Write 500 words on this: “What is the view of the biblical materials on the role of ethics in the development of history?”
In this essay, I will be covering the biblical literature learned in this class– Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs– and how they emphasize ethics in history. These chapters are all part of the Old Testament, which was written by the ancient Hebrews. Literature can tell the history and worldview of a particular culture, and that is certainly true of the Old Testament. The chapters reinforce the 5 basic themes of most literature: God, Man, Law, Sanctions, and Inheritance (the future).
In Genesis, God is established as the sovereign creator of the universe. Therefore, He is in charge of sanctions, like an inheritance, reward, or punishment.
This is what Psalm 8 says about humanity’s position in creation: “You [God] have made them a little lower than the angels… You made them rulers over the works of your hands.” We were created in God’s image. The hierarchy that is taught in the Bible is that humans are below God, but above the rest of creation. Therefore, humans were given dominion over the Earth, and God requires us to be responsible stewards. This is an ethical responsibility.
Ethics in Genesis
The events in Genesis changed the course of history, and most of the conflicts were ethical.
In Genesis it says that God is the creator of the universe. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) He created the first humans, Adam and Eve. He creates rules and tasks for them, and gave them the garden of Eden to live in. One tree in the garden was His, and they were not allowed to touch or eat from it. Eventually, they disobeyed them, breaking the covenant they had with God. Adam and Eve’s rebellion was ethical, because God established laws that they rebelled against. This was an important event, because it is the origin of sin, death, and grace.
The story of Cain and Abel tell us about ethics, and positive and negative sanctions. Abel had offered a sacrifice that God accepted, while Cain was rejected. God says to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door”. This implies that Cain offered the sacrifice without truly following God, which is why he was not accepted. Motivated by envy, Cain murdered his brother, Abel. God cursed Cain and sent him away, but also gave him mercy, protecting him from harm. Cain left his parents and established a city.
In Genesis 6-9, there is the account of the historical Flood. The central issues causing the flood were ethical, because God saw that the people had become too wicked. They broke his laws and so he imposed punishment, destroying them. God spared one man, Noah, and his family, because he “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8) The flood caused monumental changes in history.
Genesis 9 says that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham’s son Canaan was affected by an ethical curse. It changed the hierarchy of their family, making Canaan and his descendants servants to Ham’s brother, Shem. This has some confusing context because it was not Ham, the one who sinned, who was cursed, but specifically one of his sons. Regardless, this story shows Noah’s view of family ethics.
The chapter about the Tower of Babel is similar to the Flood, as God made a drastic change in the world after people’s sin– they were unified against him, so he scattered them with different languages.
Ethics in Psalms and Proverbs
The Psalms and Proverbs reinforce the idea that ethics cause historical sanctions. The Psalms say that God is trustworthy and His law is perfect. The Psalms also promise a future inheritance to those who do good. (Ps. 37.) In the Proverbs, King Solomon gives his son practical and ethical advice, to prepare him for ruling Israel.
Throughout history, God will bring negative sanctions upon those who do not follow His ethical commandments. The stories of Genesis, as well as the Proverbs and Psalms, reinforce the basic themes of God’s law, historical sanctions, and inheritance.