Ethics and the Old Testament–a social ethic

A Social Ethic

At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down. They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.” God came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.  God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into “babble.” From there God scattered them all over the world. (Gen 11:1-9)

Rebellion in the known world was about to become cataclysmic. Babel represented a world that did not need God, it was immoral and unethical. Later, another city, Sodom, would replicate the kind of social dynamic that happens when God is left out. In Babel’s case, God breaks in a confuses their plans, and the people are scattered.

God chooses a man who will bring not only God’s redemptive plan but God’s ethics to the world.  Even before these chosen people existed, God was talking about nationhood. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen. 12:1–3)

Notice there that God says, “I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God’s plans were worldwide. In my view, they missed it, turning the blessing inward rather than outward to the world. The Old Testament is speaking to us corporately. With a plan that is worldwide.

Walter Brueggemann wrote in his book, ‘A Social Reading of the Old Testament: Prophetic Approaches to Israel’s Communal Life.’  “We may re-articulate our covenantal hope for the world. So long as this subversive paradigm [covenant] is kept to God and church, we are safe enough. Its character of surprise and threat becomes clear when the covenant is related to the world beyond the believing community. The covenantal paradigm affirms that the world we serve and for which we care is a world yet to be liberated. A theology of covenanting is not worth the effort unless it leads to energy and courage for mission . . . The three belong together: a God who makes covenant by making a move toward the partner (Hos. 2:14, 18–20); a community that practices covenant by the new forms of torah, knowledge, and forgiveness (Jer. 31:31–34); and a world yet to be transformed to covenanting, by the dismantling of imperial reality (Is. 42:6–7; 49:6).”

Food for thought.

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Ethics and The Old Testament–Pay it Forward

Pay it Forward.

If any of your fellow Hebrews, male or female, sell themselves into your service, they can work for you for six years, but in the seventh year you must set them free from your service. Furthermore, when you set them free from your service, you must not let them go empty-handed. Instead, provide for them fully from your flock, food, and wine. You must give to them from that with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember how each of you was a slave in Egypt and how the Lord your God saved you. That’s why I am commanding you to do this right now. (Deut 15:12:15)

“Personal experience of God’s goodness is turned into motivation for ethical behavior that responds out of gratitude and love.” (Wright, 2004) Time and time again, God reminds the blessed Israelites to do unto others as God has done for them.  When someone puts themselves into your service to pay off a debt, once that debt is paid or at the end of six years, send them off with a blessing as you have been blessed. And should they forget, God reminds them time and time again ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you Canaan’s land and to be your God.’

Leviticus 25:35:38 makes it very clear. “If one of your fellow Israelites faces financial difficulty and is in a shaky situation with you, you must assist them as you would an immigrant or foreign guest so that they can survive among you. Do not take interest from them, or any kind of profit from interest, but fear your God so that your fellow Israelite can survive among you. Do not lend a poor Israelite money with interest or lend food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to give you Canaan’s land and to be your God.”

How can we call America a Christian nation when we ignore these scriptures? God’s word here clearly goes against Capitalism and a free market economy. Some would answer me by saying that these scripture texts are Old Testament or Law. To which I would remind them that this is neither old nor the law, this is the ethical virtue of God—God is good(ness). As Christians, how can we do anything less?

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Knowing.

The Lord proclaims: The learned should not boast of their knowledge, nor warriors boast of their might, nor the rich boast of their wealth. No, those who boast should boast in this: That they understand and know me. I am the Lord who acts with kindness, justice, and righteousness in the world, and I delight in these things, declares the Lord. (Jer 9:23-23)

I heard Christians boast that when they get to heaven, they can’t wait to see:

  1. Their mansion, which, as it so happens, is a bad translation of the Greek.
  2. The streets of gold. Even though there are no streets of gold in heaven or the coming kingdom, God is an allegory for purity.
  3. Jesus….in that order.

One would expect God to be number one, not eternity’s presumed materiality.

So, back to the Old Testament, the most important aspect of knowing God is not what God has done (stories) or what he has said (word). The thing that God wants most is to reveal the essence and substance of his nature.  This is done through the historical, the prophetic, a song or a poem, or even a love story and journal written by Solomon.

Jeremiah tells us not to boast in wisdom, power, or the prosperity that comes as a blessing from knowing God, but to let the very character of God permeate our nature. How does God want to be known? He wants to be known as a God of kindness, justice, and righteousness.

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Purpose

This advice seemed wise to Pharaoh and all his servants, and Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man with more God-given gifts than this one?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, no one is as intelligent and wise as you are. You will be in charge of my kingdom, and all my people will obey your command. Only as the enthroned king will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Know this: I’ve given you authority over the entire land of Egypt.” Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, he dressed him in linen clothes, and he put a gold necklace around his neck. He put Joseph on the chariot of his second-in-command, and everyone in front of him cried out, “Attention!” So Pharaoh installed him over the entire land of Egypt. (Gen 41:37-43)

But Joseph said to them (his brothers), “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he’s doing today. (Gen 50:19-20)

In the Old Testament, the prophet, priest, and scribe become the storyteller, and the storyteller is prophetic, sacred, and memorialized. God is telling us stories that pose ethical questions to see how we might respond. I have lived the story of Joseph. Twenty-nine years ago, a friend, Linda Patton, prophesied that God would give me a coat of many colors.  Little did I know the significance of that prophecy. Perhaps you to can identify with an Old Testament story?

Joseph’s brothers did evil, and though God turned it around for good, his brothers were still evil, and God is always good and will consistently achieve his purposes. So, even though you might find yourself in the crucible of life, God has a purpose that is being fashioned there. Take courage!

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Ethics and the Old Testament–Word.

The Word

“Now look into it: into days long past, before your time—all the way back to the day God first created human beings on earth, from one end of heaven to the other. Has anything this amazing ever happened? Has anything like it ever been heard of before? Has any people ever listened to a god’s voice speaking out of fire, as each of you have, and survived? Or has any god ever tried to take one nation out of another nation using tests, miracles, wonders, war, a strong hand and outstretched arm, or awesome power like all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt while you watched?” Deut 4:32-34

The text this morning begins with a rhetorical challenge to the Israelites.  Of all the gods that you have both known and seen, the gods of the Canaanites or Egypt, have you ever experienced anyone like Yahweh? A God who speaks, gets involved, delivers, and promises? The answer was a resounding, “No!”

The problem was that the people seemed to be quite content with the dumb idols of their past. They were murmuring and complaining that they were better off back in Egypt or building a statue and worshiping the golden calf. The reality was that they didn’t want to go up and meet the living God, so they sent Moses.

Moses comes back with ’10 words,’ the Decalogue, and with them a moral law by which these people are to live by.  They were given an ethical standard for life and liberty. Instead, they turned them into laws or oppression and bondage.  They really did go back to Egypt.

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Ethics and the Old Testament–God’s Grace

The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.” Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Ex 3:2-6)

Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD. (Exod. 6:5–8).

God gets the attention of Moses through the burning bush and introduces himself as the God of the patriarchs, Elohim. God didn’t give Moses the law there and send him down to Egypt with a message demanding obedience; if you do this, then I will redeem you, no!

Instead, God hears the cry of the Israelites, remembers their covenant relationship, and sets about redeeming the people.  Amazing grace was present, and God was in action all the time.  In your Bibles, you will see that it was an extensive period before the law was introduced.  Even then, you must wonder whether those ‘ten words’ were given not because God desired control but because the people needed to be kept on track. Throughout this journey from Egypt to the promised land, we see the people’s desire to go back to bondage. If you get into your car and trust your GPS, how much more should we trust God.

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Ethics and the Old Testament-the self-revelation of God

The Ethics of the Old Testament.

Over the coming days, we will dig deeper into the Old Testament and try to make sense of what God said, did, and wants us to do. And what God didn’t say and are just the words of men. Some will not enjoy the contents of these devotionals; they are those who don’t want to learn and are fixed in their thinking.  They believe that they know everything there is to know, only to realize that they know no more than the demons.

You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. (James 2:19)

So, let’s start with God.

“You were shown these things so that you would know this: The Lord is the only God. There’s no other god except him. From heaven he made you hear his voice in order to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire. You heard his words from that very fire. And because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, God brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his own great power, in order to remove larger and stronger nations from before you and bring you into their land, giving it to you as an inheritance. That’s where things stand right now. Know then today and keep in mind that the Lord is the only God in heaven above or on earth below. There is no other.” (Deut 4:35-39)

The self-revelation of Yahweh (YHWH) is important and was measured by God. Exodus 6:3 says, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, (El Shaddai or God of the Mountain] but I didn’t reveal myself to them by my name ‘The Lord.’ We might use the name Yahweh, sometimes considered comparable to ‘I AM WHO I AM.’  For the Israelites, God was no longer just the God of the mountain; God was everywhere in space and time.

The God of the mountain is the same God that a Christian worships on Sunday only.  Somehow, they don’t equate God being involved in every aspect of their lives. God is there with you right now.                              

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Abortion

Why are men so involved in what women do with their bodies?

With the nomination by President Donald J. Trumps of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the question of abortion once again comes to the forefront.  Will she reverse Roe v. Wade?  Will she make significant changes?

We need to understand that infanticide and abortion have always been around.  The first biblical example we have is in the Book of Exodus 1:15-22. Here, Pharaoh instructs the midwives to kill all the Hebrew boys. The midwives feared God and tell Pharaoh an excuse as to why this is not happening.

We seem to forget how bad it was before Roe v. Wade, with illegal abortions taking place in back street clinics or at the hands of a so-called midwife using unsafe practices or strange potions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in those countries where abortion is still illegal, botched abortions account for eight to eleven percent of all maternal deaths, about 30,000.[i]

Abortion issues were never really a concern of the evangelical church.  Almost all the anti-abortion activism came out of the Catholic Church. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.[ii]

After the Roe decision, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”[iii]

Race, Manipulation, and Control.

Without a doubt, the evangelical church in the United States was predominately white, privileged, and racist. Fear of the Black community had been a uniting force in the white church.  With the advent of the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education, churches closed ranks, white parents refusing to send their children to mixed-race public schools, many churches opened their own schools, thus excluding minorities.

The final blow came when in 1983, in the IRS v. Bob Jones University, the university lost its tax-exempt status because of its segregation policies.[iv] Private Christian schools also came under scrutiny.

The conservative movement saw itself losing the battle. It was not until Paul Weyrich, a religious conservative political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, saw abortion as a call to action for the evangelical church. Weyrich recruited Jerry Fulwell and James Dobson, carefully wording everything in moral terms, and the fight for the unborn began.

In 1992 another case came before the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. President George H. Bush, following on from Ronald Reagan, had loaded the court with conservative justices.  The president was confident that this would be an opportunity to strike down Roe v. Wade. However, in a landmark 5-4 decision, the court upheld Roe v. Wade.

So, what made the patriarchy of the evangelical church so passionate about Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey? Surprisingly, it has little to do with the unborn, and more to do with the mother. Having lost the battle for racial segregation, they now saw themselves losing control over womanhood. In Roe v. Wade, the woman, under the Fourteenth Amendment, had the right to privacy, and in the Casey case, the court gave the woman the right to choose. She no longer needed to ask the man for permission or his opinion.

Patriarchy had now lost dominance over minorities and control over women; all that was left was manipulation and misinformation, much of which has little to no foundation in the religious texts.

Will the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade? Unlikely, due to stare decisis. Stare Decisis is a judicial precedent.  The court believes that there should be stability in society and that once laws are in place, a citizen should know what the law says. However, amendments may happen.

Conclusion.

Pro-life and pro-choice are not opposites.  As a pro-life Christian, it is imperative that life is sacred from birth to the grave. The very fact that God allows us a choice is a mystery and a wonder.  Decisions made are not always perfect and may have consequences, but it is a choice.


[i] https://give.guttmacher.org/

[ii] http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/baptist/sbcabres.html

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._A._Criswell

[iv] https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3527&context=faculty_scholarship#:~:text=On%20May%2025%2C%201983%2C%20the,with%20racially%20discriminatory%20educational%20policies.

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Did You Hear That?

“Blow the trumpet in the land; Cry, ‘Gather together,’ and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities.’ Set up the standard toward Zion. Take refuge! Do not delay! For I will bring disaster from the north, and great destruction.” (Jer 4:5-6)

This text is similar to the warning issued by the prophet Joel, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, For it is at hand.” (Joel 2:1) Joel issues a warning, calling everyone to prayer and fasting, even the newlyweds, who were generally excluded from religious duties.

Unfortunately, they neither heard Jeremiah or Joel and did not heed the warning. Why should they? The temple was open, service numbers were up, the economy was doing well.  The problem was that under the carpet were all the sins of Israel and Judah, swept there, so that they couldn’t be seen, but God sees everything, and hold them to account.

Is America any different? Racism has once again raised its ugly head on the streets of America.  Because we have never adequately dealt with racism, it continues to raise its ugly head like a boil festering under the surface.

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Justice and Righteous Required

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” (Jer 4:1-2)

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:22-24)

God, as the lover, continues to call for his adulterous bride to return, despite her refusal thus far. Only now, it becomes conditional.

If you return, if you remove, if you swear,

They were going to have to turn back to the Lord. They are to renounce any allegiance to all idols. They must swear that God was the only true God, but there had to be evidence of change.

Justice and righteousness were the traditional prophetic formula and seen in the books of Amos, Isaiah, and of course, Jeremiah. Covenant relationship requires that participants see justice and righteousness as the norm. The third element, truth, becomes the way that everyone around is blessed.

COVID-19. Or Coronavirus is a blessing in disguise, in that it has shown us our short-comings, revealed the true nature of our society, and revealed to us that though we claim ‘in God we trust,’ nothing could be further from the truth. We are a society of injustice and self-righteousness. This has to change, and it should start with the Christian.

  • Our immigration policy.
  • Separating immigrant children from parents is immoral.
  • NASA spend on average $152 million per launch, when we have average Americans out of work, and 30 million children food insecure.
  • Healthcare, the benefit of the rich. The poor are excluded because of the cost.
  • Education, employment, the judicial system, shall I continue……?

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