dead or alive you do not love your neighbor. By not loving your neighbor you have broken the second greatest commandment. When you break any commandment, you show you do not love God and so break the greatest commandment.
Obedience = Love
How do you love your neighbor?
- Speak kind words.
- Do not gossip or cut them down.
- Do not disrespect them or seek to harm them even if you disagree with them.
- Do acts of goodness and kindness for the person.
Proverbs 25:21-22 spoke about this. It said, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” [NASB] Multiple benefits occur from following this. First, by doing good to your enemy-the one who harms you or wants to harm you-you stop them in their tracks questioning why you treat them well when they do not do the same for you. Second, by continually doing good for the one who wants to harm you or continues to harm you, they experience the goodness, grace, and mercy of God and may seek it for themselves. Third, by doing good, you practice it and it becomes habit so you change for the better and consider more than once before you disrespect or denigrate another person. Be like Hosea who continued to love his wife, Gomer, though she was a prostitute. Be like Jesus who continued to love people though they spat on Him, lashed his body, nailed Him to a cross, and pierced His side.
- By doing good, and speaking kindness and love to people, the person will see God’s light of love. That person might change before God judges him or her like He did the Moabites.
- By doing good, you will change more into the likeness of Christ. You will pray for your enemies, turn the other cheek, and share the suffering of other people while encouraging them.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” [1 John 4:7, NASB]
- Where do you need God’s help to love when someone disrespects and denigrates you?
- Where do you need God’s help to love when you disrespect and want to denigrate someone?
Loving is not always easy, but it is necessary.
God commands it.
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