Lessons from Socrates: Starting in the Wrong Place

I have a second grader at ECS named Ellie. She loves Star Wars Legos. If you’ve ever seen these Legos, you’ll know that many of them are detailed and specific, different from ordinary Legos. And if you don’t assemble them according to the directions, not only will you not have a clue what you’re doing, but what you manage to assemble will not resemble what is intended. But if the instruction sheet is available, even a seven-year-old is able to put together a veritable masterpiece.

So far in the Omnibus curriculum this year, we’ve seen repeated attempts on the part of natural men to try to make sense of the world apart from the Word of God, and it is like trying to assemble a 700-piece Star Wars Lego set without the instructions and expecting Jabba’s palace to magically and intuitively just come together. Natural men look to amoral gods to govern their morality. They attribute natural calamities to impotent gods. They recognize their own need for a savior, and look to other men or those same amoral, impotent, self-serving gods for their salvation.

As privileged Christians we can see the folly in this, but apart from the Word of God (read: the Truth) they were doing the best they could while hating the God who had written His Law on their hearts, giving them any sense of morality in the first place! This week and next we’re looking at a series of lengthy vignettes about The Last Days of Socrates, written by Socrates’ disciple, Plato. And it is at times both entertaining and frustrating.

Socrates famously posed the following question: “Is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?” (Euthyphro 10a). Hmm. Good question…if you’re a polytheist.

Socrates’ philosophy represents a flawed starting point: he’s operating under the assumption that multiple gods rule the universe. Further, these gods cannot agree with one another as to what is right or wrong, good or bad. If they do not themselves agree on what is right or holy, how could they possibly impose a consistent standard on mankind? And if there exists a standard of morality outside of the gods which they themselves must recognize, then who needs the gods? Why not just adhere to those objective moral standards ourselves without concern for the gods’ approval or judgment? Socrates raises serious problems for Athenian worship.

I am inclined think that Socrates would be satisfied with the Christian’s answer to his dilemma; Scripture saws the horns off the dilemma right off the bull. Holiness is identified not by what the gods love; neither do the gods approve the holy merely because it is holy (in fact, they disagree on what’s right or wrong). Rather, morality comes from the true, triune God, and what’s good is good because He calls it good; He doesn’t call it good because it’s good. Get it? When He is the source of goodness, he determines what it is good; nothing is good apart from Him.

To review, Christianity answers emphatically what polytheism cannot…and for several reasons.

The Greek gods cannot agree on what is good; the triune God knows know disagreement. Socrates offers as an example that a man prosecuting his father would find varying degrees of sympathy from Zeus and Kronos. (Zeus killed his father, Kronos). So how can the “gods” determine whether the prosecution of one’s father is acceptable or not? With the one God ruling, however, there is no disagreement, and the standard is clear, objective.

The Greek gods are subject to change; the true God never changes. The Greek gods often changed mood and mind. When man’s aim is the gods’ favor, it is a frustrating thing to be aiming at a moving target. Not so with the God of Scripture. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He doesn’t change his mind (Heb. 13:8, cf. Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6).

The Greek gods trickle out information in small, strategic portions; God reveals Himself in Scripture and in nature. By only answering questions when asked (and that in the form of cryptic oracles at best), the demons…er, gods keep men guessing. It’s awfully convenient if they want to changing their minds, or plan the destruction of their worshipers. Scripture however, is clear, complete, and constant.

So when natural man tries to answer the questions of the universe based on human reason and very limited resources (rocks, trees, popular opinion…), it inevitably leads to the wrong answers, whether inaccurate just incomplete.

Such was the case with Socrates. Some folks think that his dilemma refutes Christianity. But in truth, it presents no problem for Christianity at all. Socrates presupposes a falsehood: gods rule the universe. When we approach the question from the right starting point (namely, that the true God is One), it’s a whole different dilemma: Should man trust his own merit or the merit of Christ to meet the divine standard?

Finally, we get to try to make sense of God’s creation with the help of the divinely-given directions: Scripture. Jabba’s palace may finally come together with the help of the instruction sheet.

For what it’s worth, I’m thrilled that our students are getting the opportunity to train with these real bullets now rather than later. This is the sort of discussion that commonly rattles – or even defeats – many ill-prepared Christians today. Yet it is exciting that God has given us an easy defense if we would but heed His Word.

The New Old Way

Our school recently became a member of The Association of Classical and Christian Schools. They recently put the following video on the homepage of their website. It includes some history about education, an overview of the Trivium connected with Dorothy Sayers’ insight, as well as interviews with Marlin Detweiler (of Veritas Press), George Grant, and Doug Wilson. These 20 minutes not only provide a lot of explanation, the ideas–by God’s grace–may also change the next generation.

Big Minds Make Big Changes

The following exhortation was given at the assembly on January 10, 2013.

Wise people are willing to change their minds. A man who won’t ever change his mind, no matter what, will end up a fool.

Education is not confined to gathering information. Yes, we do learn by exploring unread pages and turning them upside down until a new (to us) truth falls out. We do learn by interrogating teachers until they open the doors of their knowledge store. In one sense, our brains are like baskets that can hold many apple facts. We should shake as many bushels of apples as we can from songs and sermons and science sound-offs. God created many things for us to know and enjoy. But collection is not the only path to education for students.

Part of the reason why hunting and gathering isn’t the only way to catch an education is because our minds are not straight arrows. We are image-bearers but, because we are in Adam’s family, we are bent. Even when we are aimed to hit the broad side of the truth barn, we often drift into the bushes. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that our minds are like open mouths and meant to close on something. Because of sin, we will swallow garbage as long as we have something to chew. We may throw up, but at least we’re not hungry.

To summarize: far too often, in pursuit of learning, we end up in the bushes chewing our own vomit. And we ask the band to start playing Pomp and Circumstance.

The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) has a worship problem; he worships himself. He sets himself up as the standard. His knowledge is the end all. Solomon also said, “turn away from evil.” This is not simply a generic exhortation to righteousness. It’s saying wise men change course.

A fool is convinced that he knows where he is going and that he’s right. He never asks for directions. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). The wise student has his ears open so that he can change his way if necessary.

I recently read an observation that Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, shared with another company.

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. (at 37signals)

He wasn’t saying that we ought to change our minds about everything all the time. Mr. Bezos does not want Amazon customers changing their minds about what online business they shop. As Christians, we do not question bedrock “Thus says the Lord” truths. Jesus is God. Salvation is through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone. Evangel Classical School exists because the evangel, the good news, is true for eternal life. We are not allowed to change our minds about it.

At the same time, Evangel Classical School also exists because many of us have changed our minds about many things.

For example, I’ve spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.

I have also realized in the last few years that I was wrong about the worth of Christian schools. They seemed to me to be wastes of time, offering half-pint truth collection on gun-free campuses used by panicky parents trying to protect their kids from bad things “out there.” Students may not bring guns to school but they always bring their hearts. That means that they still bring enough bad things. I now believe that Christian schooling done faithfully is one of the best ways to equip battle-minded worshipers, which includes equipping them in Christ for killing sin in their souls.

Even in the last couple months I’ve changed my mind about whether students should learn printing or cursive first. I’ve done a 180 degree turn on the value of individual school desks. A maturing person not only recognizes how much he doesn’t know, but also how wrong he’s been. People who are right a lot don’t just fill their minds, they change their minds. A lot.

You may need to change your mind about comma placements and crayon color choices. Don’t question the addition answers, but don’t be a diva acting as if you know everything about how to go through your fact cards or the best system to store them. You will be tempted to act as if you know more than you do. That will not only be proud, it will make you a stupid student because you won’t be able to learn anything.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot. May ECS be a place of big minds, minds that change as often as necessary for growth in true education.

Perspective on an Assembly from a Parent and Board Member

The following is a guest post by Chuck Weinberg. He is one of our secondary parents and the chairman of our school board. He has agreed to offer his thoughts after our recent Christmas assembly. Enjoy.

It seems like it would be the farthest thing from my mind to be the chairman- “Cheer-man” of the board of a school. Of all the people who are possible candidates I see myself at the bottom of the list, but I guess God has a sense of humor.

With that role there are certain responsibilities and joys that come with the territory. Assemblies are one of those times.

The Christmas season brings lots of appointments on the calendar, lots of feasting, lots of gift giving and lots of events that can bring joy and sometimes sadness.

The Weinberg family has a unique place at ECS with John, our adopted son from China, learning English as a second language while learning Latin and logic, among many other things.

Recently we had the opportunity to go to the ECS Christmas Assembly and you never know what will come up in one of these kinds of events. To say that I am proud to be associated with the school is an understatement.

We arrived at the school and all the kids were lined up and excitedly ready to give us all the things they had been working on and learning. The material is probably way over the heads of the younger kids, just as “schoolhouse rock” didn’t make total sense until the day when, in school, I thought, “Oh yeah, I know what that means.”

The kids stood in a neat little row and as their turn came up they stepped forward and, often with excitement and some sheepishly, delivered the information they had been so studiously working on.

Invertebrates Sound-Off from Evangel Classical School on Vimeo.

John doesn’t participate in the “sound-off” portion of the program (which is for the elementary age kids) and so we, as a family, are not learning the parts of cells or all the forms of life along the way.

The program went by faster than the clock showed and to the kids I’m sure it was over before they knew it but the memory will last a long time.

I love that these kids get to stand up and speak in front of a “crowd” of people at such an early age. I can’t wait until the day when they are speaking to a room of 500 or 5000 and are so confident in their learning that it is a delight for them to share.

Today so many people have never had the opportunity to speak in front of a group and so they are afraid- not these kids. We are training future generations to be prepared for whatever life brings their way.

As a school and as parents our job is to train the next generation to be ready for what’s coming and to be sure there is much coming their way, but we pray and labor towards the day when these kids will be ready.

What a privilege to have the opportunity to be involved with the school at this time of its life. What a privilege to play a very small part in shaping future generations.

None of this could be done without huge sacrifices on the part of the teachers and staff of ECS. Being a pastor while learning and teaching Latin at the same time is not the norm, especially to 4-10 graders. Being a contractor and teaching art are not normally connected. Being a housewife and teaching other people’s kids math, music or reading is not what you normally see, but many are doing something abnormal today so that the outcome will be abnormally great in the future. Great things have small beginnings.

We would love to have all of you come to the next assembly. I am confident that you will be impressed with the work the kids are doing and be excited about what is happening in the lives of these future leaders.

Real Education for Christians

While we believe that the education our students are getting here at ECS is sound and good, and while we believe that it will only get better, they could technically learn much the same information somewhere else.

They could read Anne of Green Gables or the Odyssey somewhere else. Someone else can teach them how to write cursive or multiply and divide, or about the basic needs of all living things (a recent unit from Science class).

But I’ve been around enough schools to know that a good education is rare. In fact, most people can’t even agree on what a good education is. By a “good education,” I mean learning about how a Christian is to live in the world so as to maximize his influence and God’s glory. I’d love to flesh that out some other time, but today I want to briefly mention two threads that run through everything we’re trying to teach here at Evangel Classical School. I would hope that our students and families would recognize these things and notice when they come up over and over. First…

Our Testimony is Important

More and more of late I’ve been thinking about how the power of our testimonies.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus knew that the disciples were not going to save their unbelieving neighbors by their theological understanding or the strength of their conviction. If that were enough, then Jesus’ preaching by itself would have saved everyone who heard Him.

Our theological and academic knowledge are very important, but they are not the principle human instrument in anyone’s salvation. What do we have that the world wants? A life. Relationship. Love for each other.

We can spend our days and nights gaining more and more information, but if we do so without a love for each other, we’ll look just like the world. And why would the world want what we have when they already have it themselves? They wouldn’t.

At ECS we regularly pray and care about how our students treat each other. We are trying to equip them to be better worshipers than they are now by teaching them how to live as Christians.

This brings great glory to God and makes the world around us scratch its head in wonder.

The other lesson I will key in on is that The Dragon is for Fighting.

The Dragon is for Fighting

In Scripture, there is a dragon, and he’s there to fight. His name is Satan, and if we think we can avoid him, we’ve already lost the battle. But avoidance is the method we teach our Christian children more often than not.

Most education today does a poor job of preparing Christians for effective living as we combat the forces of darkness. This is not an all-inclusive claim, but the trends are very strong.

Public schools and secular private schools often teach ideologies and lessons intended to call into question the truths and principles of Scripture. That means that a lot of non-Christian schools teach unbiblical messages and unbiblical views of morality, history, science, etc. The world wants us to reject the claims of the Bible, and a lot of schools train students to do just that.

Many Christian schools teach a lot of the same material as their secular counterparts but with two distinct differences:
1. They integrate the Bible, including chapel programs and Bible classes.
2. They endeavor to protect students by insulating them from the evils of the secular world.

This second one gives birth to this parental mindset: “I chose this Christian school so my kid wouldn’t have to be bullied in the locker room like he was at his last school. I want my kid’s teachers to be saying the same things I am.” This is well-intentioned, but it is artificial and incomplete.

The thing is, someday our students are going to leave our halls and will inevitably face the evils of the world. What will they do then, when through their formative years they have been trained simply to avoid evil?

Imagine I were to drop my three-year old son in the deep end of a swimming pool and tell him to try to avoid the water. What would he do? Flail violently trying to get out, exhaust himself and succumb to the inevitable forces around him, sink and drown. But that’s exactly what the Church does today with its youth! We insulate them from evil (i.e. Keep them “dry”) through their formative years, then graduate them and throw them into the deep end and tell them to swim, when they’ve been taught all along to avoid the water.

Like water, evil inevitably surrounds us. We want to train our students to swim. Trying to avoid evil (and the dragon) is like trying to avoid water while in the pool.

Let me finish with another illustration. Many schools are like summer camp, where it’s pleasant, fun, and safe. We want ECS to be like boot camp (but more fun!) where we’re using real bullets and growing tight as as team and trying to equip our little soldiers for Christ about real life-and-death, good-and-evil battles.

Thankfully, in Christ we already have the victory, so we want to go forward joyfully with our spelling, our reading, our cursive writing, our Latin verb conjugation and our correcting of logical fallacies.

Every day our students are learning things that are of great value that will never show up on any standardized test. They are learning how to live like Christians in a dying world. That is what should make the world around us jealous, wanting desperately to enjoy the sort of love that we share.

The Unbridled Pride of the King of Persia

Histories by Herodotus is a history of the Persian Wars and the birth of Western Culture. It is a large volume with few wasted pages…if you actually like rabbit trails. There are all sorts of fun things that Herodotus writes about in his pioneering work, from various Egyptian embalming practices to ancient wildlife of the then-known world. But I want to take a moment and zoom in briefly on one character who holds a safe position among the bad guys of history. His name is Cambyses, and he was a king of Persia.

Cambyses was the son of Cyrus (aka “Darius the Mede” from Daniel 5:31ff), and he succeeded Cyrus. He only ruled for seven years, and the shortness of his reign was short due to in large measure to his pride. To say “he thought more highly of himself than he ought” is an understatement. I share Herodotus’ evaluation of Cambyses: “I am convinced by all the evidence that Cambyses was seriously deranged” (Book III.38). And his derangement is attributable to his pride.

He was a real piece of work. When the king of the Ethiopians defied him, he reacted by immediately mobilizing his army in the direction of the Ethiopians without bothering to even take time to gather provisions for the trip. He and his army had to return home before they made it to Ethiopia…but not before his men had started consuming one another to stave off starvation. (Book III. 21-25).

In his religious irreverence he killed one of the Egyptian gods in the midst of their worship, which was not a particularly ignoble decision, though certainly ironic and hypocritical for a polytheist like himself (Book III. 27-29).

He married and killed his sister (while she was pregnant, to boot) in a fit of insulted rage (Book III. 32).

In fact, even the Persians’ conquest of Egypt can be attributed to Cambyses’ pride! He was offended that Amasis, King of Eygpt had given the daughter of his predecessor (Amries) to Cambyses as a wife under the pretense that it was his own (that is, Amasis’) daughter. So, Amasis lied to Cambyses, and Cambyses was supremely insulted, and sent an army to vanquish Egypt. The rest is history, right? (Book III. 1-11).

Perhaps the most disturbing part of all of this is that Cambyses is only atypical among men in that he had more resources at his disposal when his pride was bruised. Most men could be every bit as dangerous if we had massive armies at our disposal and no consequence for furious murder. He killed with impunity. So would many of us if we could. But it seems he had little regard for the lives of his subjects and soldiers given that he would readily mobilize them in defense of his dignity. So we ought not be so quick to judge Cambyses, though he was deranged and quite possibly demonic. But by the grace of God, we could identify with him by virtue of common behavior.

Going a step further in our application, pride is particularly detestable for Christians. It gives birth to multiple other sins and it is like the leech that does not say “enough” (Proverbs 30:15-16). But Christians of all people ought to be aware that we have nothing that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7). Of all people, we should be most aware of who we would be apart from Christ. We should be aware of what He has rescued us from. We should be aware that the example of Cambyses is not unique, but rather common to humanity.

Thanks be to God who has mercifully rescued us from the ability to give full vent to our pride…and for giving us a new heart.

Family Contributions in the Odyssey

We’re wrapping up the first of four weeks’ worth of reading of Homer’s Odyssey in our Omnibus class, and we’re finding application in rather unlikely places.

One takeaway relates to the family. Without question, the Odyssey would not be nearly as interesting – and enjoyable – as it is were it not for Odysseus’ son (Telemachos) and his faithful wife (Penelope). While all of the characters have their own flaws and admirable traits, one cannot miss the value of family to the establishment and preservation of a civilization.

Telemachus has a dysfunctional upbringing, being raised (essentially) by a single mom in a house occupied by over one hundred suitors who vie for her hand in marriage. That’s enough to confuse and frustrate any kid. While his spineless tendencies are frustrating early on in the story, it’s rather impressive that he has turned out as well as he has, under the circumstances.

The reader sympathizes with the hero, Odysseus, who just wants to get home. The going is made tough(er) by a disgruntled Poseidon, but Odysseus does not lose heart or stop trying to get back to his beloved Ithaca.

But I am compelled by Odysseus’ effort to preserve his family. Penelope patiently waits (twenty years?!) for her husband’s return, fending off suitors in the interim and raising young Telemachus. Telemachus longs for his father’s return from the Trojan War and often becomes sad when thinking of his unfortunate father.

But easily lost in all of this is the value of the family. The family is the cornerstone of civilization. As the family goes, so goes the culture. It was the case in a 3,000 year-old piece of fiction and it is the case in our lives today. How quickly we forget that children’s conception of right and wrong are forged in the home. Children’s first notion of what their heavenly Father is like comes from their earthly fathers (or father figures). Children learn how to be courageous (or not), how to die to self (or not), how to prefer others ahead of themselves (or not), and how to work hard (or not) first from their parents. They can learn these things from a variety of sources, but it is first evident in the home.

And if the enemy can reach us on the family level, he can score a major victory in the battle. That is why the family is under strategic attack by the enemy today. Ours is a society that sanctions the marriage of husband and husband. We will kill our own children in utero if doing so is convenient or expedient. The powerful and influential institution of the family is under full-scale assault while we make like frogs in the heating kettle.

Though it’s certainly not the point of the story, this lesson in the white spaces made for some healthy discussion among our students. It is incumbent on all of us to help to preserve and cultivate biblical relationships first in our own homes if we would look to impact the dying world around us.
When we can do that, little things like fighting off mythical monsters on the way home from work should be a cakewalk.

Sin and Consequence in First and Second Samuel

Week five of the Omnibus finds us studying the books of First and Second Samuel. These books make a rather salty contribution to the river of Western Civilization. They help flavor the waters in ways that showcase yet again the fallenness of man and his need for a savior. Further, they showcase the kindness and goodness of God in continuing to use those same fallen men in His sovereign plan. In perhaps the most dramatic, soap-opera-like books in Scripture, God drives home a number of messages. I’ll key in on a couple.

Private Sins Have Public Consequences

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, he effectively ensured the presence of the sword in his own house indefinitely (2 Samuel 12:10). The rebellion of his son Absalom, its accompanying death and immorality and a whole bunch of the Psalms (That’s right! Inspired Scripture!) were direct results of his sin with Bathsheba. To be sure, the deaths of Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband), David and Bathsheba’s baby, Absalom, and several others (e.g. Shimei of Saul’s house, even David’s son Amnon) can be traced back to this particular sin done in private.

Similar in principle was when David found confidence in numbering Israel rather than in God Himself, so God struck down 70,000 Israelites (2 Samuel 24:1-17). David’s sin here was considerably more public, but still private in that it was personal. And scores of thousands of Jews suffered the consequence of David’s sin.

Considering God has been trying to teach us this lesson for a while now, we sure have a hard time grasping the concept. Sin is deceptive, and we convince ourselves that the consequence of our sins ends with us – and for some reason this adds to sin’s appeal. The thought process may go something like this: “I’m the only one who will suffer for my sin, and I’m okay with that. So I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it anyway.”

But this is folly. All sin is against God chiefly and directly (Ps. 51:4), yet when we (especially leaders) sin, it is a sin against any who depend on our example or who depend on our effectiveness.

How about one more lesson?

Ignorance and Good Intentions Do Not Excuse Sin

Uzzah and the Ark of God
Uzzah and the Ark of God

When David and his chosen men were bringing the ark of God back to Jerusalem, they did so by way of an ox cart (a new one, mind you!). Lo and behold, one of the oxen stumbled and Uzzah took hold of the ark to stabilize it. “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).

Now Uzzah should have known better. For that matter, so should David. They had no business transporting the ark in this manner when it was supposed to be carried on the shoulders of the priests. And it was constructed as it was (replete with rings through which the poles could pass for transport) so that it would not need to be touched. Apparently God wasn’t kidding when he gave those instructions.

Even assuming that Uzzah had only the very best intentions (although the ark should not have been in that situation to start with), his behavior is still inexcusable. If he didn’t know better, that ignorance was also inexcusable.

Over the years, I’ve had countless students lay down the trump card of ignorance when holding them to a standard they said they would keep. “Oh. I didn’t know that were weren’t allowed to wear tutus to school. Nobody ever told me that.” Then their silent follow-up is something like this: “And you certainly can’t hold me accountable for what I don’t know, so I win.”

Well, that doesn’t fly. In fact, it doesn’t really work anywhere in life, and the sooner we understand that, the better.

  • If you’re going to have a driver’s license, it’s your responsibly to know and adhere to the rules of the road. Not knowing a speed limit doesn’t reduce the fine for speeding.

  • If you’re going to play a sport, not knowing the rules doesn’t exempt you from them. Grabbing the face mask is a very effective way of tackling, but it’s also illegal. Football players ought to know that.

  • If you’re going to attend a certain school, then you need to know and adhere to the rules, policies and procedures of the school. And when you join the school you actively commit to do just that; not knowing what standard you’re affirming is a bad idea.

  • If you’re going to transport the ark of God, do so in keeping with God’s instructions. Failure to do so may result in swift and certain death.

The application in all of this includes taking responsibility for our actions, which includes proactively learning what God (or the DMV, or the school, or the referees…) requires of us.

David sinned egregiously, to be sure. But he remained a man after God’s own heart, and the people of Israel experienced blessing because of his faithfulness and favor with God. I’d be thrilled if my son turned out like David. While I’d prefer that Joshua not follow David’s example in murder, adultery and bigamy, I love that these things did not exclusively determine the character and person of David. He was marked by mistakes, but he was also marked by repentance (e.g., see Psalm 51). He responded well and learned well from most of his sins, and he enjoyed tremendous blessing as a result.

Mistakes are inevitable. Just ask David. But like David, when we mess up, may we acknowledge our sin and make it right. And may our people experience similar blessing as a result.

The Code of Hammurabi vs. the Law of Moses

Hammurabi Stele
The Code of Hammurabi

Week four at ECS brings us to a study of The Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Mesopotamian series of laws that predates Moses by a thousand years.  Hammurabi was ruler of Ur in Abraham’s day and had a rather expansive and lengthy rule.  Surviving today are about 250 laws etched in an eight-foot stele that also features an image of the king receiving the laws from the sun god Shamash.  Most likely, this stele was a trophy, changing hands multiple times as its possessors were conquered.  Somewhere in there, some thirty-five laws were scratched out, otherwise we’d have just over 280 laws.

Last week we observed an example of a savior story from the mind of men in The Epic of Gilgamesh that contrasts starkly in a number of ways from the great savior story of Jesus Christ.  But for all of its differences, there are some similarities, which stem largely from a common state of mankind four thousand years ago and two thousand years ago (and today!): man is completely corrupt and in dire need of rescuing.

Similarly, part of what is so interesting about The Code of Hammurabi is how it compares (and contrasts) to the law of Moses.  Consider some areas of similarity:

  • Justice.  Given that the image of God is in all men, and given that the law of God is inscribed on the hearts of men, it comes as no surprise that some of the laws in The Code are just.
  • Civil order.  If a people would apply The Codes of Hammurabi and Moses, each offers  a recipe for civil order.
  • The Lex Talionis, or “the principle that a person who has injured another person is similarly injured in retribution” (hat tip to Wikipedia for the helpful, concise definition.)  There’s lots of eye-for-an-eye type language in The Code, which also pops up in Moses, too.    

And to be fair, there are more similarities than these.  But of far more striking significance are the differences.  Consider some of them with me:

  • Sanctity of human life.  The Code of Hammurabi represents a lower view of human life than Moses.  For instance, in The Code of Hammurabi, the consequence for theft is to repay ten- to thirty-fold. If that’s not possible, the thief is executed.  That’s never the case in Moses.
  • Favoring the privileged vs. protecting the oppressed.  Protection of the oppressed is near to God’s heart; not so much with Hammurabi.  Many of Hammurabi’s laws favor the free and wealthy.
  • Justice.  Though some of The Code of Hammurabi is just, much of it is eminently unjust.  There is no injustice at all in the law of Moses.
  • Mercy.  The notion of mercy is exceedingly rare in Hammurabi, but appears with regularity in Moses.
  • The focus of the laws.  The vast majority of The Code of Hammurabi concerns money, property, and business transactions.  While these are addressed in Moses, the focus on moral laws, loving and honoring God and taking care of man’s relationship to God are strong emphases in Moses.

These are but a few of the differences that pose real problems for those who try to argue that Moses borrowed from Hammurabi.  The two codes (i.e., of Hammurabi and of Moses) come from different starting points and points of authority.

Flashing back again to last week, in the person of Gilgamesh we are offered an example of what sort of a savior we could expect if we were left to ourselves: a fearful, corrupt, powerful, but ultimately impotent mortal who is a lot like us.  Gilgamesh contrasts with Christ.

The Code is the law as written by man. In The Code of Hammurabi we are offered an example of a system of laws that represents man’s best effort at justice…and it’s colored profoundly by Hammurabi’s self-promotion and self-interests.  The Code of Hammurabi contrasts with the Code of Moses, which comes from the true God, is inspired and reflects His just and unchanging nature.

If you’re interested in a more complete defense of any of these points, you could ask me, but why not read The Code yourself?  It only takes a few hours and will give you a deeper understanding of the heart of man and appreciation for the heart of God.

Lessons from The Epic of Gilgamesh

The ancient Babylonian story The Epic of Gilgamesh occupies a well-deserved spot in the Omnibus syllabus. Our recent study of the poem gave us opportunity to examine a whole host of worldview-enriching lessons for our students.

In case you’re not familiar with Gilgamesh, Sean Higgins provided a short rundown of the story and the main characters in his own blogpost, which I’d recommend. Sean’s recurring thought throughout his reading of Gilgamesh was one of gratitude: “Thank God that our God is not like Gilgamesh.” And that ought to be where we end up – and remain – at the end of our reading. But I was impressed with a few other takeaways from Gilgamesh. I’ll off your three of them for now.

Man did not write the Bible

Gilgamesh is one of many savior stories in the canon of Western literature. The notion of one person rescuing others, being a hero, and so on resonates deeply within men…for good reason: God made it like that. He’s a really great storyteller! It is evident from the reading of Gilgamesh that the ancient Babylonians were aware of the nature of man (that is in turn reflected in the nature of their gods): he is sinful and prone to destroy himself and is in need of rescuing; he needs a savior.

And Gilgamesh is the ancient Babylonians’ idea as to what sort of a savior men need. Gilgamesh is how men would (and did!) write the story; the gospel is how God would (and did!) write the story. John MacArthur often makes the case that Scripture is its own best defense. This is most evident in the gospel. If the Bible were from the mind of man, Jesus would look and act more like Gilgamesh. But it’s not! Think about it:

Jesus is humble; Gilgamesh is proud. Jesus delayed his glory; Gilgamesh manufactured and ensured his glory. Jesus is fully God and fully man; Gilgamesh is two thirds god and one third man. Jesus endures but does not fear death; Gilgamesh fears death. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him; Gilgamesh dreaded what awaited him upon death.

Men just wouldn’t write the story the way God did!

It’s no wonder Jesus was a stumbling block

If Gilgamesh is any indication as to what ancient pagans envisioned a savior should be like (and the Jews’ apparent expectations regarding the Messiah would also be consistent with this), then they would have expected the Messiah of the Bible to be a conquering demigod-type military hero who would subdue his enemies, establish his own greatness and promote his own glory…like Gilgamesh.

Imagine their surprise when Jesus shows up in his first coming, meek, humble and wise. His humility alone would have been difficult to understand.

Make no mistake: Jesus will ultimately vanquish and destroy his enemies and liberate the captives and establish his governmental authority on the Earth. It was just not in his plan when he came the first time.

A stream will never rise above its source

The gods of ancient Babylon were amoral. That is, they had no sense of morality. They were capricious and sinful, selfish and unpredictable. They – like the natural men who gave birth to them – are driven chiefly by their own desires. We see this absence of morality again in the pantheons of Greece and Rome. It makes for an interesting mythology, but it provides little direction as to how to lead a righteous or happy life.

It is no surprise then, that Gilgamesh is amoral. How could he have a sense of morality when the gods he worshiped did not? This distinguishes the true God from the false gods of ancient Babylon and other polytheistic cultures: He is absolutely holy, good, just, powerful and yet righteous. He is not capricious, but is unchanging.

Now, this has far-reaching application, especially for any who wish to lead, to be the source of a stream. But for now, it’ll suffice to merely echo the sentiment: Thank God that God is not like Gilgamesh.