Recently a new organization stood up among North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists (NADSDA), as a response to the revelatory footage on social media, of cops killing unarmed blacks: Adventist for Social Justice (ASJ). This organization is greatly needed, in that the NAD and the General Conference (GC) in general has been quite slow, if at all, to speak out against or move toward rectifying social injustice. The popular arguments say things like "this is not our mission", "we need to preach the 3 angels message", "we are not to get embroiled in politics", and the like. To those who suffer under the weight of systemic injustice in this nation, such answers no longer suffice. I ardently support Adventist for Social Justice.
However, what is needed from the ASJ is a clear theology of the gospel of social responsibility, articulate from a SDA perspective. Given that such theology is below spares among Adventist literature, it is understandable that SDA pastors and activitsts would reach for the theology of our non-SDA black christian counterparts, whose theology is firmly established is ideas like the beloved community, the divine ordination of the king and government by God's, and the like. Such theology uses Old Testament paradigms and passages to reveal that the God of the Bible is the God of justice, of the oppressed. This, while well-intended, is problematic. Such positions tend to assume that the kingdom of God can be realized in any government hear on earth, and can be ligislated by fallen humans.
Social Ethics and Social Justice before Exodus
Post-fall, we know that the world was destroyed by the flood for rampant abuse of fellow-humans (See God, Segregation, and Integration: Politics and Government). We know that post-flood the people were separated and segregated due to rampant fellow humans abuse and all out rebellion against God (see Ibid.) There is also evidence pre-exodus of ethical knowledge and expectations:
Genesis 4: Cain is unethical for murdering his brother
Genesis 9: Noah's drunkenness is described unethically, as is Ham's laughing at his father
Genesis 12, 20, 26, 39: Lying is considered unethical, as is sleeping with another's wife
Genesis 18, 19: It is unethical to be inhospitable, hostpiality is highly valued
Genesis 19:1-9: A same-sex lifestyle is considered unethical, especially the threat of rape toward Lot.
Genesis 27, 29-30: Lying and manipulation are considered unethical
Genesis 34: Sexual activity before marriage is considered unethical (Dinah was not raped), as is murder
Genesis 37: Selling someone into slavery is presented as unethical
Genesis 38: Being a whore is presented as unethical, as is sleeping with one's daughter-in-law
Genesis 44: Stealing is presented as unethical
Exodus 1: Mudering children, enslaving ones neighbors or workers, is presented as unethical
Exodus 2: Murdering an oppressor is presented as unethical
Social Ethics, Social Justice, and Covenant
Up to this point in the Bible, there has been no social justice claims made by God's patriarchs to the kingdoms within which they lived. No social justice movements. Moses murdering the guard could be seen as a social justice movement, which does not do anything for his people a that time. The Exodus event was a divine social justice movement. The people were instructed to follow and depend upon God, and Moses was sent ot Pharoah to tell him God said let the people go. It should be noted that the command to free the hebrews if always followed by the why of worship and service (Exodus 5:1, 3; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3.). they were freed from the bondage for the purpose of serving the only one worthy of worship. Divine social justice and liberation was not about freedom for freedom sake, but freedom for intimacy with God. Nothing of this social justice liberation movement concluded human protesting, warfare, lisglative debate or legislation passing. The entire movement originated with, was orchestrated by, and served the purpose of God alone.
The Abrahamic Covenant
When we speak of social responsiblity as social ethics and and social justice in the Old Testament, we must take into consideration covenant. Coventant is similar to a contract, but much more intimate. Covenantal promises in the Bible can be found in Genesis 3 and the promsie of the Seed to kill the serpent, and Genesis 9 (Noah-ic) with God's rainbow of promise to never destroy the world again by a flood. The next significant covenant can be found in Genesis 15. Here God is promises Ahraham that God will make him a great nation, as the stars of heaven.
The covenant signing ceremony during this time required blood. God instruct Abraham to gather and kill the sacrificial offerings, splitting each animal (except dove and pigeon) , and placing them all on opposing Sigue's, so that their blood ran into a small ditch dug for the occasion (Genesis 15:9-10). This covenant was designe between a superior and an subordinate, with the subordinate usually being the one who walks through the blood, between the flesh, symbolizing that if he breaks the promise may his life be forfeit like the animals before him. However in this passage, God does something different:
"And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him...And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram,..." Gen. 15:12, 17-18a
When the time came to walk through the blood, thus obligating one to fulfill all promises made, God put Abrhama to sleep. Then God (smoking furnace) and God (burning torch) walking through the blood and animals. God staked Their very existance on Their ability to fulfill Their promise to Abraham. Abraham signed nothing. This covenant was one direction: God to humanity. HUmanity didnt promise god anything. Since humanity was not responsibility, humanity could not get the glory for success, nor punishment for failure or digression from the plan. God was responsible for all. This covenant was ratified with Isaac (Gen 26:1), and Jacob (Gen. 28;12-15; 31:3; 32:1).
The Sinaic Covenant
At Sinai, however, things changes. After the Exodus event, Israel is brought to Sinai, God wanting to establish his covenant with them.
"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." Exo. 19:4-6
Notice that God's opening statement is about what he has already done for them. They could free themselves, and they did not assist God in gaining their freedom. God continues by stating, that becaus of his past actions, he asks them to obey his voice. In order to obey a voice, one must know the voice. This presumes a relationship, and a very intimate one. Additionally, God asked them to keep His covenant. This presumes they already have His covenant. The only covenant they had up to this point, which directly affect them as a people, is the one directional, grracebased covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where God alone holds Themself responsible for accomplishing the promises...humans promise nothing, can do not, are held responsible for nothing. If they agree to the terms of the original Abrahamic covenant the Bible says they will be a peculiar people to God, above all the people of the earth, for all the earth is his. This is a spiritually and historically loaded statement. God is in essence reveal that he as had a relatioship with all nations, and that this grace based covenant with israel was to be the defining differentiator between them and all other nations. In being such a grace-based people, this would qualify all for the holy priesthood: man, female, old, young...all peoples, in all the tribes, not just Levi.
How do the people respond? Do they want a grace-based relationship, or do they feel they are capable of holiness?
Exo 19:8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken WE will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.
Exo 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will WE do.
That is 2 strikes. What follows is the modified covenant signing ceremony. Moses writes down everything from Exodus 20-24 in the book of the covenant. Moses gets 70 elders, 5 from each tribe. Each tribe erects a pillar or standard for their tribe. Moses assigned young meant to offer sacrifices. He sprinkled 1/2 the blood on the later, and the other 1/2 he placed in bowls. He read the book of the covenant to them again, which included the 10 commandments of chapter 20...
"...and they said, All that the LORD hath said will WE do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." (Exo. 24:7b-8)
Three times they promised "WE will do". The 3rd time they were sprinkled with the blood. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob entered into a blood covenant with God, where they were responsible. What God wanted was for Israel to say, "Yes, we will keep the covenant as it was given to us by our forefathers (grace-based). Thank you". Instead they said, "WE will do". This means that all responsibility for holiness and justice they have taken upon themselves to perform. This is the Old Covenant Paul talks about in the New Testament, and this is why. This is the Old Covenant Jesus came to overturn.
In making such a promise, the Jews turned the grace-covenant God was bring into works-based covenant they were promising to accomplish. Does the Bible agree with this assertion? Read for yourself:
Eze 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and anew spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2Co 3:6-11 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glorywas to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
Gal 4:21-26 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Heb 8:6-10 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people
Here we see that Covenant at Sinai is liken to a heart of stone, a ministry of condemnation and death, being married to slave and having her offspring, because it is a covenant established on faulty promises. Thus, because its promises were faulty, it needed to be superceded and removed by a covenant based on sure promises. Since God cannot lie, and his word is sure, we know he didnt promise anything faulty at Sinai. This means the fault lies with the promises of the people: "WE will do"
As it relates to ethics and morals, look as this commandment...is it a command or a promise:
Exo 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Taken as it reads, it can be taken either way. If one is in a grace-based covenant with God, it is a promise; if a human work and respondsibility-based covenant, it is a command. If it is grace-based, social ethics are the result of a relationship with God, while social justice is God's domain. However, if it is human works-based, social ethics are commands of God, and social justice in the responsibility of humanity.
Every single other people group had the same covenant with God, this is why every other ancient religion, no matter how similar to Judaism, is works-based designed to either appease of please the God. As such, social justice is required of them. I submit that all social justice expectations, and punishments for failure, are placed upon those peoples who claimed to be able to be holy and just. This assertion assumes 2 questions can be answered:
Question 1: Is there evidence that God had relationships with other nations?
Yes there is evidence that God had relationship with other nations, outside of the Hebrews:
- Pharaoh chastised Abraham for his dishonesty concerning Sarai, sends them away, and then tells his men to stay away from her (Gen. 12:18-20)
- Melchizedek, King of Salem, is king-priest of the Most High God, and is known to Sodom, Gomorrah, and their sister cities. He is not a Hebrew decendent of Abraham. His preisthood precedesthe tribe of Levi by 400 years. (Gen. 14:18)
- The Lord tells Abimelech that he is wrong for taking Sarah because she is Abraham's wife, even though he didnt know and he hasn't slept with her. Abraham had assumed that the Philistines did not know God (Gen. 20:3-11)
- Abimelech is aware that taking Rebekah is Isaac's wife, and is angers because adultery would have made his people guilty. He invokes the death penalty on any Philistine who sleeps with Rebekah (Gen. 26:10-11)
- Balaam, a non-Hebrew, is aware of who God is, and that he must bless Israel, and not curse. (Num. 22-24)
- Pharaoh Necho is aware that it is God who sends him to fight Babylon at Carchemesh. (2 Chron. 35:20-24)
- Philistia, Tyre, Edmonds, Moab Ammon, Judah, and Israel are all described as having certain knowledge of the will of God, specific to their people. (Amos 1-2)
Question 2: Is there evidence of their punishment?
Yes, there is evidence that other nations were punished by God in accordance with the their covenantal knowledge of God.
- The Lord plagued Pharaoh's house because of the injustice of taking another man's wife for himself (Gen. 12:17)
- The Lord reveals that he will destroy Sodom, Gomorrah, and their sister cities because their wickedness has reached heaven. They lived in the shadow of Melchizedek, King of Salem, priest of the Most High God. They knew better. (Gen. 18, 19)
- Abimelech's household is able to bear children again when Abraham the prophet prays for him, even though it was Abraham who lied and is guilty. God has closed up the wombs of the Philistines. This seeming injustice is based on the fact that Abraham had a grace-covenant, and Abimelech did not. (Gen. 20:6-7)
- King Josiah of Judah does not heed to word of the Lord through Pharaoh, dies from battle (2 Chron. 35:20-24)
- Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel are all punished by the same God for breaking the specific covenants teach nation had with him (Amos 1-2)
- Ethiopians, Israelites, Syrians, and Philistines are all described as having experienced an exodus by God (Amos 9:7)
Just as God expected social justice from these fallen nations, who had a works-based relationship with and religion toward him, so also Israel felt the full force of social jsutice demands when social ethics were lacking. They also felt the full weight of punishment for failing to produce social ethics and justice. A few illustrations should suffice to illustrate this point:
The Weight of Punishment
- All of the death-punishments in relationship to breaking the law, after Exodus 24, are issues of social justice being met out upon the sin (being unethical) within the community. (I.e. Leviticus, the curses and blessings of Deuteronomy).
- The Golden Calf incident resulted in only the death of 3000 men, and only Levite males become priests. Moses must appeal to the precedent grace-based Abrahamic covenant, Gen 15 to ensure the survival of his people (Exodus 32)
- Miriam is cursed with leprosy for ethnocentrism (Num. 12:1)
- The Korah rebellion dies...literally (Num. 16)
- The children of Israel complain, and suffer with snakes (Num. 21)
- The sin of Israel at Baal-Peor results in 24,000 dead (Num 25).
- Saul loses a perpetual kingdom (1 Sam. 13:13-14), is rejected from being king (1. Sam. 15:26,28-29), and loses his mind (1 Sam. 16:14).
- David loses 5 children and 1 cousin due to his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (Bathsheba's baby, Amnon, Tamar reminds unmarried, Absolom, Adonijah (Absolom's younger brother), and Joan (cousin), see 2 Samuel 11-20; 1 Kings 1-2)
The Weight of Just, Ethical Responsibility
- Deu 30:19 I call heaven and earth to record thisday against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
- Jos 24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, chooseyouthisday whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
- 2Ch 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
- Psa 82:1-4 A Psalm of Asaph. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: dojustice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
- Isa 56:1 Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and dojustice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.
- Isa 58:13-14 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
- Mic 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to lovemercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
These text and many others reveal that under the Old Covenant, social justice reform was assigned to the people and their government. It was assigned to them, and expected of the government, because of the works-based covenant they signed at Sinai. We see none of these expectation or punishments placed upon any single patriarch prior to Exodus 19 and the Sinaitic covenant. Only then do we see innumerable calls to do justice, to be ethical and moral as a requirement of fallen humanity in relationship to God's people. The same can be seen with the others cultures of the time, and around the globe.
It is also important to note that any government claiming to be able to be holy, should expect resistant, reformation, and possibly revolution as God guides and chastises it for its failure to keep its word.
Israel during the Babylonian captivity, was given a time period to fulfill righteousness, based on the Old Covenant they had signed:
Dan 9:24-27 Seventy weeks are determined (cut off, a no-later-than-point) upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Without going tinto touch depth, this prophecy's is not about 70 literal weeks at this point, but 490 years. God is telling his people that from the full command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem they have a total of 490 to fulfill their covenantal promise to him. They must finish transgression. They must make and end of sins. They must make reconciliation for iniquity. They must bring in everlasting righteousness. They must anoint the most Holy. Time period between events Malachi and Matthew is 400 years, and there was no prophet.
1 Maccabees 4:45b-46: "So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.”
1 Maccabees 9:27: --speaking about the persecutions under Bacchides, who killed all of the Jewish leaders: "There has not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people."
1 Maccabees 14:41: "The Jewish people and their priests have therefore made the following decisions. Simon shall be their permanent leader and high priest until a true prophet arises."
God had spoken to them for over 400 years, he would give them 400 years of silence. They, based on their works-based covenant, were responsible for being ethical and just. God quietly would wait for them to fulfill their word. He had already said what he would say. There would be no more words to them, until the Word, Jesus Christ, arrived. When he arrived, he would confirm with them the covenant they had made from Sinai, bring a reconciliation, an end to sin, bring in everlasting righteousness, and he would be anointed. God gave them a probation, as he had other nation, and at the end of their probation, came Jesus, the hope for human covenantal failure.
Summary: Social Justice in the Old Testament are for nations who have a works based relationship with God. Thus, we may see the patriarchs not acting ethically, and they recieve no punishment, while we see a "pagan" king threatened with divine judgment for a crime he didnt know he commited. Israel's Sinaitic Covenant is a prime example of all other ancient religions of that time. The "WE will do" statement declares that one is able to actually be moral, ethical, and just, and that one is willing to promise to be and do such on pain of death. While this is not what God came offering, it is what the Hebrew's decided. As such, the Old Testament is full of calls to social justice, reformation, admonishing the people and their government to keep its covenantal promise to God.