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.

About Terry Threadwell

Dr. Terry Threadwell has thirty five years ministry experience. Author, educator and Director of the Institute of Progressive Pentecostal Studies.
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