Joel 3 offers Yahweh’s people wonderful promises of restoration and warns those who oppress his people of severe judgement. Verse 16 perhaps captures these two elements best: “The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.”

What, specifically, invited God’s judgement on the nations? We have witnessed time and again in the Minor Prophets that God was angry at his people for abandoning their covenant responsibilities. But he was equally angry that his Gentile instruments of judgement overstretched their hand and viciously oppressed his people. The opening three verses of chapter 3 are a case in point.

Yahweh expresses his commitment to judge the nations even as he restores his people. And for what? “Because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” God was angry that the Gentiles had trafficked his people, particularly young people.

When people think about slavery and human trafficking, particularly as it relates to the Bible, they often make one (or both) of two wrong assumptions.

On the one hand, too many people think that the Bible does not speak against trafficking slaves. They misunderstand the nature of biblical slavery and assume that the slavery against which the likes of James Oglethorpe, Granville Sharp, Hannah Moore, and William Wilberforce campaigned is approved by the Bible. It is not. Paul speaks openly against “enslavers” (or “slave traders” in the CSB) (1 Timothy 1:10), using a Greek word that was exclusively used of traffickers. Texts like the one before us agree.

On the other hand, too many people think that slave trafficking is an ancient problem that does not affect us today. After all, did not the abolitionist movement under Wilberforce, et al, decisively put an end to the slave trade? That is a naive notion, and it is equally naive to think that Christians don’t actively participate in human trafficking today.

Late last month, a series of articles was published by a consortium of journalists from seventeen reputable news outlets. These articles were gleaned from revelations from the so-called Facebook Papers. Former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, leaked tens of thousands of files from the social media giant, which reveal the dark underbelly of the company. Among those revelations was that the global south was much more negatively affected by Facebook than the Western world. Facebook in the West is about as good as it gets. One journalist summarised: “Facebook is aware that its products are being used to facilitate hate speech in the Middle East, violent cartels in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric in India, and sex trafficking in Dubai.” Facebook’s own leaked documents, writes Claire Duffy, “describe women trafficked in this way being subjected to physical and sexual abuse, being deprived of food and pay, and having their travel documents confiscated so they can’t escape.” Traffickers take advantage of Facebook to fuel the prostitution and pornography industries. And too many Christians participate in this trafficking by interacting with websites where this trafficking plays out.

God warned the nations that he would come upon them in severe judgement because they “have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” In no way does the Bible smile upon human trafficking. It angers God and he promises to judge it. Those who benefit from such vile activity should not think that they will escape God’s judgement.

By God’s grace, judgement is not a foregone conclusion. It is for those who persist in sin unrepentantly, but God offers grace, forgiveness, and cleansing for those who will acknowledge their sin, cry for forgiveness, and ask for strength to walk in holiness.

You may read these words and reflect on Joel 3 this morning with no guilt. Or you may feel the weight of conviction, stemming from the reality that you are guilty of finding pleasure in the sin that God here condemns. If you are in the former category, ask for grace to remain pure and pray for God to deliver victims of trafficking by his grace. If you are guilty, ask for forgiveness and seek out someone to help you overcome this enslaving sin.