What is the view of the biblical materials on the role of ethics in the development of history?
In this essay, I will give a general overview of some of the ethical concepts in the stories of creation, the flood, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, and in the Psalms and Proverbs.
Creation (Genesis (sin, fall, must obey, etc.)
The birth of ethics begins in Genesis. The first command in the Bible where God told man to not do something was: “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Man disobeyed the command, therefore he got the negative sanctions associated with the disobedience of that command – eventual death. The concept of ethics was formed very early on in the creation story, and likely the very “first sin”, was the rebellion of the serpent, which led to the first human sins (Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.) Thus sin entered the world.
How do we know that the Bible contains ethics? Because it has a concept of right and wrong. How do we know what is right and wrong? Obedience is right and sin is wrong. What is sin? Sin the transgression of the law of God (righteousness). We could not know what sin was, except through the law and through commands like “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
When all men but Noah and his family had stopped following Yahweh’s ways, Yah sent a flood to destroy all the evildoers, and saved Noah and his family in a boat. This story follows similar construction as the creation story: Yah allows people to live, yet they disobey, so he brings negative sanctions (death) upon the wicked. This time, however, Yah saves the righteous remaining. The message this sends is that He will not destroy those who obey and follow Him.
After the flood, a disgraceful thing happens in Noah’s family. Ham (one of Noah’s three sons) sees his father’s nakedness. Instead of keeping his mouth shut, he goes and tells his brothers, who go and cover up their father, turning their faces away that they might not see Noah. Noah wakes up and finds out what happens, and becomes very angry, cursing Ham’s son Canaan, and blesses his other two sons.
What can we learn from this? Don’t take or see what is not yours to take or see.
Giving of the Law
The people of Israel had just been freed from slavery and had come out of Egypt. Yahweh gave his Law to Moses, the chief spokesman of the people, to tell the assembly of the Israelites. Because of this, it is often referred to as the “law of Moses”, however Moses didn’t command the law, Yahweh did. Therefore, we may also call it the Law of God.
In giving a Law, Yahweh was giving His people a choice; either to obey or disobey him. He was telling them that in order to be His people, they must obey Him. What were the sanctions for obedience?
“Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
Positive actions (such as honoring your father and mother) warrant positive sanctions.
Moses had gone up to the mountain to receive the Law from Yahweh. But the people, becoming anxious at waiting for Moses for 40 days, decided to worship a golden calf, an idol, instead of obeying Yahweh’s command, “You shall not have any other god before me.” When Yah told Moses what happened, he came down from the mountain to carry out Yah’s punishment.
Moses made them melt down the golden calf, grind it up, and put the gold in water to drink. Then the Levites carried out a massacre and killed about three thousand people. Then, a plague broke out among the people.
So we see that negative actions (disobedience of the law) warrants negative sanctions.
I believe the law is still applicable today, and we know that Yahweh never changes. Therefore, in the development of history, the law has remained a way for us to show others our morality comes from Yah.
This book, written by David, contains songs and poems of praise to Yahweh. Themes David stresses are worship, obedience, resolution of inner conflicts, sovereignty of Yahweh, and many more. How does David want to be treated? He wants to be saved from the persecution of his enemies, because he obeys Yah. How does David want his enemies to be treated? He wants them to be destroyed for their unlawful acts.
Again, negative actions means negative sanctions.
Proverbs – Consequences of choosing to follow the right path …or choosing not to.
Proverbs is a book written by the wisest created man in the Bible, Solomon. Throughout the entire book, Solomon gives his son advice on wisdom, integrity, obedience, and interacting with people. He uses metaphors and contrived circumstances to emphasize the importance of being moral, wise, and humble. Proverbs 7 and Proverbs 31 compare the wayward woman with the righteous one.
Solomon holds to the principle that if you associate with immoral people, you may be affected, and if you are immoral, you will face negative sanctions such as poverty, shame, and death. But the sanctions of being moral and wise include prosperity, happiness, and long life.
The Bible has TONS to say on ethics. I’ve only scratched the surface. But these five stories/books can teach us that there IS morality, and the Biblical consequences of immorality are hardships, curses, and death. But the consequences of obedience and faith are positive sanctions.